Carl Hancock Rux’s debut is a fully realized effort to present poetry as musical theater. It’s similar in this vein to Charles Mingus’ A Modern Symposium of Jazz and Poetry and The Clown, or Wynton Marsalis’ Blue Interlude and The Majesty of the Blues, or Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City. Backed by a live band and singers, Rux’s sound encompasses rock, blues, jazz, funk, and hip-hop, the words allowed the most fruitful representation in sound. His voice is a rich baritone; he sometimes shouts, sometimes croons, sometimes whispers. At all times he is insistent, a quality we have come to recognize as the hallmark of a performance poet.
Born and raised in the South Bronx, Rux has lived and toured across the world, including Ghana and Berlin. He has been a guest artist of companies such as the Urban Bushwomen and The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. New York’s Public Theatre has commissioned him to write a play. Rux has already published a poetry collection, Pagan Operetta. Anthologized in a number of collections, among them Soul: Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure (1998) and Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café (1994), Rux insists that while he loves performing, “[The] writing is primary and everything else is born out of that.” He is obsessed with questions about lineage and trying to imagine answers to “what if” scenarios. His work grapples with recalling his past and creating out of it a self-consciousness that is productive, rather than self-pitying.
Rux’s poetry draws on the autobiographical, such as being conceived on a rooftop (“Wasted Seed”), thinking that he caused his grandmother’s death (“Blue Candy”), and losing a brother to AIDS (“Gut Bucket Blues”), to explore issues about family life, sexuality, violence, life in the city, and racial identity. Rux explains, “It’s about invading your own privacy, which is an idea that’s definitely not expected from urban black men.” Other tracks recommended highly are “Miguel,” “No Black Male Show,” and “My Coon Gal.” The production quality is excellent, a testament to both the producers (among them Toshi Reagon) and to Rux’s command over his material and his relationship with his band.