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Hip-hop 'Othello' resonates behind bars

Rapper GQ, aka Gregory Qaiyum, performs during a hip hop adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello, titled "Othello: The Remix" at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, on Aug. 27. M. Spencer Green / AP
Wearing wigs, rappers perform a hip hop adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello, titled "Othello: The Remix" at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, on Aug. 27. M. Spencer Green / AP
Inmate Kristy Montgomery cheers from her seat. M. Spencer Green / AP

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater this week brought a hip-hop version of "Othello" to Chicago's Cook County jail, and to an audience of 450 inmates who found relevance in the centuries-old tale of love, friendship, jealousy and betrayal.

"Othello-The Remix" is a rhyming, rapping, poetic homage to the Bard, featuring an onstage DJ. The play was written and directed by two Chicago brothers and rappers. The Q brothers — as they are known — updated the Shakespeare story with a modern-day plot: Othello is a rap star and music mogul. The names and themes haven't changed over the centuries, but the language has a modern beat.

It's the third Shakespeare play the brothers have translated into hip-hop style. The others have been comedies.

"Shakespeare was a master storyteller who used musical language and poetry," GQ says, and the same is true of the best rappers. "So at the very basic level they're doing the exact same thing. ... You're using poetic devices like alliteration and repetition and onomatopoeia. ... They're very similar art forms despite how different they tend to be judged." M. Spencer Green / AP
Inmates, from left, Eric McNeil, Kevin Fields, and Julian Campbell, dance in their seats while watching the performance. M. Spencer Green / AP
Rappers Postell Pringle, JQ and GQ, DJ Clayton Stamper, and rapper Jackson Doran take questions from the audience at the Cook County Jail. M. Spencer Green / AP

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