March Artist Spotlight: Spoken Word & Hip Hop Ace, SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE

Hey SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE, thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed. Can you tell us what your art form is? Can you define your art forms?

That’s actually a bit more of a complicated question for me to answer than you might expect. I consider myself to be an artist before anything, and as a part of everything. As I’ve developed and created a way for myself as an artist, my primary focus is on hip hop (music production, writing and performing) and spoken word poetry. I also take photos, draw/paint, do graphic design, and really anything else I get the opportunity to do. I love to create. I revere all the art forms. I do some video editing, I’m starting to direct my own music videos, and have even done some acting. If I were to define those focus areas, I would say that I write and produce imaginative, forward thinking and experimental hip hop that’s fun, relatable, and often danceable. I write spoken word (or performance poetry) to tell stories about culture, heritage, and to build bridges between histories. I would say you’d get a strong sense of tradition, rebelliousness, spirituality, playfulness (or generally being a smart-alec), and social justice throughout my work.

Do you remember when you first became interested in spoken word or hip hop? How did it happen? Did you have any big influences?

I’ve always been interested in stories. Every writing assignment I had as a kid became some outlandish tale. That eventually turned into poetry as a means to understand my world, to better see myself, and to process whatever I was going through. I wish I could say there was a moment when I heard that one poem or something, but I can’t really say there wasn’t a time where poetry and literature weren’t even a peripheral part of my life. I know Langston Hughes was one of the first poets who really grabbed my attention. I must’ve found him sometime in elementary school.

Hip hop was very much the same. I grew as hip hop grew. I guess you could say the same thing for spoken word. My first record was Run DMC (in pre-school!). I got ‘Beastie Boys; License to Ill’ in my Easter basket in the first grade. It was always around. I didn’t know how closely spoken word and hip hop were related, but they were all around me, people were writing and reciting poems and raps in the same spaces in the cities as I was coming out of high school. For both of these, very symmetrical (historically speaking), I was always fortunate to find scenes where they were happening simultaneously. I remember hearing Desdamona on hip hop tapes and deejay mixes back in the day. People were always giving me music to listen to. I’m forever indebted to all those folks, because it set me on a path. It feels so meant to be, looking back on it all.

When I got to Chicago, I was really ready to come out of my shell, and the spoken word scene there was going full force. I met folks like Kevin Coval, Anna West, Idris Goodwin, Krista Franklin, Dan Sullivan, and Dennis Kim. I mean, there are so many artists I met, witnessed, collaborated with. Too many to name. There was a sweet spot in the scene there where hip hop and spoken word lived and breathed together. I don’t think I knew it at the time, but that’s where a lot of my identity as an artist, as a hip hop artist, as a poet, crystallized for me.

Does teaching effect your personal work? How so?

There’s so much I need to learn, or relearn, to teach. So I’m always seeing my own work differently, reevaluating it through a slightly shifted lens. I think teaching makes me a better writer, and performer for that matter, hands down. Teaching also gives you a second hand nature of editing and revising, I think. You read so much of your students work, and helping them understand how to refine their ideas and expression, that it just naturally carries over into how you review your own work.

What do you hope participants of your programs learn or come away with?

More than anything else, I want them to come away feeling that their stories matter. I want them to have a sense of the larger culture at play when we write, perform, or even just read or watch someone else do their thing. I want them to feel connected to it. I them to know that if they write, they’re a writer, and that there’s a whole world of writers out here in community that we can study, learn from, and build with. I want them to learn about themselves, and to have an itch to continue learning through art.

What projects or programs have you been working on recently?

I’ve been busier than ever with residencies and performances, and it has been a blast.  I’ve been doing a lot of introductions to spoken word, as well as a lot of exploration of identity through hip hop and spoken word. I’ve also been doing longer rap, spoken word, and music production classes. My own projects have been non-stop! I recently released a new album called ‘Sex Tape (or my response to our morbidly underdeveloped sex education)’, which I’m so proud of, and speaks to larger issues of healthy sexuality, consent, and how we learn or mis-learn about sex, if you will. I released a song/video with my friend Guante about Star Wars that is fantastic.  I’m also working on several projects that include a super hero story called ‘Birth of the Brown Recluse’ produced by itchie fingers of Brooklyn, and a sci-fi epic with my friend Dameun Strange called ‘Diary of a Droid’. There’s too many to go on about, and some that are top secret for now, haha.

You’ve been on the COMPAS roster for two years now, what’s it like to be a COMPAS artist?

It’s fantastic. I am connected to all of these great artists who do so much great work throughout the cities and Minnesota, so it’s a great opportunity to just broaden my own community, which I’m always striving for. I love how I’m able to connect to different communities through residency opportunities that are always coming up. I am really passionate about bringing this work to as many people as possible and work to make an impact through my art and the teaching of it, so I feel like it contributes to my reach on those efforts.

Why do you think arts education is needed in our community?

Learning about art is learning about yourself, as well as the world. It’s learning about your history as a human on this earth. You learn about your own communities, as well as communities outside of what you’ve been exposed to. Sometimes you learn those “outside” communities are actually a part of your community. You learn how those “outside” communities are an inherent part of your culture, of our culture. You learn how (not what) to think, how to study what you feel, how to give voice to what’s important to you.

You’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago, do you see any similarities in opportunities for artists between the cities? Differences?

I do see some similarities, but what we have in the Twin Cities (and in Minnesota) is really special. The volume of work being done here. The reach that we have from the metro beyond is really unique. The ways in which we continue to strive to connect and build within and across communities is spectacular. It’s inspiring and I could hardly imagine living anywhere else. I mean, we have a lot of work to do, but I’m so happy to be working with the communities and people here as we move forward.

Does living in Minnesota have any influence on your work?

I can’t think of anything that doesn’t have an influence on my work. What can I say? Minnesota is a special place. It’s more diverse than given credit for, it’s full of beautiful places just to exist in, and there’s so much exciting work happening all around, that if you live here and you’re not inspired, it’s possible that you have your head in the sand.

How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?

I can’t think of a way I don’t practice creativity in my everyday life. I guess, ultimately, for me it’s just so important for me to create space for inspiration. Whether that’s space for ideas to come to me on a day to day, minute to minute basis, or give myself time to breathe and let my mind wander (ah, the inspiration that come from the play on space!), or making time to play with an idea…it’s really about creating a life that siphons and sustains a flow of creative energy. It’s about the music I listen to, the relationships I develop, the conversations I have, cooking, taking in art, reading…you know? I’ve worked to make my life a practice of creative energy…and I think it’s coming along.