The upcoming Tupac biopic, All Eyez on Me, is picking up momentum. According to Deadline, The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira has been cast as the role of Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur.
Afeni Shakur is executive producer of the biopic, and has a major hand in the way her son's story is told. Cast as the legendary rapper himself is Demetrius Shipp Jr., and Jamal Woodard will be reprising his role as Notorious BIG.
New Tupac Shakur Movie to Star Dead Ringer Demetrius Shipp (PHOTOS) https://t.co/uCbiH1KcYq pic.twitter.com/iYdqZG9cSk
— Lee Bailey (@eurweb) December 19, 2015
The biopic is currently being filmed in Atlanta, Georgia. The plot follows Tupac's career, his time in jail, and his time at Death Row Records. Stay with Blavity as this story...
In 2015, the means we have for making music have expanded from what people had in the past. The need for live instruments and professional studio space is often diminished by the use of computer technology. Instrument sounds can be emulated through certain software and sounds that are distinct from past music are available as well. The shift encourages innovation, but artists can still gain much when pulling from great music of the past.
This balance between retrospection and progression seems to sum up the work of Columbia Nights — a production trio composed of three black men based in Washington D.C. The group members are Hayling Price, John E Daise, and Jason Edwards — aka Brother Spanky. They pull from many black genres of music, such as soul, jazz, and hip-hop to make songs that are multi-layered, but easy to enjoy. In 2012, they released an impressive project called Dawn | Dusk and their latest album titled In All Things comes out on October 9, 2015.
I recently spoke with Hayling Price from Columbia nights about the new album and the group’s backstory. Here’s what I learned:
Blavity: So to start off, I’d like to ask you to describe what Columbia Nights is as a collective.
Hayling Price: Sure, Columbia Nights is a production trio of three like-minded brothers who are all passionate about Black artistry and about our musical heritage. So for us, as you probably saw in our press kit, we’re really about pushing music — particularly black music — forward in an age when folks of our generation may not always be challenged by what they hear and may even be complacent in their expectations of music. We’re fans of, you know, the stuff we all grew up on – the classic ‘60s, ‘70s [music]. We do a lot of ‘80s stuff too, but we’re record collectors and we’ll often get together at my bandmate Spanky’s crib and we’ll just sit down for a whole night and go through vinyl. We read the liner notes, talk about things we hear from production techniques to dope solos and see who’s playing on what. We just lose ourselves and dive into the canon of great black music and there’s so much richness there. Everything we hear now is derived from that and, for us, our creative process is about being intentional in channeling those influences and hopefully creating something new as a result. I guess what we are is a group of young, creative folks who are passionate about honoring the legacy of black artistry and music in particular.
B: That’s what’s up man. So on top of that, could you give me some background on how you all came together? I think what I heard in another interview that you and [your band mate] John did was that the group was originally a duo.
HP: Yeah, so the three of us were bandmates in college actually. We all went to school in Philly. John and Jason went to high school together and I went to college with Jason, so he was the common link. We created music at the time, played on campuses around Philly as a hip-hop band sort of in the mode of the Soulquarians collective. John and I both landed in DC after college and Jason was teaching in Philly, so at the time when we first started producing Jason just wasn’t around. What happened then was, you know, a lot of bands have touring drummers and musicians, so when we started getting gigs, we’d ask him to fill in on drums. So at the time he wasn’t technically in Columbia Nights, but he was part of the fam and he ended up playing some percussion on the first album. From there, he became a member of the trio and it was seamless.
Another thing that sometimes may confuse newer listeners is that we take an approach where we’re production-driven and we have a hand in the theme and lyrics of the songs, but we work with a rotating cast of vocalists and do a lot of instrumental stuff too. It’s an approach that you’ve seen on Robert Glasper’s Black Radio albums. Our single features Vaughan Octavia, who happens to be my girlfriend. Vaughan is a vocalist on this one tune and happens to also play strings throughout the album and on our first album, so Vaughan is a really gifted musician and kind of our “fifth Beatle.”
B: You just led into another one of my questions which is about the expansion of who you all work with. On your last project, called Dawn Dusk, you guys featured one vocalist on several tracks named Sarai Abdul-Malik, but I believe there are more on the new album. Could you name some of them and explain how they were chosen?
HP: Yeah, we have Aaron "AB" Abernathy, who’s actually the musical director for the rapper Black Milk’s band and John and Jason play in AB’s band. Spanky’s place is really our home base, so it’ll be a scenario where upstairs I’m mixing a track and downstairs they’re jamming, getting ready for a gig. AB is a good friend and talented vocalist, so I’m sure we’ll work with him again. We have Diggs Duke, who’s a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter/vocalist who co-produced a song on the album. He’s very much in the Jazz tradition. And then we’ve got B.Jamelle, who’s a D.C. singer that has incredible chops. Her mother was part of a gospel group called the Smallwood Singers. Then we’ve got SiairaShawn, who we met through Vaughan, as well as Zayani Rose who plays flute throughout the album. She was in the space [during recording] and it’s interesting because Jason lives in a church.
He’s the musical director of a church and he has a one-bedroom apartment above the sanctuary with a baby grand piano and a bunch of old keyboards and synths. We often create there and a lot of folks come in and out of there. The cast of people took part in really an organic cipher.
B: For sure. Building off of that, the music seems to come from a fusion of the styles of everyone involved in the sessions and I wonder if that relates to what you mean with the term “soultronic.” I went to your website and saw that you describe your music as soultronic and the word gives me a sense of fusion driven by the sound of soul music. I’m not sure if that’s what it means to you all.
HP: Well, soul means many things and our music is soul and other influences as well. John is a guitarist that plays Punk Rock in another band, while Jason’s into older jazz, funk, and soul. Together, we all kind of live in that jazz fusion era. George Duke is the name we talk about all the time. And myself, I’ve produced for a number of MCs and I’m into a lot of down-tempo and the more organic elements of electronic music. I’m a big fan of Flying Lotus and other guys in the instrumental hip-hop space. When we set to make music, I think it’s natural that your influences will come through — from my synth solos to Jason being a very good West African drummer. And John – sometimes he sounds like Ernie Isley and sometimes he sounds like Eric Clapton. Each of us have things that come together to form something that’s bigger than the sum of the parts.
I mix all of our work, so I aim for space and clarity in what we do. Some stuff has more of an analog feel when we use older pre-amps. But we use digital recording mechanisms, so the goal is to make the music cohesive so that you can’t tell if that’s a live hand clap or drum or if it’s something that was programmed.
B: I hear you, man. I think that’s impressive.
HP: Thanks! We really just try to make the music we want to listen to. It may not be what a lot of people are itching for, but it matters most to us.
B: That definitely sounds like a strong vision for what you guys hope to achieve with the music. Building off of that, is there anything behind the title for the album, that being In All Things, as well as any changes to your sound?
HP: For sure. Most of our work is done in a church, so the title recognizes omnipresence and omniscience of the creator. And as I’m talking I realize that duality keeps coming up: analog and digital, live and pre-recorded. And being in DC, you can have a really gritty part and walk a block down to a really scenic area like Rock Creek Park. So on the album, you’ll hear lyrics about harmony between different things like us and nature. It sounds abstract, but we were intentional in how we frame that. The title also speaks to the synthesis we mentioned before. It’s about how to find a balance. We have those screw face, head-nodding moments, but at the same time have some soft, lush string arrangements.
B: One question to build from that is if there’s a scene that’s best-fit for people to listen to your new album? Or does it fit various things kind of like the title says?
HP: There are two that come to mind. One is the personal space – when people listen in headphones on the train or in the car and need to unwind. But the second is in company, something we miss often in headphone culture. I hope people put the record on turntables and talk about it. The vinyl comes out in the spring and I like the idea of listeners, who don’t all need to be musicians, talking about it to each other.
B: I like that idea, man. That hits home for me because I enjoy being able to share my enthusiasm about music with my friends, but don’t always get to do so.
HP: Yeah, man. It’s always nice to get emails from your boys like, “Yo, did you hear the bass line on this song?!”
B: For sure. Any last words for the people?
HP: Yeah, I think we tend to overlook how much love and labor goes into art and I hope that when people hear the album they see it as a labor of love. I hope we made something worthy of that.
Columbia Nights can be found on multiple sites:
[ Website ] http://columbianights.com/
[ Facebook ] https://www.facebook.com/ColumbiaNightsMusic
[ Twitter ] http://twitter.com/columbia_nights
[ Youtube ] https://www.youtube.com/user/ColumbiaNightsMusic
[ Instagram ] https://instagram.com/columbia_nights/
Make sure to listen to and support their new album In All Things on October 9!
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According to OWN's Youtube channel:
The official music video for Dr. Maya Angelou’s “Harlem Hopscotch.” Dr. Angelou’s inspiring song is featured on the newly released album “Caged Bird Songs,” produced by RoccStar and Shawn Rivera of the R&B vocal pop group Az Yet. The song is about encouraging everyone, especially young people to persevere through life despite any obstacles! The game of hopscotch is symbolic of the difficulties of life and the obstacles that some face, whether they be wealthy or poor. The music video was directed by and features choreography from Emmy award-winning duo Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo, a/k/a NappyTabs, best known for their work on the hit television series “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“Harlem Hopscotch” was shot on location in Harlem, New York, and several Los Angeles locations, including the studios at YouTube Space LA, Venice Beach and downtown Los Angeles. The video features appearances by actress and singer Nia Peeples (“Fame”, “Pretty Little Liars”), dancer/choreographer Derek Hough, actor Alfonso Ribeiro, actress/singer Zendaya, dancer/choreographer Ian Eastwood, Quest Crew and dancers from “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew.”
Dr. Maya Angelou, an iconic American writer, poet, actor, dancer, director, composer, lecturer, civil activist and one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time, worked on this album prior to her death on May 28, 2014. “Caged Bird Songs” is a unique musical collaboration produced by RoccStar and Shawn Rivera, that thoughtfully blends the iconic poet's words and vocal performances with contemporary hip-hop beats.
Dr. Angelou’s grandson, Colin Johnson, reminisces that music was such a huge part of his grandmother's life. “She loved everything, from pop to country and, of course, hip-hop. With her dedication to social activism and how she illuminated the struggles and injustices of the urban experience through prose, there's a direct correlation to hip-hop today. She was really excited about her street-wise commentary being presented in this way.”
For more information: http://cagedbirdsongs.com/ andhttp://facebook.com/cagedbirdsongsoff... ...
“Over 450 black people have died in horror movies but in the real world we’re still counting.” Those are such powerful words from Anthony Ragler and Omar Holmon, members of Urbana Poetry Slam Team. Anthony and Omar presented An Open Letter to Black People in Horror Movies at the 2014 National Poetry Slam Finals.
From their facial expressions to their lively voices, one cannot help but to be captivated by their words. As humorous as they made the poem, they didn’t neglect to shine light upon the daily horror of black men in America- thinking of survival on a daily basis.
It’s so dope how these two poets were able to paint a vivid picture and tell the identical stories of black men in America in two minutes and 50 seconds.
With compelling words like “Don’t go check on the white guy, he’ll be fine. His privilege will protect him”, how can anyone not feel anything. Even the audience could not contain themselves. They encouraged Anthony and Omar with endless yells and claps.
I would definitely encourage people to check out this meaningful poem, share it, and check out more of their work! ...
Elizabeth “Liz” Acevedo- is born and raised in New York. She’s ambitious, passionate, and full of life. She’s been putting words together for as long as she could remember. Liz has performed in many historic places such as Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, and the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts. As you can see she’s talented and dope! I got the chance to get inside her head about her liveliness as a spoken word artist. Check her out below.
What inspired your poem Hair? Why did you write it?
Hair was inspired in large part by a conversation I had with my mother about my African American partner. She’s a wonderful woman. She loves big and hard and worries too much about her kids. And her biggest worry was that we’d be discriminated, that if my partner and I had kids they would have it harder in the world because they wouldn’t have any one group to claim. But Dominicans, we’re black people. It’s just we have such a tangled history with anti-Blackness and a history of genocide against black descendents that most folks want to keep concepts of race at an arms length. It’s tough. And the poem Hair tries to encompass all my complicated feelings of pride, love, respect, and disappointment, in a one page poem.
What inspired you to be a poet?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint it, really. I was raised amongst storytellers and great music and all of that fused together. As far back as I can remember I was making up rhymes and singing. When I was twelve I decided I wasn’t a good singer and so I wanted to be a rapper that morphed into performance poetry and now I am a writer in many of the forms that title encompasses.
What do you find the hardest when writing a new poem?
Getting started. Sometimes a poem arrives, a great image or bit of speech, and the lines flow and I can’t get pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) fast enough. But that’s rare. More often I need to sit down, stare at the blank page, and try to coax the poem to play nice, to take pity. Oh, another difficulty in writing a new poem exists in the doubt of creation. The voice in the back of your head questioning if it’s even a good idea. Is it contrived? Can I accomplish what the poem needs? Revision is a bit easier because you arrive at something to mold. But a blank page? Nothing but doubt and hope.
Which one of your poems touches you the most?
I have a poem called Spear that I literally could not perform without shaking and I would cramp up after leaving the stage because the entire time I was reciting I was trying to keep my emotions from taking over. It took me months to learn how to work through that poem. But the poem deals with a difficult subject matter and so I doubt I’ll ever fully get over the edge of that piece. It’s a poem about rape culture and the fear I have of raising a daughter in this world. It’s a poem about vulnerability, and strength, and ultimately, it’s a poem I hope I won’t ever have to read to my children. I don’t want to raise them afraid of the sexual harm another human can inflict upon them.
Is there a poem that you are most proud of? If so, why?
I think I’m most proud of my most recent work because often it’s showcasing my experiments with writing, the ones I get right. I have a poem called Rat Ode that was inspired by a renown poet saying that rats aren’t noble enough creatures for a poem. And I think about the politics around that statement, how a poet can try to create a hierarchy of topics and make certain things un-writable and it really struck me. I was raised in a very rat-infested neighborhood. I know rats better than most people know deer or blackbirds or whatever creature is “noble.” So I wrote the poem as a kind of ars poetica. And ode to writing my authentic experience and not subscribing to notions of what’s canonically appropriate poetic content.
Who is your favorite poet that we wouldn’t have heard about?
Natalie Diaz. She only has one book, When My Brother Was an Aztec with Copper Canyon and she is an absolute beast on the page. Also, Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Shahid Reads His Own Palm. I look to fierce and fearless and generous writers and these two poets provide that time and again..
Who are your favorite poets in general?
In addition to the above mentioned poets, I love Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Yusef Komunyakaa, Nancy Morejon, Natasha Trethewey, Jeffrey Mcdaniel, Patricia Smith, Sandra Cisneros, Rhina Espaillat, Aracelis Girmay, Jamaal May, Denice Frohman, Clint Smith, George Yamazaw , Pages Matam, Drew Amin Law, The Peace Poets. Too many to name, honestly.
What has been your favorite performance of your own and others. Why?
My favorite of someone else’s might be a tie between G. Yamazawaa and Denice Frohman. Mainly because I know both poets so well and to see them transform on stage and embody a poem...it takes my breath away. It makes me want to level up.
My favorite performance of my own, would have to be one of the preliminary bouts at Nats. Something about having a team counting on you and having to perform a poem as if you’ve just written it, as if you’re living it in that very moment, remembering that the slam doesn’t actually matter, only this moment where you’re connecting with people, it was a beautiful feeling.
How was performing "Unforgettable" with Pages Matam and G. Yamazawa different from performing alone?
Oh, Jesus. I haven’t performed on a slam team in exactly ten years--since I was a teenager. I didn’t even remember what it felt like to perform with other people, to have to learn cues, and gestures, and last lines. And I was definitely the last one to learn all of the parts and be on point. But dang, once we got it down? It was incredible to feel two people alongside you putting energy into a room. The stage can be lonely. Your successes and failures solely yours. But with a team, you share all of that. You hold one another up and it feels good. Especially since that poem in particular was the last group poem our team put together with only two weeks left until the National Poetry Slam!
Are you currently in school?
Yes! I am a third year MFA candidate in poetry at The University of Maryland.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
Hard work beats talent when talent hardly works. It’s an overused line, of course, but absolutely true in sentiment. I believe in inspiration, in a muse, in channeling. In an artistic calling. I think all of that is part of being an artist. But the other parts are about showing up. Showing up to the page, showing up to shows. Listening to other poets, reading all of the time, watching performances, writing, writing, writing. Always chase your next best piece of writing.
Do you have a performance coming up?
I’m still activiely booking for my tour in the spring and my full schedule can be found at www.Acevedopoetry.com but you can find the soon approaching dates below:
November 25th-- Sidewalk Cafe: feature at Urbana Weekly Slam. New York City, NY. 7pm.
As you can see, Liz is inspirational and knows how to connect with people through her words. You can continue to check her out here! sex toys pour couple ...
She’s outspoken. She’s brilliant. She’s fervent. She’s well known in the spoken word industry and will not be out of the spotlight anytime soon. Let me introduce you to this lovely poet: Aziza Barnes.
What inspired your poem Hypnophobia? Why did you write it?
I was reading and watching a lot of Jamaal May’s work that summer, I think it was the summer of ‘12. He has a series of “phobia” centered poems and his work inspired me to write a poem centering on a phobia of my own. I have a genuine fear of the act of falling asleep. Once I’m out, I’m okay, but falling into it puts me in a very shitty place. Not so much now, but a couple years ago, I’d have to distract myself into falling asleep (movies, nightlight, books, texting, mostly movies). The reasoning for this is a few reasons, but I think the main one stemmed from as far back as when I was 9 and this boy in my church (he was 12) died in his sleep from an aneurysm. I also have and continue to have really vivid, terrifying nightmares. And sleep paralysis. If you don’t know what that is, Google it. The shit is horrifying. The whole experience of sleep for me is very complicated.
I wrote “Hypnophobia” in the effort to be honest about this fear, in an effort to be more honest with my work and myself. I also thought it might alleviate the nightmares. I still get those, but I view them differently now; they’re more interesting than fear inducing. Most of the time.
What inspired you to be a poet?
I think what kept me writing and changed it from something I did to be close to and emulate my parents, what made me dedicate my life to the craft of poetry with a consciousness, was a couple of key events. When I was 17, my homegirl had a homegirl who needed poets for a youth poetry slam team. I had no idea what the hell that meant, but I liked poetry and wrote a lot and read a lot and liked to talk a lot. I joined the team and went with them to Brave New Voices. I never heard of that thing before. Sounded like a surreal-poetry-summer-camp-kinda-not-really-tho. I came to learn it was a lot more than that. That was humbling. I met my first poetry mentor and worked with him. His name is Beau Sia. I had never heard of him before that summer, either. After seeing the competition, that there were hundreds of folks my age and younger, who cared so deeply about this one thing; writing and reading and speaking with conviction, I knew I had to step my game up. I knew to call myself a poet, I had to do the work. That the work is usually uncomfortable, requires self-awareness, self-reflection and growth. I moved to New York to go to NYU. That was the second key event. I met even more folk who challenged my ideas about how to be a good human, much less a good poet. To this day, I’m humbled, hungry to learn and constantly trying to engage with and earn the title of “poet.”
What do you find the hardest when writing a new poem?
Condensing my ideas. I often want to write about 9 things in 1 poem. Then I look at my Pages document and go, “oh, yuck.” That’s often a stressful moment.
What was the actual creative process like while writing your book, Me Aunt Jemima and the Nailgun? How long did it take to complete-from the original writing to editing to publishing?
In July 2012, I went back home to Los Angeles and stayed for the month. I kept kicking around an idea I had for a poem, one where me and Aunt Jemima met in a bar and chopped it up. Felt exciting to me and I couldn’t shake it, the image of the two of us drinking whiskey in some tragic looking establishment. I’m always interested in poems that deal with a high level of impossibility, a more surreal world in which I can speak to Aunt Jemima and get schooled on an element of black life in America that maybe hasn’t been articulated in a way I understood prior to researching and writing the poem. I spent about a week researching Aunt Jemima, the company, the character that so many black women had the opportunity to portray in the century and a quarter that the brand has existed, the visual art created by Betye Saar, and Renee Coxx especially, who depict Aunt Jemima as a liberation hero or a hero in desperate need of liberation or a hero finally liberated, depending on how you chose to see the situation. I started collecting ad’s for Aunt Jemima through the decades and put them in a folder, and I’d look through that folder every day. After that, I started drafting the opening poem to the book. I think I spent the longest time doing that, editing the opening poem. The rest of the concept for the book fell into place once that poem got writ.
Most of my work up to that point was dealing with throwing me into situations with my favorite characters in the Black American canon; from Charlie Parker to Nina Simone’s 4 women (I imagine they are real people, because they absolutely are. Safronia is quite real to me, a mirror when there wasn’t one before). A lot of the poems in the book were written prior to my putting them into a collection. It took a month to write the original draft, and then 9 months to get to what became the final draft. The 9 months were full of editing, adding poems, rearranging poems. Publishing it was entirely on the side of the Button Poetry team and it didn’t take very long for the book to print.
What is your next book based on? Do you have an idea of when it’ll be released?
I’m working on a novel and another collection of poems. The novel is more consistently on my mind and I engage with writing it with more intention, so I have a feeling that will be out before the collection of poems. I don’t have a date for the release of either, but they cookin’.
Are there any topics in particular that you would like to write more about?
Afrofuturism. Queer Blk Ness. Prince. The reasons Humphery Bogart means so much to me. Prison Industrial Complex in North America. Shea butter. Rituals. The sensation of long distance running. T-Pain & all that comes with him. New Orleans. Los Angeles. My family. Process.
What are your biggest accomplishments regarding spoken word?
Being able to connect and work with the following groups of people:
divine fabrics collective, Poets in Unexpected Places, Kinfolks Quarterly , Button Poetry , Urban Word, Nuyorican Poets Cafe , Louder Arts , Greenlight Bookstore (reading series)
Without spoken word as a foundation, I’d never have met any of these folks or gotten to work with their organizations. I also would not have had an entry point to taking the written word seriously. Then realizing both are necessary, irrevocably linked and part of the same craft/tradition. I guess to that effect, everyone I’ve gotten to meet thru and because of poetry has been something I’m proud of, moved by. The community of folks I am blessed to be part of is incredibly rare. I’m always shocked and moved by the work of my peers/homies/allies/family. That’s a big deal to me, being constantly, tirelessly inspired by folks I surround myself with.
Because of spoken word, I have an entry point to teach poetry to youth. I’ve been blessed enough through the spoken word community to meet folks who do that work, teaching poetry. Something I’m incredibly proud of regarding spoken word would have to be being able to assist the fly and dedicated poet Jon Sands in his workshop at Urban Word. That was a huge deal to me. I got to learn vital ways of giving this thing I really care about back to folks.
What are your involvements in Divine Fabrics Collective, Poets in Unexpected Places, Kinfolks Quarterly, and Button Poetry? And what is the mission of these groups?
I play a variety of roles in each of the groups I stated above. I’m a member (writer, performer, and curator) with divine fabrics collective. I’m a curator with PUP. I’m a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly. I’m an author with Button Poetry, but I work with them in a variety of capacities. In the other groups I’ve named, some of them are just places I’ve read at, reading series, open mics and all that. I feel the need to mention them because they’re beautiful spaces where real good words happen. They got real fly mission statements on their websites, which you should absolutely take a look at.
Who are your favorite poets in general?
There’s much too long a list. Entirely too much good out there. Imma just go with the poets I’m reading currently that I really dig:
Claudia Rankine. Carl Phillips. Douglas Kearney. Dawn Lundy Martin. L. Lamar WilsonHeather Christle. Mendi- Keith Obadike. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Lucille Clifton. Dalton Day.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
Keep a journal where you write down bits of conversation (ambient, shit you overhear, conversations you have with folks) that sound intriguing to you. Keep another journal where you write down quotes from books you dig the most. Keep another where you write down your dreams and if you don’t dream, where you write something every day. Read everything.
When and where are your upcoming performances?
November 20th- I am reading with my Cave Canem workshop peers at Cave Canem's offices on 20 Jay Street.
December 17th- I am reading with Saeed Jones for Page Meets Stage at the DL Lounge.
Peep my Facebook for more specifics on them joints.
For more on the amazing Aziza Barnes, check her out on Twitter and Facebook!
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Growing up I was always taught the values of respecting, loving and being peaceful towards others. Brooke Jean has taken all three of those values and made them the foundation of her poetry movement. The California native demonstrates a wide range of talents from music, literature, and spoken word performances.
I got the chance to find out what pushes Brooke Jean to write and what her famous music executive mentor has taught her so far along her journey. Check out the interview below.
Who is Brooke Jean?
I am a young woman on the road of self identity. An emotional writer pouring out my experiences and those of others around me. I aim to bridge the gap between positivity poetry and the people.
When did you start writing poetry, and what moved you to start?
I began writing poetry back in my elementary school days. It was my form of emotional release by writing in my journals. I then was inspired by friends to recite on stage back in college. Ever since, I have been performing on stages and pursuing my art professionally.
How do you get in the mental place where you find this deeper interior and write?
Mentally everything happens naturally. I've tried forcing myself to write in efforts to enhance my skills. I find the quality of my writing is the best when I let the emotions take control of my fingertips.
What is your favorite piece that you have written? Why?
My favorite piece is "Inside A Woman's Heartbeat." I wrote this piece as my first ever performance poem at the age of 19. It is my favorite piece because it details my opinion of how women are depicted in our world.
You have a beautiful poem titled “Second Chances.” How did this poem come about?
Thank you! :) Second Chances derived from a year of experiences, obstacles and roadblocks that I had to overcome. New Years Eve I got into a car accident that left me with back pain for a year and a lot of self reflection. I felt like I had so many things going wrong in my life at that time. I prayed to God for a second chance on this journey and to prove that I really want this career.
Russell Simmons is one of your mentors. What advice has he given you on furthering your artistic career?
He advised me to keep giving my art away until people cannot live without it. That women have to make their mark in business by being comfortable being themselves and making a statement. Lastly, if I wish to further myself I must focus on one business and perfect it.
Who is your favorite poet? Why?
Queen Mya Angelou was the inspiration for me to begin writing poetry. An elementary teacher performed "Phenomenal Woman" and I was amazed at the storyline and passion. My favorite young poet is Jasmine Mans, her work is impeccable and her performances are breathtaking.
What do you battle with the most as a poet?
I battle with a mind that never stops thinking. I have so many stories to create and I always take notes to remember them. Some poems move me deeper than others and I find myself creating quickly yet passionately.
I know you enjoy writing poetry, but what other passions do you have?
I love reading and learning about what goes on in the world. I usually go to beaches, parks or skyline views to indulge in a great book. I also enjoy making life memories and passionate about traveling the world. My passport is ready for those stamps. :)
What qualities or subject matter do you feel is missing in today's poetry?
I feel everyone expresses themselves uniquely and you cannot pinpoint what's missing. You could say there are more people missing from the art of poetry in retrospect. The more you express yourself the more you begin to build and find yourself. All art forms have various qualities and subject matters.
What’s next for Brooke Jean?
I released my EP "Reform" October 1st for free download at www.brookejean.com. It is my second release since 2011. What's next for me is bringing awareness to Reform, touring and promoting.
Brooke Jean is continuing to remind people to never forget to respect, show love, and live peacefully. She’ll be taking her poetry nationally and internationally very soon so please stay tuned to what she has coming up!
Photos courtesy of @porterhouseLA ...
From his most known poem, What Kind of Asian are You, to his hip hop poem, I Will Always Love H.E.R., Alex Dang has been spreading his passion to anyone who will listen. Check him out!
What inspired your poem I Will Always Love H.E.R.? Why did you write it?
I've always loved Hip-Hop and I've always wanted to write a poem in some capacity showing my love for the culture and the music. I realize that Hip-Hop, like any art form, has its ups and downs, the good and the bad, and I wanted to do a poem that dealt a little bit with both, but mainly spoke on how established and powerful it is as a music genre. Even though it's relatively a young music genre, it already has solidified itself as a thing to stay.
I've also never been able to write a poem that was as dense as I Will Always Love H.E.R. that I was this proud of. The style and composition of this poem was really out of my comfort zone and challenged me in new ways.
How did you become interested in spoken word?
When I was 17, during the summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I was looking for open mic spots to practice hip hop songs. I am really into hip hop and initially wanted to be a hip hop artist. So I found an open mic and stayed after to watch the poetry slam and instantly fell in love with the culture and the style. I used to be an actor so the way people performed was so moving and genuine to me. It was so interesting. These people wrote their own poems and performed it with so many aspects of writing, theatre, and hip hop. I loved it so I stuck around and 3 years later here I am!
Are you in school right now?
Yes. I’m a junior at University of Oregon, double majoring in English and Chinese. English has always been my favorite subject and I’ve been learning Mandarin since kindergarten.
Who are your favorite Hip Hop artists?
The greats: Nas, Jay Z, Kanye West. Kanye influenced my personal life and self confidence. Lupe Fiasco influenced how I listen to hip hop. He changed my perspective on music in 7th grade. He opened me up to Outkast, Common, and others. Nowadays I'm really into Kendrick and Childish Gambino. I’ve been listening to Gambino since his old mixtapes. But I must say, I have an undying and un-ironic love for Drake.
What topics do you usually focus on in your spoken word?
Where I have been in relationships has always played a role in my poetry. I use poetry as a vehicle to see where I am in my life, to deal with issues that come in life. Such as memories of my family, different relationships I have had, relationships I have been through with society- like being Asian, being a male in society, being a person who isn’t middle class or upper class.
What has been your favorite experience with writing?
Definitely the entire notion of being able to pinpoint a memory or experience that has happened to me before and being able to put into words what it meant to me and then further elevate it to a new level of understanding and beauty.
I remember when writing What Kind Of Asian Are You? I was incredibly scared to perform it. I remember thinking, this is a risky poem, this is a poem that deals with a lot of heavy topics and I wonder if I do those topics justice, or if I'm a good enough writer to really articulate that experience of my life down into a poem.
What topic would you like to write your next poem on?
I'm constantly writing newer and newer things. I want to be able to write about my life in the purest, honest and most genuine ways. A lot of the time a poem with that much truth, for me, will scare me to death. It's trying to find a balance of being real and truthful and still telling a good story for everyone to hear.
Who has inspired you?
Mr. Gonzales. He was my high school English teacher. He shaped how I look at the world. He taught me a lot about performance. He showed me what a good teacher was capable of. And also the importance of being able to communicate very clearly and perceptively. He has inspired me to be an English high school teacher as well. Along with my mother, who is also a school teacher.
What motivates you?
My strong belief is that poetry makes everyone’s voice have equal footing. Everyone’s voice is valued and respected. I want more people to know more about this art form and know that anyone can do it- be a good storyteller. I want to put out good work so other people can do the same.
How do you feel about performing?
You never get better at not being less nervous, you only get better at hiding it. But I’ve always been a public speaker. In high school, I did speech and debate heavily for 2 years. I’ve done a lot of hip hop performances and a lot of theater performances, so I’m not shy. I’m accustomed to the stage. It’s important to me. I love the adrenaline and shaky feeling- I look forward to it. I always want to do it all over again.
What are your goals 5 years from now?
I should have my degree. Hopefully. In regards to poetry, I would have like to go to nationals five more times. Also, I'd like to be a Portland representative for the Individual World Poetry Slam competition. I want to be a veteran of this form of art. I want to be seen as an equal to the poets I look up to right now.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
Grind. Just keep on working and fighting the good fight. It's a thankless kind of work and when it feels like there's too much space between yourself and your goal remember why you love this. Remember why you're doing this.
There you have it, Alex Dang! Don’t miss out on his future performances if you’re in his area or vice versa. He will be well known in the spoken word industry. Check out his blog and look him up on Facebook. He also has an e-book available through Where Are You Press, a small publishing house founded by his girlfriend and writer, Clementine von Radics. ...
Clinton Smith is an avid reader and writer with a cheerful personality. While transitioning from teacher to a student, he still makes spoken word the balance in his life. He is currently getting his PhD. in Education at Harvard University. Blavity’s newest series in partnership with Button Poetry focuses on learning about the spoken word artist behind the mic. We pick a poem and then reach out to the creator to hear the story behind it.
How did you get interested in Spoken Word?
In the summer of 2008, before my junior year of college, I had an internship in New York City working for a publishing company in Manhattan. One Friday night, one of my work colleagues invited some of us to see her friend perform at a poetry slam at the Nuyorican Poetry Café. I had never heard of a poetry slam or of this Nuyorican place, and at that point in my life didn’t consider myself much of a connoisseur of the arts, so I was a bit reluctant. Ultimately, I decided to attend and it ended up being one of the most transformative evenings of my life. Firstly, there’s this sort of ineffable magic that permeates the atmosphere of the Nuyorican. You step inside and you’re immediately consumed with the feeling that you’re coming home to see old friends. It’s certainly a testament to Mo Browne as host and curator, and the culture of love, honesty, and vulnerability that she has fostered in that space over the years. As soon as they started off the slam by playing Bel Biv Devoe’s Poison I knew it was a wrap!
The poetry I heard that evening moved me in a way that no other art form ever had. It elicited this visceral emotional response that I had never experienced. It’s an incredible feeling, I think, to step into a room thinking about the world in one way, and to leave that same evening having your thinking transformed – to now imagine something beyond the context of your own reality in a way you didn’t know was possible. I think that’s the role of art, honestly – to push us beyond what we know, or even beyond the possibilities of what we thought we knew.
So at that point my world was shaken up and although I had never performed a poem before in my life, I knew that this was something I wanted to do and be a part of. So I went home that night and started writing.
How was your writing when you first started?
Pretty awful! Well, to be fair, I’ve always loved writing. My home was full of books, and my mom had a particular affinity for encyclopedias. Whenever I had a question about something, she would point to the bookshelf and say “Look it up, honey.” So I think in some way reading and writing have always been associated with the notion of discovery – of engaging in the constant process of learning things about yourself and the world. All that to say, when I was younger I used to write as a means of asking questions about the world around me. Journal entries, short stories, poems. In fact in third grade, I wrote in our yearbook that I wanted to grow up to be a Newberry Award Winning author.
My introduction to the stage was a slow and by no means smooth process. I’m a pretty awkward guy, and public speaking has never been my forte. So the idea of standing in front of a group of people and talking about some of the deepest and most vulnerable parts of myself was pretty disconcerting. I was also trying to find my own voice, and struggled at first with presenting my most authentic self, rather than this myopic idea of what performance poetry was supposed to look or sound like. But I was fortunate to attend a small, liberal arts college where my peers and professors encouraged us to explore new frontiers of ourselves, so I was constantly reminded that it was okay not to be very good at first and just to enjoy to process of immersing myself in something that completely new and unfamiliar.
Do you still get nervous when you perform?
Oh, every time! But that reminds me that I’m still so excited to do this work. I’d be concerned if I wasn’t getting nervous. It means that I’m still creating work that feels honest and urgent.
What topics are you passionate about performing?
I don’t necessarily know that there’s a topic I’m particularly passionate about per se. I think I try to write poems about identity, justice, family, education, love and what it means to keep our shared humanity at the center of those conversations. Whether I’m talking about the implications of immigration policy on my students, or about how wonderful, and frightening, and difficult it is to be in love with another person. The writer Jonathan Franzen has this quote where he says, “Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are.” I think if I wanted my work to have a thesis statement that would be it. I want a deep sense of empathy and love for our shared humanity to be at the center the work I create. The question I always ask myself is how can I create work that will constantly push both me and my audience to think of the world beyond ourselves? Because ultimately that’s what empathy is.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have when creating a new poem?
There really isn’t a consistent process. Each poem experiences its own unique conception. Some of them start on napkins, in iPhone notes, or in the margins of my statistics homework. Some start as a concept, some start as a single line, some start as a question. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t believe in creating a time and space for structured writing time, I think that’s hugely important. I also think having accountability partners is helpful. I have a collective of poets, who are also some of my best friends, and we stay on top of one another to make sure that we’re pushing each other to write consistently.
If you had to pick a poem of yours, that’s your favorite- which would it be?
I think the poem I feel closest to is My Father is an Oyster. My dad has struggled with chronic kidney disease for the past decade, experiencing the slow, daily torment of dialysis and having undergone two kidney transplants. When he was in the hospital after his second transplant, there was a period when things weren’t looking great, and I wanted a way to explore and reflect on my relationship with him. As I mentioned before, writing is a way to explore the unknown parts of myself and ask the questions that don’t always have easy answers. I ended up creating this piece that uses what ended up being an unexpected extended metaphor to dive into the man my father has been to me for the past quarter century. The first time I read it, was in the hospital room with my dad, mom, brother, and sister. That was the hardest reading of a poem I’ve ever done in my life, but it was certainly the most meaningful.
Who is your favorite poet that we wouldn’t have heard about? What is your favorite work by them?
That’s a really tough question. I think the person that played the most important role in my decision to become a poet was Terrance Hayes, who just actually won a Macarthur Genius Fellowship, which is an amazing tribute to his body of work. I was introduced to his writing in college and it pushed me to reimagine what black masculinity looked like in literary spaces, which was something I had been struggling with as I was trying to find my own voice. Lines like this one from Cocktails with Orpheus illustrate his brilliance:
I want to be a human above the body, uprooted and right, a fold
of pleas released, but I am a black wound, what's left of the deed.
What are your plans five years from now?
I hope to be finishing up my Ph.D. here at Harvard and transitioning into whatever comes next. Ultimately, I just wanted to continue to grow – to be a better writer, a better performer, a better scholar, a better friend, a better partner, a better brother, a better son.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
Read, read, read.
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Can you imagine the characteristics of a poet, applesauce crusher, a rapper, sports fanatic, singer, stepper, and artist, in one person? Blavity's newest series in partnership with Button Poetry focuses on learning about the spoken word artist behind the mic. We pick a poem and then reach out to the creator to hear the story behind it.
So without further adieu -- let’s introduce you to Anthony Ragler!
What part of NY are you from?
Most of my life, I was raised in Brooklyn, but I also have lived in Southside Jamaica, Queens.
How did you get interested in spoken word? Was there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction of spoken word?
Actually, spoken word came around the end of 2011. I got into a really bad car accident that August and happened to come across the youth organization "Urban Word NYC" which ultimately led me to writing poetry and falling in love with spoken word.
Do you remember the first poem you heard that motivated you to be driven about poetry?
Absolutely! "Mega" who I brought up before was the feature at the very first open mic I ever attended. He spit a poem entitled "Jackals" where he was telling his mother about a dream he had about killing all the kids in his school who used to bully him. Then he ended the poem with "Mom, why do you look so upset? Didn't you always tell me to follow my dreams?" And I lost my mind when I heard that.
What topics are you passionate about speaking on?
Normally, I write a lot of sporadic topics, and my poems rarely touch on the same topic each time, but recently, I've been having a lot of my writing geared towards the discovery and understanding of myself as a Black person, more specifically a Black male, because we are in such an awkward state of ambiguity, with us being placed at a disadvantage by being Black, but also, us being put in some sort of privilege and threat by being male. It's very intriguing to navigate my identity and understand how to be a better person, and continue my overall growth through this vantage point.
What inspired your poem Target? Why did you write it?
Basically, I had been in a space where I was realizing I didn't write any "Black" poems. A huge part of that came from me feeling as if that part of my identity was cliche, or unimportant to talk about, and then the verdict for the George Zimmerman case came out, and that night was so heavy and surreal, that I had to get some type of release and expression. I was the only person silent for the entire night, while all this was happening around me, because I wasn't sure of what I felt yet, and this poem was the best I could do at trying to explain the confusion in my head.
Do you still get nervous when you perform?
ALL. THE. TIME. I absolutely cannot perform without nerves. I'm so self conscious about being on stage that I'm normally trembling before I go up and I have to leave the room and try to center myself beforehand. When I get nervous, that's how people can tell I care about what I'm doing.
What motivates you?
My biggest motivation is my daughter, Robyn. Absolutely nothing in this world makes me continue to fight like she does. I come from a family of lots of teenage parents, so my biggest goal, is to continue proving that age doesn't dictate your aptitude for parenting. My daughter will have all the love and beauty in her world that I can give her and have the support of two loving and hardworking parents.
Who or what inspires you?
I think my biggest inspiration is the mind; I find it really interesting how people think and form opinions and conclusions on things. A lot of my work comes from trying to understand things in a way sometimes outside of myself, and also trying to communicate the way I think and rationalize to others.
How long have you been writing? Performing?
I've been writing raps and short stories since I was 8. Poetry came in 2011. Between stepping, singing, rapping and poetry, I've been performing since 2nd grade.
What has been your favorite performance, and why?
Favorite performance of mine HAS to be at the Nuyorican this past summer, when I did a group piece, entitled "Horror Movie" with my teammate and brother, Omar Holmon
. I felt static going thru me the entire time, and I had never felt a rush like that before.
Who are your favorite poets?
My list is quite biased! Almost every one of my favorites, I've been blessed to see read in person and it’s usually those that captivate and stimulate me far past the moment they touch the stage. That being said, Omar Holmon, Megan Falley , Danez Smith , Simone Beaubien , Ken Arkind , Sean "Mega" DesVignes, Joel Francois, Jared Singer, Olivia Gatwood , and Tonya Ingram would be my top ten, in no particular order.
Who is your favorite poet that we wouldn’t have heard about?
Joel Francois!!!!!!!!!!!! No one understands how ridiculous his writing is. This guy is the only person I know that can tie a poem together so tight and every line be one of the most incredible BARS ever. His work is like the poetry version fusion of Cassidy (his mixtape work) and Blueprint 1 Jay Z
What upcoming performances do you have scheduled?
The performance I have coming up that I spend the most time preparing for is on October 10th at the Nick Cave exhibit. He's this really dope visual artist who put together a lot of pieces which I and four other poets will be performing poems based off of.
What do you plan to have accomplished in 5 years? 10 yrs? (In regards to life, career, and spoken word)
Hopefully a book (or three, but who's counting?), being a professor at a college, teaching creative writing, hopefully married and having a well established writing career. My daughter would be 12 around that time, so also having a strong and dedicated child who is on a path to reaching whatever goals she has set for herself.
What is your favorite motto or quote?
"Greatness is a lot of small things done well, stacked on top of each other." - Ray Lewis
What’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know?
I can probably eat all the applesauce in the world if given three hours to do so.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
Say what you mean. The truth is definitely something you can't shy away from and it's much better to be an honest person than it is to speak only for others to enjoy you. Write your truth and let no one try and take that from you.
Look out for Anthony’s upcoming performance on October 10th at the Nick Cave exhibit. He and four others will be performing poems based off of Nick Cave’s exhibit, who is a visual artist. If you’re in New York- you don’t want to miss it! And if you attend, bring applesauce and challenge him!
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