Almost anyone who knows anything about Hip Hop, knows that the Rap element is rooted in African oral poetry. Back in the early days, some people used to say that Rap was an acronym for Rhythmic African Poetry.
Few people in this world understand the historical, social and political impact of the poets as Bruce George. He is the co-founder of Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam. He is a raw poet in is own right, though humble, and he loves the people on the street that are the roots of all the urban art around us. Bruce and AllHipHop.com talk about his personal journey, how Def Poetry Jam came to exist, and his newest high powered venture with Malik Yoba and the legendary Jim Brown!
AllHipHop.com: Were you an MC first- or a poet? Tell me that journey
Bruce George: Im an old school MC from the wild, wild west side of the Bronx, in New York City. I was with several crews, organizations, gangs at which point I would express my lyrical skills from one block to the next. Or from one club to the next! I was blessed with the opportunity to experience Hip-Hop from its roots in the Boogie Down BX! When you are young, you dont have a sense of mortality so I fell into gang culture very easily and quite frankly enjoyed the power that came with being aligned with a surrogate band of brothers and sisters.
Hip-Hop culture provided an outlet for us to battle each other verbally as opposed to physically although we flipped wigs as well. About 12 years ago, Dr. Sam Anderson exposed me to the Spoken Word Movement. Sam Anderson who was a former Black Panther from Harlem, and he held an open mic at the Apollo Theatre, at which point I had the opportunity to be regaled by heavy hitting wordsmiths such as T Kalla, Tony Medina, Asha Bandale, Mums. I went up to the mic wet behind the ears, and was very wack to be real with it. But from that one experience, my learning curve was in motion as I had a yard stick to reach and I have not looked back since with over 12 years under my belt in the field.
AllHipHop.com: How did the Def Poetry thing come to be?
Bruce George: I gave birth to Def Poetry Jam about six years ago. I presented the concept to Danny Simmons, who in turn presented it to [his brother,] Russell. Actually, I got inspired from Def Comedy Jam since it shared a similar profile as the Spoken Word genre such as a mic, audience, and a stage! So it made perfect sense: a poetry version of the comedy series. Deborah Pointer, Danny, and myself were the initial ones to executively produce multiple Def Poetry Jam showcases and a 12-city tour, which in time became buzz-worthy across the country, and Russell, saw the potential of it becoming a major success so he cosigned it and the rest is history. We have gotten a Peabody Awardfor Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO, and a Tony Award for Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.
Let me underscore that Russell and Stan Lathan created the concept of bringing Def Poetry Jam to Broadway. I was the Co-Executive Producer/Talent Executive for the 1st and 2nd season of Def Poetry Jam on HBO, and I was the Executive Consultant for Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Be advised that Im no longer associated with Def Poetry Jam since I have moved on to the road of reinvention at which point Im doing very well. To God is all the glory!
AllHipHop.com: Who are some of the hot poets you dig right about now?
Bruce George: T Kalla, Mums, Carl Hancock Rux, Rha Goddess, Tony Medina, Willie Perdomo, Beau Sia, Amiri Baraka, Sandra Maria Esteves, Louis Reyes Rivera.
AllHipHop.com: Explain the concept of Spoken-Rap? I like it.
Bruce George: A lot of performance poets were influenced by the culture of Hip-Hop, so their delivery and meter has a heavy rhyme scheme, and their pace is a lot quicker than the average spoken word artists. So as a result you have a tapestry of Spoken Word and Rap thus Spoken-Rap. Performance poets such as Black Ice, Lemon, Abyss, Jessica Care Moore as well as myself are a perfect example of having a dual meter.
AllHipHop.com: Do you vote?
Bruce George: Technically Im an Independent. But I voted with my conscious for the lesser of the two evils. We need to galvanize the Independent party so we wont have to play party politics, and we can vote for who we really feel addresses our needs and has our best interest at heart. We can vote for someone who has a proven track record for supporting people in struggle! Someone who believes that capital should serve labor, and they dont kowtow to special interest groups! Ralph Nader is one of the most iconoclastic, muckraking public advocates who I feel has a genuine platform thats anti status quo, but he needs a lot more support to position and leverage himself to be a formidable opponent.
AllHipHop.com: How important is political activism in your opinion, as it relates to Hip-Hop?
Bruce George: Hip-Hop was created out of struggle! It was created out of necessity! Hip-Hop is a response to oppression in the form of economic exploitation, racism, sexism, class-ism, gentrification. Historically, the artists, regardless to his or her genre, have been the truth bearer, the flamethrower, and the cajoler of history! We as a people in struggle were never given the luxury of art for the sake of art. For us art is an indispensable tool of revolutionary struggle. Its the job of the status quo to keep the lumpen-proletariat poor and powerless!
Dr. Sonia Sonia Sanchez was correct when she said that all art is political. Either your art is maintaining the state of existing affairs or its going against it. Hip-Hop culture is mandated to be an agitator, an organizer, and a revolutionary force to level the playing field, a raiser of the conscious and not a lower of conscious. In my opinion, political activism goes in tandem with the culture of Hip-Hop.
AllHipHop.com: What are the top three things you feel the Hip-Hop community should be concerned with- politically and socially speaking?
Bruce George: First and foremost is freedom! Freedom from oppression! Secondly is self-determination! With self-determination we can determine our destiny. And thirdly is financial freedom so we can galvanize our resources and provide and create opportunities towards our survival.
AllHipHop.com: If you could make three books mandatory for the American school system to put into the classrooms, what would they be?
Bruce George: The Wretched of The Earth by Frantz Fanon, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair [and] Whose Trade Organization by Lori Wallach and Patrick Woodal.
AllHipHop.com:: Tell us what you are working on these days?
BG: My latest project is The Bandana Republic: an Anthology of Poetry and Prose by Gang Members and Their Affiliates. Im the Founder/Managing Editor and Louis Reyes Rivera is the Co-Founder/Editor. Jim Brown is gong to write the Foreword. Every street organization you can image is in the Bandana Republic. I had written the Treatment to the Bandana Republic, which is going to turn into a movie documentary that will be directed by Malik Yoba. Im also the founder and segment producer of The Lab with Focused Digizine, which is a Hip-Hop digital DVD magazine.
Adisa Banjoko is author to the controversial book Lyrical Swords Vol. 1: Hip Hop and Politics in the Mix. Buy one today at www.lyricalswords.com