Rap legend Kurtis Blow visits Strathmore to emcee ‘The Hip-Hop Nutcracker’

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Kurtis Blow (Part 1)

A true rap legend is coming to North Bethesda to put us all into the holiday spirit.

Kurtis Blow will emcee “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker” at Strathmore from Dec. 20-22.

“It’s a modernized version of the classic Tchaikovsky big-orchestra-sounding music that is the most incredible sound to hear when it’s mixed up with hip-hop music,” Blow told WTOP. “That fusion of hip-hop beats under classical music is a great thing to witness.”

Set on New Year’s in 1980, the show made its world premiere in New Jersey in 2014.

“It is a holiday hip-hop extravaganza,” Blow said. “We assembled the greatest dancers from around the world. We call them The B-Boy Dream Team. To see them on stage, dancing to classical music of Tchaikovsky is worth more than the price of tea in China.”

Blow will get the party started as the guest emcee at the top of the show.

“I actually come out in the intro and get everyone ready,” Blow said. “I take them back to the old school and sing a medley of old-school hip-hop songs. Everyone is dancing, standing in their seats, throwing their hands in the air and having a great time. The last thing I do is a song about New Year’s Eve and make everyone count down from 10 to 1.”

Born in New York in 1959, Blow grew up in Harlem listening to the music of the streets.

“It was all about the music that spawned the dance then of course the DJ who played the music for the people to dance to and how the rapper, the MC, became the master of ceremony and ushered in this vibe of having a good time in the place to be,” Blow said. “That’s what it was in a nutshell. … I was fortunate and blessed to be able to carry it off.”

Blow even studied communications at The City College of New York and Nyack College.

“I brought the culture into the classroom, and the classroom into the culture,” Blow said. “I had an advantage over everyone else who didn’t have an education in communications, which was a relative field to hip-hop. We are orators and communicators.”

His breakthrough record was the pioneering holiday hit “Christmas Rappin'” in 1979.

“‘Christmas Rappin’ is my favorite because it was my first,” Blow said. “Just the process of recording was straight out of the ’50s, how they recorded music in the studio. The whole band would be playing hooked up, they would record the whole song live. … I was sitting in a chair with a little microphone, rapping with them. It was the most incredible thing.”

In 1979, he became the first rapper to sign with a major record label for his self-titled debut album, which featured the hit “The Breaks,” ranked #10 on VH1’s Top 100 Hip-Hop Songs.

“My producers J.B. Moore and Robert Ford asked me, ‘What’s the next song you want to do?’ I said, ‘I wanna do a song with a lot of breaks, so my b-boy buddies can do their thing,” Blow said. “There was an old philosophy song in the 1920s that said, ‘So your wife left ya, you lost your job, your car got towed don’t worry, the sun will shine tomorrow.'”

He took the same idea and turned it into a hip-hop anthem.

“The good things and the bad things that can happen to you — that’s the breaks,” Blow said. “‘Brakes on a bus, brakes on a car, breaks that’ll make you a superstar, breaks to win, breaks to lose, but these here breaks will rock your shoes.’ What an incredible line!”

Throughout the ’80s, Blow became an activist, recording “Sun City” for Artists Against Apartheid and recording “King Holiday” celebrating MLK Day as a new federal holiday.

In the ’90s, his songs were sampled by Next’s “Too Close” and Nas’ “If I Ruled the World.”

“My hat goes off to Next and Nas,” Blow said. “I thank them for giving me new life with the recreation of those songs. Man, incredible stuff, triple platinum and double platinum, those songs. Actually, ‘Next’ won Song of the Year at the ASCAAP Awards.”

At the turn of the millennium, Blow passed on his knowledge with the compilation album “The History of Rap” and his Peabody Award-winning documentary “Hip-Hop Evolution” before being elected chairman of The Universal Hip-Hop Museum slated for 2023.

“I love to support people,” Blow said. “Michael Jackson told me one time, ‘Never forget where I come from. Kurtis, I never had a childhood. I was forced into this entertainment industry, so cherish those moments in your memory of you growing up in Harlem. Never forget the friends that helped you get there.’ I always [had] this belief in love over hate.”

That belief has been rooted in his faith as a “born again” Christian since 1994.

“It took a while,” Blow said. “I was a sinner. I wasn’t an angel, but God did come into my life and I transformed. Amen! … God is everything. I just started reading the Bible at one time. I got really bored being on top of the mountain. I said, ‘Is this all life has to offer?’ I started reading the Bible and it became a mission, a quest to read the entire Bible.”

Which books of the Bible spoke to him the most spiritually?

“All of the stories in the Old Testament of Moses, Samson, Joseph and Solomon,” Blow said. “Then I got to the New Testament and learned about Jesus Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. … The writer of two-thirds of the New Testament is Paul. … When I got to Revelations, oh my God, that’s when it really set in. I learned all the tribulations coming.”

In 2009, he became an ordained minister and founded The Hip Hop Church in Harlem.

“God changed my life,” Blow said. “I was a walking, living, breathing testimony of 2 Corinthians 5:17 that says, ‘Those in Christ Jesus are a new creation. All those old things have passed away and all things become new.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Kurtis Blow (Part 2)

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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