Age: “I was born on February 29, 1972, which makes me 10 years old.”
Hometown: Newburgh, NY
Current Role: John, an ex-con facing an uncertain future in his old neighborhood in the non-biographical Tupac Shakur-inspired musical Holler If Ya Hear Me.
Stage & Screen Cred: After earning an MFA from NYU’s Tisch grad acting program, Williams became known for his role in the movie Slam. His other screen credits include Girlfriends, Lackawanna Blues, Aujourd’hui and more. He has released four albums and four books of poetry and is recognized worldwide as an expert on the connection between hip hop and classical poetry.
"As a kid I begged my parents to let me audition for The Cosby Show. My dad didn’t want to discourage me, so he let me take acting classes. I started studying at HB Studios when I was 12. I went from wanting to be famous to wanting to be good.”
"I grew up going to Broadway. My dad was a pastor, and they were always sent free tickets to see if they could bring busloads to the black shows. My biggest influence was the South-African play Sarafina!, which I saw seven times."
"I'd have these arguments with my theater professors at NYU because I was transcribing hip-hop lyrics into monologues. They’d be like, 'What is this? It’s amazing!' I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I wish you weren’t sleeping on hip hop.’ It really is tailor-made for the theater."
“When the commercial exploitation of hip hop started happening in the mid ‘90s, it left a lot of us hungry. That’s when I started writing again—as I had as a teenager. This time I was less interested in rhyming and more into in just expressing myself.”
"I started reading poetry in 1995. I'd be in the laundromat writing down ideas and then reading them someplace that night. When I got handed money for Slam and for writing a book, I struggled because I had not connected money to that kind of work. I thought most of the artists making money were the wackest ones.”
"I was raised by activists like Pac, so I always held in great esteem those in the hip-hop community who made a connection between what they were recording and how they were carrying on the legacy. And I always felt that from Pac. He was not only outspoken but well-spoken. I was always a fan.”