Jabari Exum, the tribal dance and movement coach for the film “Black Panther,” met the film’s star Chadwick Boseman at 17 years old, and the two became close friends. When Exum heard the music that brought “Black Panther’s” scenes alive, he asked to work with Boseman on the project.
Exum said he was the only drummer in the percussion ensemble and also choreographed the movements and dances, specifically the “warrior falls” scene.
Exum discussed this experience, as well as his passion and involvement in hip-hop, at the HiiiPOWEREd Cypher Hip-Hop Expo in Williams Hall on April 12. The event was an arts and humanities experience hosted by the Africana Studies Department in celebration of the 10th anniversary of “Act Like You Know,” the hip-hop theatre course created and taught by Kashi Johnson.
Johnson and Monica Miller, a professor of religion and Africana studies and the director of women, gender and sexuality studies, co-curated the event and facilitated the discussion with Exum.
HiiiPOWEREd Cypher will run from April 12-21 in honor of the class that Johnson created to challenge and encourage students to learn about hip-hop and be engaged in performance.
Ileana Exaras, ’18, said she couldn’t miss the opportunity to have an open discussion with Exum, and Jasmine Banful, ’20, said she was interested in HiiiPOWEREd Cypher and what it offered.
“I think it’s awesome to be able to work with the cast of ‘Black Panther,’ to have an influence on something that big that’s touched so many people,” Banful said. “It’s amazing.”
Exum stressed that with more than 30 years of experience in hip-hop, he learned more in theater than he did in school. Known as the “X-Factor” for his myriad of skills, he said hip-hop theater significantly developed his acting abilities without any formal training or schooling.
Exum described hip-hop theater as a response to vulnerability and telling a story that maintains that vulnerability. He said individuals he knows attempt to preserve and protect themselves in their work by exuding arrogance and concealing any weaknesses.
“There’s no fourth wall,” he said. “The audience can influence every moment. The audience can say anything they want, and you have to be ready for it.”
Exum is one of many featured artists to participate in the expo.
Johnson said she initially took on the challenge of HiiiPOWEREd Cypher on a smaller scale through festivals and raising awareness for the hip-hop culture.
Her theatre class originated from her motivation to spread culture and innovation through hip-hop. She realized she needed to make a real and lasting impact by creating an event that would be passed on generation after generation.
“What I needed to figure out was how I could bring my love for hip-hop, my joy for teaching and theater — which is my passion — together,” Johnson said.
Johnson said hip-hop theater and “Act Like You Know” has remained a staple installation at Lehigh for years, and she will continue to work hard to maintain its legacy.
Exaras was in Johnson’s class last semester and spoke passionately about her involvement in the performance arts at Lehigh.
Exaras said she would describe Lehigh’s dance community as underground, since Lehigh is heavily dominated by Greek life. HiiiPOWEREd Cypher allows for students to learn about diverse cultures associated with hip-hop, as well as the deep connections people have with the music and history.
“When you come to this school you don’t really see what’s going on behind the scenes, but we have a huge dance and arts community full of creative people,” Exaras said. “Once you’re in, you’re in and you’re connected with everyone.”
HiiiPOWEREd events are mostly free and open to all, including lectures and discussions with artists, activities, performances, and interactive DJ and graffiti workshops.