By JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information
I was once told by political prisoner Imam Jamil Al-Amin that the root of rap was the slick, jive, street-talk that brothas did on the corners to color their lives with language, decades prior to the art form being developed. He told me that he looked up to wordsmiths like Langston Hughes, and Langston looked up to poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar, Phyllis Wheatley, and they looked up to poets before them, eventually dating back to the great djalis of Africa.
After great poets like The Watts Prophets, The Last Poets, Sonia Sanchez, Gil Scott Heron, Muhammad Ali, Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka, and Imam Jamil Al-Amin fka as H. Rap Brown had the spotlight in the 60’s and early 70’s, during the Black Power Movement, then rap – the music and commercially packaged art form came to be; which later changed its name to Hip Hop. Hip Hop helped to birth so many art forms including Techno, Jungle, and House, but the spoken word predates it.
I met spoken word master Prentice Powell many years ago at the now-defunct poetry venue, the Air Lounge, where he used to host the Town’s premiere weekly poetry event, “Mouth Off”. I was always impressed with how he handled different personal issues in his poetry, especially around manhood. I grew up in the streets of Oakland, in the crack and early Hip Hop era, where bravado was king, and vulnerability was seen as weakness, so to see Prentice tell his unguarded truth around himself, being a Black man in this racist society tears, fears, and all, made me respect that he was courageously using his art form to make Black men look in the mirror, which still is much needed. His intellect, pen game, mouth piece, and heart is incomparable. In the spoken word lane, writers lane, and manhood lane – Prentice Powell is a giant that I want to introduce the BlackNewWorldMedia.com family to.
JR Valrey: Before you were a spoken word artist, who were some of the poets and spoken word artists that inspired you? Why?
Prentice Powell: Beyond having seen poets on Def Poetry Jam, I wasn’t very familiar with spoken word poetry. My official introduction to spoken word really came from my cousin Tyson Amir who did a poem at a local library for a Black History celebration. After I saw him do it, I wanted to try it. He was my real inspiration behind picking up a pen to write a poem.
JR Valrey: How did you get into taking spoken word seriously, in an era of rappers?
Prentice Powell: Poetry has always been so therapeutic for me that I can’t stop. The opportunities came as I discovered my voice and ability, within spoken word poetry. I simply have never stopped practicing and writing. And my desire to become a better writer, has placed me in the presence of other amazing artists. It’s hard not to be taken seriously, when you take your own craft seriously.
JR Valrey: What was your first big break as a spoken word artist? What’s the story behind you getting on the tv show, “Verses and Flow”? That was big, what did that lead to, opportunity-wise?
Prentice Powell: I had a show at Fly Poet, a premiere poetry venue in LA. After the show, I was approached by a few representatives of the production company, Walton Isaacson, who were interested in me appearing on their television show, once they put it together. I didn’t take them too seriously, and hadn’t heard from them for over 7 months. 8 months later, they flew me to Atlanta to film the first season of “Verses & Flow” on TV One. That opportunity led to all my appearances on The Arsenio Hall Show, and me being on all 6 seasons of Verses and Flow. Jill Scott was also on the show, and decided to bring myself and our poetry collective Fiveology on tour, with her.
JR Valrey: How was living in Los Angeles? How would you compare the two spoken word scenes?
Prentice Powell: I live this question because it speaks to my passion for the hustle. I’ve never moved out of the Bay. Most people thought I moved to LA because of the amount of opportunities I began to have. I’m still in the Bay.
JR Valrey: What have your two most controversial poems been? How did people respond? How did you respond to their response?
Prentice Powell: “The System” is considered by many to be a literary classic, which I’m grateful to have created. It went viral and led to a lot of life changing opportunities. It also placed a real heavy burden on my back. Because of the success of the poem, I found myself constantly trying to write something “better” than that poem, which was impossible to do, because that poem stands alone. Every poem has its own life, it’s own voice, and it’s important for me to remember that.
It’s easy to get caught up in the notoriety, when it comes so fast. It honestly put me in a bit of a funk for about a year and a half, in regards to the quality of my work. I kept chasing that poem. Eventually it taught me a very valuable lesson, that I should always write for myself, and not the audience.
“Good father” has definitely been the most impactful poem I’ve ever written in my life. I’ve met so many fathers from all across the world, who have had similar stories fighting for their child. It was the most painful piece I have ever written, and ironically the most healing.
I’m always full of gratitude when somebody acknowledges the quality of my work; those poems are very special to me, because I can remember the work I put in to create them, and also where I was emotionally when I wrote them.
JR Valrey: What is your biggest accomplishment as a spoken word artist? Why?
Prentice Powell: This may sound cliché, but I know I haven’t accomplished my biggest accomplishment yet; and I say that with humility and confidence. I know I’m not done, and I know there’s more left for me to do. I give myself credit for the accomplishments I’ve made thus far, but I’m not done. I’m far from done
JR Valrey: Where are some of the places that spoken word has taken you? Where are some of the faraway places that you have been to perform?
Prentice Powell: I’m blessed to say I’ve performed on 6 of our 7 continents. It’ll be all 7 by 2024. (I’m manifesting that)
JR Valrey: What do you have going on now? What are you working on?
Prentice Powell: Right now I’m working on a book, and a series of visual poems. I’m also beginning my campaign for next year‘s Grammy‘s. I want to win “Best Spoken Word Artist of the year”. But most importantly I’m working on myself, heavily, as a man. I want to be a quality man for my family. I think we can tend to bypass on the self work that’s required to make us a better artist.
JR Valrey: How do people keep up with you online?
Prentice Powell: YouTube/ instagram: prenticepowell1906