Danny Hoch You may remember Danny from such films as Thin Red Line, Black Hawk Down, War of the Worlds, or his lead in the cult movie White boys, but Danny has taken his love for acting and for hip-hop much deeper. His latest hip-hop play entitled “‘Til the Break of Dawn” has been on tour around the states for the past few years. Check out this interview as Danny tells us about his latest ventures.
By William Hernandez
WHO?MAG: Talk to me about the play you’re working on at the moment? DANNY HOCH: “Til the Break of Dawn” is a play I’ve been working on for several years now. It’s different from the hundreds of plays that have passed through the Hip Hop Theater Festival because I think it’s one of the first that doesn’t actually involve any of the four elements. You’ll see plays pass through the Hip Hop Theater Festival that will have b-boy choreography in it or a live DJ scoring the play on stage, or people rapping in it, or a graffiti set. This is just a straight up two act play about two and a half hours. It’s one of the first plays that’s going to establish itself as like a serious dramatic literary work as far as hip hop because hip hop is always getting looked down upon in the theater world and theater is also looked down upon in the hip hop world. I’m hoping that this play is going to fix that problem. WHO?MAG: I know you wrote a chapter for Jeff Chang’s Total Chaos book. How did that come about? DANNY HOCH: I wrote a chapter for Total Chaos on Hip Hop Aesthetics. I do a film every now and then. I got a film coming out with Joaquin Phoenix, Eva Mendes, etc. Honestly that’s like some side sh*t. (laughs) The thing I’m really focused on is my theater work. People sort of laugh when they ask “when are you going to do some TV sh*t or be in a film?” To me, I’m trying to represent part of this hip hop generation that’s focused on another element. I think it’s something that we sleep on a lot. In hip hop, we always define this culture and this generation through the lens of rap music only, which I think is a big mistake because there’s millions of people that are hip hop generation that’s just in the United States. Forget about outside the country. That’s a whole other story. The majority of us, even though we’re hip hop to the fucking core, we’re not rappers and we’re not trying to get a deal and we’re not in the video and we’re not on 106 and Park, but we are moving the culture forward. We are writers, educators, activists, journalists, publishers, media people, etc. Hip hop is not a teenager. Hip hop is 40 years old. All that to say, yeah I do my movie thing, some TV sh*t, but really, I think hip hop theater is the thing I’ve been focused on for the past 10 to 15 years and I’m still pushing. WHO?MAG: I remember the first time I saw you was on the special you did on HBO back in 1995. Tell our readers who you are and how you got into hip hop so they have a better idea of who you are? DANNY HOCH: I was born in raised right in the middle of Queens, NY. Some people have heard of Lefrak City. That is where I’m from. I was born in 1970 in what would be called the second generation of hip hop. I grew up as a b-boy writer. I used to emcee. I never DJ’d because I couldn’t get my hands on the equipment because it was too expensive. Ultimately, I went to school and studied theater. I became a writer and began organizing. Even in my teens, I started to use hip hop for social change. I starred this hip hop philanthropic organization in the mid 1990’s called Active Elements Foundation and founded the Hip Hop Theater Festival. I’ve been doing my thing for a minute. Hip Hop Theater, whether it’s the monolog or solo joint you saw on HBO several years ago or the play that I have coming out now. That has been the bulk of my work for a while. WHO?MAG: Talk to me about the movies you’ve done? I remember you did White Boys. DANNY HOCH: White Boys, that’s almost 10 years old actually. I did White Boys, Subway Stories, Jails, Hospitals, and Hip Hop. I’ve been in some blockbuster joints like Thin Red Line, Blackhawk Down, War of the Worlds, etc. Every now and then I do an independent film. Honestly the time it takes to shoot a film is minimal verse the time it takes to write a play. I’ve been working on this joint for 5 or 6 years already so there’s a lot of work that has gone into it. (laughs) WHO?MAG: Talk to me about White Boys. How did the concept of the movie come together? DANNY HOCH: Actually I’m a fourth generation New Yorker, so the idea of writing a movie about hip hop kids in Iowa is something that was foreign to me and it never crossed my mind. The reason why I came up with this concept is because every time I was pitching Hollywood with these ideas of New York stories and kind of multicultural stories, which is the reality of not just New York City but a lot of this country, a lot of these Hollywood studies would say to me: we’re not feeling that because people want to see either just a black story or just white story. They don’t want to see a Latino story or Native American story or Asian story. It either has to be Black or White. I was like “yeah, but that’s my people’s reality”. I had all these mixes of people in my scripts, film ideas, and TV pitches and they weren’t really feeling it. One time, this straight up racist studio producer was like, “we want to do your piece Danny, but there are two non-white characters as central characters in the piece. It’s ok to have them in the periphery, but we can’t have then as main characters because America is mostly white people, Danny, and they don’t really want to watch that.” I was like, “you got to be fucking joking!” I almost knocked him out, but then I thought “wait a second”. You want to see a central white character. I got a central white character for you because I had been touring in the Midwest and I ran into all these white gangster kids in Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. They were blowing my mind like where do these kids come from? I did a little research and I came up with this character called Flipdog and I put him in a play of mine called “Jails, Hospitals, and Hip Hop”. A friend of mine from the Bronx and I took that character and put him a full length feature film and that’s how White Boys was created. WHO?MAG: How were the reviews for those movies? DANNY HOCH: The reviews were mixed. Because I think we did too good of a job. Because a lot of hip hop heads got confused. Even to this day and we’re talking about 10 years later. I’m almost fucking 40. I still get emails to my website from kids being like “hey man you ain’t a rapper? You think you a gangsta? You’re not a gangsta.” I’m like “Wow! They think it’s like a documentary or something.” It was shot by Mark Levin who’s a documentary maker. He did “Slam” and some prison documentaries. He’s a real good documentary maker. I think people took it thinking I was really that character. Me, Danny Hoch, is trying to be some gangsta rapper. Nah I’m actually trying to point out that there’s this whole fucking generation of White kids that are never on the news because of their parents. Millions of them got put on welfare in the 1980’s when manufacturing went to Asia, but nobody wants to talk about poor white folks on TV because everybody tries to keep it that the only poor people are blacks and Latinos. On top of that, what I was trying to say in this film is this is where white America is getting their images of African Americans from TV, from BET, etc. What the f*ck is up with that? I was trying to say some political things and make some social statements. I think Hollywood wasn’t ready for it and apparently the streets weren’t ready for it either because people kind of misunderstood it. Unfortunately, to make film in hip hop you got to be goofy and that’s about it. You can’t have any social undertones. WHO?MAG: Talk to me about the play Jails, Hospitals, and Hip Hop? DANNY HOCH: It’s a play I did around 1998. Ultimately, we made a movie about it. The DVD is out there. It’s about the prison industrial complex and hospitals and about how many young people from this generation are winding up in hospitals and institutions in general all through the lens of hip hop. It’s probably one of my most famous pieces. I toured it for 5 or 6 years. We made the film and it has turned into this underground hip hop cult classic. They still show it at hip hop film festivals everywhere. It’s been a while since I made that, but if you turn it on today, it still looks like we made it last year because the issues are still the same: young people getting locked up for profit, police are still out in the street killing our young people, and education system still sucks. There are no jobs for you even if you go to school. It shows how the young people are either getting suckered out into the military, jail, welfare, and drugs. Unfortunately, those issues have not evaporated in 10 years and they’re not going to evaporate in the next 10 years. WHO?MAG: How did you get that sketch comedy show you did on HBO back in 1995? DANNY HOCH: That was actually a play that I was doing in NY at the public theater. HBO came to the show and said they wanted to do a special. At the time in the early 90’s, a lot of solo artists like John Leguizamo, Lilly Tomlin, and Eric Bogosian were doing solo specials for HBO so I got to do one. It was about 1996, 1997 that they stopped doing them. I don’t know if they’re going to do another one. I don’t even think John Leguizamo has done one in about 10 years. WHO?MAG: I read an article in the Miami Herald about you a couple of years ago. It mentioned you turned down to be in Seinfeld because they wanted you to portray a racist Latino stereotype. Can you talk about that experience? DANNY HOCH: I didn’t turn down the role. Actually I accepted the role thinking it wasn’t a stereotypical Latino role, but when I got to the set, we started doing read through of the script. I was doing as a nonspecific goofy character that I came up with. My strategy was if I’m on Seinfeld, people will come see my hip hop theater sh*t. I wasn’t really feeling Seinfeld. I was kind of ambivalent. Next thing I know, they ask me to do it in a funny Puerto Rican accent. I was like what the f*ck you talking about funny Puerto Rican accent? They were like, “you know because that sh*t is funny.” I was like “Wow! I didn’t know that.” They said “Isn’t that what you do? All these accents and sh*t?” and I told them, “yeah, I do accents because I play characters, but the characters I play are three dimensional human beings. I not going to jump around on some clown sh*t in what you think is a Puerto Rican accent.” They were like “it’s funnier that way.” I’m like “don’t really think I can do that.” They fired me. (laughs) Because I told them why don’t I do it as goofy Jewish character and they were like no. Why don’t I do it as a goofy this character. They wanted some minstrel sh*t. That story is still hitting me 12 years later. It’s funny when that whole Michael Richards sh*t happened. People where blowing up on my website saying I predicted that sh*t. You were talking about that sh*t 12 years ago. I didn’t predict anything. I guess that’s how they think out there. WHO?MAG: You’re a hip hop guy. What’s in your CD player at the moment? DANNY HOCH: Right now my CD is Timba Cubana. It’s contemporary Cuban salsa that doesn’t get played on the radio in this country, but the generation that’s making it is the hip hop generation from Cuba. What’s also in my CD is some Compa from Haiti, again hip hop generation Compa, so they’re throwing some rapping and R&B in it, but it’s in Haitian Creole. I also got some Algerian Rie in my CD player and the interesting thing is there’s rap music in every country in the world. From Greenland to the Central African Republic to Fiji, but the hip hop generation that is influenced by American hip hop is now making their own sh*t all over the world and that’s really what’s in my CD player. Some global hip hop generation music it’s not necessary even rap. I’m trying to hear what brothers and sisters from all over are hollering back at us. I get to travel around the world a lot and get to do hip hop workshops where ever I go. That’s what young people are telling me all over the world. Newsflash! The center of hip hop is not in the United States and it hasn’t been for the last 10 or 15 years. We think that it is because as progressive or as on the left as we think we want to be, we still think the world revolves around us because we get to live in this country. Last year I went to Chile and I asked this Chilean cat, a kind of hip hop star in Santiago de Chile. I asked him the same question you asked me and he said “don’t worry about it, nobody you know.” I want to know! You’re the only American who wants to know because everybody wants to know what American hip hop we’re listening to. We’re not listening to any of that shit because you m*thaf*ckas are sell outs! What about the political cats? He’s like what political cats? That’s not what you export. All you export is the bullsh*t. I asked a Brazilian cat the same thing and he told me 50 emcees and none of them were from the United States. Nobody from the U.S. knows who these people are because it’s like we have a cultural iron curtain up. All we want to hear about is Kanye West and that’s it. Anyway that’s what my play is about. WHO?MAG: How was the experience of making the movie Blackhawk Down? DANNY HOCH: It was alright. It was a big Hollywood film. I try to put that behind me. I saw it and it’s really well done. It’s pretty incredible film as a film, but if you look at it, it portrays all the Africans in it as savages and monsters and it portrays all the U.S. soldiers as innocent victims and heroes. At the end of the day, that’s a propaganda film. Trust me, I like the action scenes and I had fun shooting it. I got to do my thing in it, but the same time, I’m like damn why can’t we tell the truth? We filmed it in Morocco. Actually, when I was out there I went to see this show. The Moroccan Ministry of Culture had this big ass hip hop show at the house of fine arts. WHO?MAG: What other projects are you working on? DANNY HOCH: I’m working on a play in California. It’ll probably make its way around the country. I’m working on a musical that’ll probably be open in about 2 years about the ten years before people started using the word hip hop. It’s like a prequel.