Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s autobiographical show the break/s starts with a bunch of questions including, “What do you think of white people in hip-hop?”, “If jazz is the broom Africans jumped over to become Americans, then what is hip-hop?”, and “If you could ask Jay-Z a question, what would it be?”

These queries are asked by drummer, beatboxer, and warm-up man Tommy Shepherd (aka Soulati), roving through the audience with a microphone.

He doesn’t get any deep and meaningful responses from the white folks in the audience (they decide that if jazz is a broom, then hip-hop is a Dyson). But he introduces themes of identity and musical culture that run throughout the break/s.

Shepherd returns to his drum kit on one side of the stage, mirror

ed by turntablist DJ Excess at a console on the other side. Bamuthi appears in the middle, lying on a projected image of a vinyl record. He moves one limb at a time, shifting and groaning as if he’s just being born. Then he breaks out of the groove and spins into a show that’s part spoken word, part travel diary and part one-man dance.

Behind him, video screens show graffiti, street scenes, and clips from classic hip-hop films. Bamuthi has described the break/s as a “mixtape for the stage,” and although the show has structure it also has that eclectic feel of a tape put together by a fan of seminal hip-hop. At times the music pulls Bamuthi across the stage, rewinding him or slowing him down in fluid movements. These are indications of the production’s physical nature; Bamuthi rarely stops moving, even when the focus is on screened interviews.

In these clips, hip-hop artists, friends, family, and members of the general public reply to the same questions that asked at the show’s opening. Their polarity of opinions (whites in hip-hop are whack; hip-hop is the bat to bust shit up; Jay-Z’s a saint or a sell-out) reflect Bamuthi’s own fractured identity. He has a white girlfriend and a Chinese kid. He’s an ambassador for his generation’s music and his West Indian ethnicity as he visits Haiti, Paris, France, Japan, Africa, Cuba and Wisconsin.

Between the travel monologues are fiery snatches of poetry; Bamuthi, a National Poetry Slam champion and a frequent performer on HBO’s Def Poetry, excels here. Switching smoothly between the two forms, the performer explains that he grew up with hip-hop, teaches it, and wonders if he’s sold out by becoming successful.

He drops names as well as beats. He had the chance to interview Jay-Z for a student newspaper back in 1996, but they smoked blunts instead. He recognized the hunger and boredom in the future music mogul’s eyes. He visited Prince’s pad in Minneapolis. Attended a Parisian choreography conference and watched bizarre performance art. Was ignored in a Tokyo club. All of these experiences inform his notions of self and allow for moments of self-effacing humor, although the Prince bit seems overlong and out of place. All the while Bamuthi keeps moving, trying to loose his cultural chains but simultaneously embracing and exploiting them. No wonder he has a double consciousness, torn between rebellion and respectability.

The break/s isn’t really a solo act. Shepherd adds vocal sounds and drumbeats, cueing or accompanying Bamuthi’s emotion-packed performance. DJ Excess’s scratching bridges the different forms of theatre and adds a contemporary edge. Along with snatches from pioneers like Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash, indigenous music evokes the different lands that Bamuthi visits.

Lights on mobile rigs help with this too — there’s a burnished amber for Senegal, red lights for the Japanese club. The performer is often placed in boxes of white light, compartmentalizing him or offering him a doorway to a new experience. James Clotfelter’s lighting livens a fairly bare stage. Director Michael John Garces and choreographer Stacey Printz ensure that Bamuthi makes full use of the wide open space around him.

The large stage also has its drawbacks. After Shepherd’s initial mingling, there’s nothing as intimate from Bamuthi. Perhaps it’s his own discussions of disconnection that keep him apart from the audience. But even if he seems distant at times, the DJ’s beats bridge the gap, especially when it’s pumped up so loud it makes your teeth ring. Bamuthi wants to leave his audiences thinking and questioning their own dyed-in-the-wool opinions of identity; he succeeds through the music.

the break/s • Spoleto Festival USA • $32 • 1 hour 30 min. • May 31 at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100