Friday, May 20, 2011

MN Original special on slam poetry

TPT's MN Original did a very cool special on slam poetry featuring me, Khary and Kait performing some pieces and talking about spoken-word. It'll be on TV a few times from now until the end of the month. They really put it together well. The main segment is above, and here are two of my full pieces they filmed in-studio:


The Fist that Lives in Your Neck:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cartpusher Poem Video + MN Original appearance

Me, Khary Jackson and Kait Rokowski recently shot a piece with MN Original about slam poetry.  It'll air in full a bunch of times in May on TPT and you can also check the stuff online.  I performed a few poems, including this one, and talked about spoken-word, as did Khary and Kait.

This piece (the official title is "The Fist that Lives in Your Neck") is a favorite of mine to perform.  It's dedicated to anyone who has ever worked in the service industry-- cartpushers, servers, cashiers and everyone.  I hope you like it.

Related to this, I'm not slamming this year.  I qualified for the St. Paul team finals, but my summer is just too hectic already with shows, recording, promo, Canvas stuff, residency work, MN Activist stuff and a million other things.  If you want to see me perform poetry this summer, book me, haha.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Musical Observations on the Drive to Karlstad

(Breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole week!)

So this week, I've embarked on a week-long quest to Karlstad, MN, a charming little town of 900 or so about a stone's throw from Canada. I'm guest-teaching poetry classes at the school here. I also had to drive here. If you know me, you might know that I don't drive. Like, ever. So six hours alone in the car was very, very strange for me. The upside, though, is that I got to listen to six hours or music.

And sure, I have the new Elzhi, the new No Bird Sing, a bunch of cool stuff. But part of not ever driving is not being very good at doing stuff WHILE driving. So I just put on a random seven-hour playlist of stuff that I like and let it go. It was nice to reconnect to a lot of my favorite music. Here's a journal of my trip:

Hour 1: Silence. 
Trying not to crash. I'm driving. I'm driving.

Hour 2: Fall Out Boy
Now, I'll probably forever be a FOB apologist. I didn't discover them until relatively recently, so I missed both the bandwagon and the backlash to the bandwagon and can enjoy the music without a lot of social/cultural baggage. And I really enjoy the music. I know the lyrics are silly, but I appreciate the fact that they're in the foreground-- they're actually part of the music and not just window dressing (which I think is the case with most bands). I'd MUCH rather have silly (and occasionally pretty great) lyrics than forgettable lyrics. I also love the band's use of dynamics, engaging song structures (pre-hooks, breakdowns, bridges, double-hooks, etc.) and a singer who actually SINGS. If you take the best few songs from each of their last three albums, that's a pretty brilliant 15 or so tracks, critics be damned.

Hour 3: '90s one-hit wonder male R&B stars! 
~Javier: October Sky (not his hit, but his best song and one that should be a classic)
~Musiq Soulchild: Half Crazy (I know Musiq isn't a one-hit wonder, but this is the only song of his I listen to regularly)
~Raphael Saadiq: Still Ray (also not a one-hit wonder, but this is still the best song he'll ever make)
~The Transitions: A Rainy Night In Harlem (I guarantee you've never heard this song, and it's beautiful; it's one singer, until the very end when one of the other guys in the group comes in and starts vamping and murders it).
~Calvin Richardson: Keep on Pushin' (this song sounds great, but when you listen to the lyrics it kind of sounds like the prelude to domestic violence; just noticed that)
~Donell Jones: Where I Wanna Be (I love the percussion in this one)
~Glenn Lewis: It's Not Fair (it really isn't)
~Tank: I actually didn't listen to any Tank today but it felt wrong not to include him here.

Hour 4: Pop Music Gems
~No Doubt: Ex-Girlfriend (my vote for their best song, and one of the best pop songs I know. I really want to cover this someday)
~Van Hunt: At the End of a Slow Dance (one of my favorite songs-- such a weird mash-up of styles and influences, but it all comes together because of the songwriting)
~The Cardigans: Lovefool (this is the PERFECT pop song; catchy, well-produced, light-hearted but with an edge)
~Nelly Furtado: Powerless (remember THIS Nelly Furtado?  What a brilliant song)
~NERD: Maybe, Provider, Sooner or Later (NERD is so hit-and-miss, but their hits are weirdly beautiful)
~P!nk: Who Knew (the distance between P!nk's good stuff and her awful stuff is HUGE, more than any other artist.  Her bad stuff is REALLY bad, but her good stuff is bonkers-- she has such a powerful, unique voice)
~Amy Winehouse: Valerie (such a great cover; Marc Ronson is one of my favorite producers right now)
~Cee-lo: F*** You (Cee-lo was and is my favorite rapper.  His rap work with Goodie Mob is probably my biggest influence as an MC.  I wish he's still rap, but I'm glad he's at least successful.  And this is just such a happy summertime song)
~Fiona Apple: Paper Bag (this could go in the next category too, but it fits here.  Great lyrics and such an expressive vocal performance that really brings the words to life)

Hour 5: Depressing Singer Songwriters
~Brandi Carlile: Turpentine, The Story, Dying Day, plus covers of Creep and Hallelujah (her super-powerful-voice-that-gets-pushed-until-it-breaks thing that she does might be gimmicky to some people, but it gets me every time.  These are the only songs of hers that I really like, but I listen to them a lot)
~Haley Bonar: Us, Am I Allowed, Big Star, Better Half (in what universe is Haley not a huge star?  Oh yeah, this one.  Because this one sucks)
~Regina Spektor: Blue (I love a ton of her material, but this one sticks out for me-- such weird, engaging songwriting)
~Bruce Springsteen: Atlantic City, Thunder Road, Born to Run, State Trooper (god these four songs are brilliant.  He's a master of writing personal songs that speak to political issues, even if it's buried deep down)
~Mermaid Avenue (Billy Bragg and Wilco singing Woodie Guthrie lyrics): Birds and Ships, California Stars, The Unwelcome Guest (I love these albums.  Hearing a political folkie writing songs about love and loss is the most heartbreaking thing in the world.  And the songs that actually are overtly political have such weight to them)
~Corinne Bailey Rae: Young and Foolish, Like a Star (CBR can do no wrong)
~A Fine Frenzy: Almost Lover (this is by far the most maudlin song EVER and I still like it)

Hour 6: And Then Things Get Weird
~Madeleine Peyroux: Between the Bars (if you're going to cover a great song, put a unique spin on it.  I actually prefer this one to the original)
~Emily Bindiger: Adieu (this is from Cowboy Bebop, and I can't separate the music from the emotional attachment I have to the series)
~Gogol Bordello: Wanderlust King (that line about presidents and generals gets me every time)
~Radiodread: Let Down (Toots and Maytals covering my favorite Radiohead song.  Wow)
~Fastball: The Way (Is this a pro-suicide song? I know the story behind this song, but it's really easy to interpret it that way)
~Bush: Glycerine (such a pretty/ugly song)
~Rufus Wainwright: Hallelujah (my favorite version of the song; sue me)
~Sam Cooke: Bring it on Home to Me (one of my favorite songs ever)
~Doris Day: Que Sera, Sera (When I'm famous, we're going to end all of my shows with a group singalong of this song)
~Janelle Monae: Cold War (this is actually the song that was playing as I pulled into the hotel.  Her latest album hasn't stuck with me the way I had hoped, but this song is still a monster)

And now here I am. There were more songs in there, but this is what I remember.  It's fun to talk about WHY you like the songs you like.  These aren't all my favorite songs (no hip hop represented on this drive), but it's close.  I guess I'm not so much a music nerd (which connotes good taste, doesn't it?) as I am a music appreciator.  As much as I talk/write about the importance of lyrics, substance and originality, I like pretty songs.  I like well-produced songs.  I like catchy songs.  An interesting observation for myself.

So now you should drive up here and meet me and record YOUR six hour playlist.

Friday, May 13, 2011

MN Activist Project Launch Party on 5/24 at Intermedia Arts

On Tuesday, May 24, we'll be officially launching the MN Activist Project with a big show at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis.  The show will feature some of my favorite local spoken-word artists each reading a piece of their own, plus a "cover" piece from another artist they respect, all around the themes of activism, organizing and community.

Performers will include Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, Jake Virden, Kirstie Kimball, Ed Bok Lee, Kevin Yang, Khary Jackson, Tish Jones, IBĂ© and Madiba2013 (Sha Cage & e.g. bailey backed by twentythirteen), plus me and possibly some special surprise guests.  Music will be provided by twentythirteen.  The idea is that this show will be a spot where local activists can come and both network and recharge; these artists are all phenomenal, and I don't know about y'all, but I could use some inspiration right about now.

This will be a night of political poetry that transcends "political poetry."  I'm really excited, and I hope you can make it.

The show will start at 7pm and there's a $5 suggested donation.  Here's the Facebook event page and also the official Intermedia Arts page if you want to RSVP or get more details.

For those who don't know, the MN ACTIVIST PROJECT is a database of progressive activist organizations in the Twin Cities, a hub for resources, toolkits and conversations, and a promotional campaign with the goal of getting more Minnesotans involved in organizing and activism.  We're launching now, but the site will be a constant work in progress, and I'd like to continue having "launch" parties throughout the year.  Check it out.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Canvas Writing Circle and some thoughts on art and community

So every Wednesday (EDIT: Mondays now), I facilitate a writing circle at the Canvas Teen Arts Center from 4:30-6.  It's just an open space where poets, spoken-word artists, rappers, songwriters and writers of all kinds can come together, share their work and get constructive feedback.  It's very informal and fun.  Even though we're a teen center, the circle is open to anyone.  I have a very broad definition of youth.  And I'm there every week, so yeah.

I really like doing this, and this is why:

1. Good artists exist in communities, not as individuals.  I don't believe that art is some magical, mystical force that lives in heads of a select handful of geniuses.  I believe that art is communication, and to effectively communicate, it helps to have people critique your work.  Anyone can be an artist, but your own thoughts can only take you so far.

2. Teaching is the best way to learn.  While it's helpful to hear others' thoughts on your work, it's doubly helpful to express your thoughts about theirs.  Giving feedback forces us to think critically about why we like the things we like, which is a vital step on the road to becoming a good artist.

3. It's a valuable educational model.  While the opportunity to get free writing and performance feedback from a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, critically-acclaimed rapper and all-around lovely human being like myself might be part of the allure of this workshop, the power is really in the democratization of the learning process.  We are all teachers.  We are all learners.  We sit in a circle.  There are no lectures, just conversations.  It's a pretty liberating feeling, and it gets results too.

So writers, I hope to see you there sometime.  And if you know anyone who might be interested in this, please spread the word.  The Canvas is located right across Snelling Ave. from Hamline University, inside the Hancock Rec Center.  There's a parking lot.  The exact address is 1610 Hubbard Ave. W in St. Paul.  We have a ton of cool stuff planned for the summer and beyond, but the writing circle remains a constant.  Swing by and check it out.

And don't forget, we're having a free outdoor rap show on May 12: