The annual Line Breaks Festival showcases the creative work of students in UW-Madison's First Wave program, a multidisciplinary program that has hip-hop at its core and embraces elements of music, dance, theater, literature, and spoken-word performance. While First Wave has gone through some administrative turmoil over the past year, the artists who've gone through the program continue to make an impact nationally and in Madison, from 2012 graduate Danez Smith's well-deserved ascent in the poetry world to a steady ferment of distinctive young musicians.
This year's Line Breaks moves from the festival's longtime venue, the Overture Center, to the Play Circle at the Memorial Union. On Friday, comedian Kenneth Dizon and spoken-word poet Mariam Coker will each present solo shows, both of which should offer an intriguing window into how First Wavers bring together strands from disparate modes of expression and performance. The festival's music showcase, on Saturday night (9 p.m.), is probably the easiest point of entry for people unfamiliar with First Wave and the artists connected to it. It features performances from artists including Obasi Davis (an MC and Oakland native who's been putting out a steady run of sold music under the name Basi), Hiwot Adilow (a gifted poet/singer/rapper who's developed a solo set of achingly beautiful R&B songs), singer-songwriter Tehan Ketema, and rapper Chetta Hill.
The festival wraps up on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.) with a screening of the documentary The Louisville Lip: MC Muhammad Ali, produced by First Wave student Mackenzie Berry and edited by Berry and fellow First Waver Nia Scott. The film looks at how the politically outspoken boxer influenced hip-hop, both in its verbal stylings and in its heavily masculine gender dynamics. It offers something of a corrective to the latter by specifically emphasizing the contributions of female hip-hop artists. Berry interviewed artists including veteran Queens rapper Roxanne Shanté, Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, and Kurtis Blow; and critics and scholars including Jeff Chang and Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley. I've seen just the trailer but Louisville Lip looks like a deeply researched documentary, and it comes at a moment when people could use a bit more perspective on athletes using their platforms to advance social-justice causes. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Berry, Scott, and Roxanne Shanté. —Scott Gordon