To be titled “The Scenario,” the musical will feature an original story written by author and hip-hop historian Dan Charnas (author of “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop”). Simmons says he’s aiming to premiere the musical in late 2016.
“People will sing along and leave happy,” Simmons said in a press statement. “So many of these songs will reach everybody in the audience. That almost never happens.”
Simmons, who won a 2003 Tony Award for producing “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam,” said the new musical will have a love story, contain a fight-the-power element and be a “celebration of hip-hop.” It’s still being written and song selection will likely be a tough task.
“There are so many great songs!” he said. “Do I need something from Kurtis Blow? From Drake? I just don’t know. Jay-Z? LL Cool J?”
A hip-hop pioneer in his own right, Simmons co-founded the Def Jam Recordings record label, which has represented several top artists like the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, LL Cool J and Kanye West. And Simmons also created the Def Comedy franchise.
The news comes after a relatively unsuccessful Broadway run of another hip-hop-infused musical, “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” directed by Kenny Leon, which used over 20 Tupac Shakur songs, but closed last year after just over a month on stage.
Though Simmons never saw “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” he said he didn’t consider it to be “a celebration of hip-hop,” adding that, “I don’t see any way in the word to compare what I want to do with what they did.”
He said “The Scenario” will lean more toward a celebration of the music of hip-hop than social commentary, although, “you can’t help but mention that it did more to integrate America than any other pop cultural phenomenon,” he added.
The new musical will be produced by Simmons; Def Pictures/Jake Stein; Big Block/Scott Prisand, Scott Benson, Tom Pellegrini and Jamie Bendell; Brian Sher and Stella Bulichnikov.
Worth noting is that Baz Luhrmann is doing something somewhat similar, except for the screen – an upcoming Netflix musical drama titled “The Get Down,” which will unfold over 13 episodes (each an hour long), tracking the history of hip-hop, and other innovative forms of music and art of the 1970s and 80s.