Copyright 1999-2002 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

3BC
Bams' review of
Def Poetry
3BC

Def

Def Poetry
Running time 30 minutes (series)
Network: HBO
Genre: Spoken Word performances
Official Site: http://www.hbo.com/defpoetry/
IMDB site: http://us.imdb.com/Details?0285403
Produced by: Russell Simmons, Stan Lathan, Mos Def
Hosted by: Mos Def

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2002


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Long before 3BC...before I found the internet (or did it find me?)...heck, even before I met the love of my life - long before all of that, I was a poet. Like my partner Cass, I still am, though my 3BC duties don't allow me to write poetry and short stories the way I used to; as if they were the very air that I needed to breathe in to exist.

So believe me when I tell you that there is a VAST difference between "just" taking pen to paper (virtual or real) and writing poetry - and going that next step and exposing your naked soul to some portion of the world, in performing the art of Spoken Word. No slight intended to "mere" writers (the group in which I devoutly reside), but writing poetry is one thing; performing it verbally is Something Else.


THE STORY
Def Poetry (or, perhaps more correctly, Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry), is the more sophisticated kin of Simmons' last HBO joint, Def Comedy Jam. Like DCJ, Def Poetry is a 30-minute showcase of generally "gritty" up-and-coming artists; this time, Spoken Word artists who dramatically recite poems they (or less often, other poets) have written. Hosted by rapper, actor, and poet Mos Def, Def Poetry is slowly revealing to a new generation what's long been lying just under the surface: a growing number of younger, somewhat angrier at the world poets seen mostly to this point in small coffeehouses and the like.


THE UPSHOT
Putting my Major Issue with Def Poetry on the line first, I'll start like the episode I most recently watched, started: with a Guest Celebrity "poet". Check it: I have n-o-t-h-i-n-g against Cedric The Entertainer - as an entertainer. But if the first words out of your mouth are "I'm not really a poet", then dammit, waste time on your own show; leave this one for the up-and-comers. Yes, I realize that I'm tilting against windmills, and that Big! Name! Stars! drive ratings. But I was yearning for at least one pure (as is possible, on mainstream TV) art form to stand.

The problem I have with the Celebrity "poets" is that they seem like casting stunts; an unnecessary distraction away from the Real Deal. But yes, it's the game; sadly so. Every once in awhile, you do come across a real (or close approximation thereof) Celebrity poet; I can't tell whether or not he was fakin' the funk, but Malcolm-Jamal Warner certainly surprised me with his deft defness. Most times, though, they're clowning on the art form; merely mugging for the camera. At least they're easy to spot: if the Celebrity "poet" is a comedian of some sort, you might wanna step out briefly for a spot o' tea.

And now that I've totally thrashed any hope of my ever being asked to appear on the show...

For me, the strength of Def Poetry lies in its host (the versatile Mos Def), its gorgeous theme music by Minnesota Sandblast Productions (especially the cello - I think - line, played under Mos Def's opening), and of course, its authentic Spoken Word artisans. Irony of ironies: one of the Bum Rush The Stage artists - Abyss - was a featured performer on this episode (number 3, from December 28, 2001). This earlier performance was only slightly different from the same piece as he performed it at Rush (not at all surprising; after all, most Spoken Word performances are not freestylers, making it up as they go). Had I not seen this episode before, my reaction to his piece at the live concert, may indeed have been different.

But that's cool; because if there's one thing Def Poetry excels in, it is its diversity of perspectives (if not performance styles). Though the series has been top-heavy so far in Angry Urban Poets (and for the time being, we won't equate "Urban" with "Black"), the range of performers in any given show, usually paints a Rainbow Coalition that would make Jesse himself proud. The surveyed show for this review was no exception: after Cedric's turn, Sarah Jones (a less angry Angry Urban Poet) performed her brilliant "remix" of Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution WIll Not Be Televised"; strangely enough, I first heard Jones' version ("Your Revolution Will Not Happen Between These Thighs") for the first time on the radio, set to music.

Other performers of the night included Beau Sia, a hilarious, yet waaaay deep, Angry Asian Poet; Willie Perdomo, a Latino who was a near 180 degree shift from the poets before him; Abyss; The Last Poets (if you don't know who these brothers are, shame on ya); Inq - a White poet who spoke more Truth about the changing face of hiphop in his brief time onstage, than was contained in all of the insincere preachiness of Brown Sugar; and finally, J. Ivy, whose lament ("I Need To Write!") reached out from behind that TV screen and grabbed me where I sit. I hear ya, bruh; I hear ya.


BAMMER'S BOTTOM LINE
Poetry - written, spoken, or otherwise - is one of those things that you either Get, or you don't. If you Get poetry, then you'll likely dig Def Poetry, or at least one or two of its many and varied poets, no matter what your cultural perspective may be. The bad news about Def Poetry is that one must often sit through irritating Stunt Poets to enjoy its richness. The good news about Def Poetry is that more often than not, its richness comes in abundance. Here's hoping Def Poetry doesn't die the ugly, tortured death of its ill-fated cousin, Def Comedy Jam.


DEF POETRY:   green

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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2002
EMAIL: bams@3blackchicks.com    ICQ: 7760005
http://www.3blackchicks.com/

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