'Dope Opera' attempts to show gangster rap in a whole new light

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gangster rap has long been associated with drug dealing, violence and sexual exploitation. Whether a rapper is born in the suburbs or on the streets, these negative themes come up constantly in popular hip-hop.

A Gwinnett playwright is hoping to change all that. Through his play and a musical collaboration, he is hoping to combine the appealing beats of hip-hop with lyrics that are positive and inspirational.

Ramone Boddie wrote "Dope Opera" to show kids that rap music doesn't have to be about crime, sex, money and drugs. The main character is a "studio rapper," a suburban kid who raps about the gangster life he has never known.

"There is a lot of violence right now for teens," Boddie said. "Young people are acting out what they see in music videos on the streets."

Through his play, Boddie hopes he can reach out to kids in an entertaining way. He is disgusted by "audio genocide" and "audio pornography," which is what he calls violent or sexually explicit lyrics.

Tyeira Martin, 17, plays the female lead in the play. She talks about how women are often treated as sexual objects in rap music.

"Why should females in the industry dress like this and act like this?" she asked. "They think they have to live up to a standard, like dressing in flashy clothes, just to get attention."

The play is written to be like a screenplay. Reminiscent of Eminem's film "8 Mile," it will include original music and rap battles.

For 14-year-old Shon Hoskins, who plays Tupac Shakur, the play shows the ugly side of the industry.

"They got like rappers killing each other. People killing over rap music," Hoskins said.

Another way Boddie is appealing to kids through rap is by trying to get prominent Georgia rappers to collaborate on a song. He wants them to get together to record a gangster rap cover of Marvin Gaye's song "Save the Children." His version, "Save the Babies" would be about getting kids off the streets and out of gangs. If rap idols sing positive lyrics, he believes, kids will listen.

Several big Atlanta rappers have agreed to sign onto the collaboration, assuming they get positive press for their participation. Boddie has secured a studio for it, and hopes to record "Save the Babies" next month.

In the meantime, Boddie is organizing rehearsals for "Dope Opera," which is an intentional play on the words "soap opera." Nashon Smith, a freshman at Central Gwinnett High School, is playing the lead. Boddie spent a day with him to pick up on Smith's speech patterns and mannerisms so his performance would be as natural as possible.

"I wouldn't say I'm a really good actor, but I'm really good at playing myself," Smith said.

"Dope Opera" will premiere at 8 p.m. Feb. 11. Future dates are to be announced. It will be playing at Atlantis Youth Motivational Center at 134 S. Clayton St. Tickets are $13. Proceeds will benefit the new Atlantis School of Performing Arts and the Atlantis Youth Motivational Center.