Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jill Scott & Erykah Badu: From Spoken Word to R&B

A recent article on accomplished neo-soul singer Jill Scott noted that she "did poetry readings exclusively until she was discovered by the Roots, who gave her the big break she needed when they performed a song she co-wrote, 'I Got You,' with Erykah Badu in 2000."

That's a useful tidbit when and if we're thinking about the contemporary histories of spoken word poetry as a training ground and launching pad of sorts. I was recently writing about the intellectual histories of spoken word poetry circles and events as spaces for assisting folks in building consciousness. But apparently, as Jill Scott's artistic background suggests, the cultures of spoken word poetry can serve other purposes as well.

It's likely that she was developing her skills as a composer and performer while participating in spoken word poetry communities. Jill Scott, by the way, was among a group of artists, including Rita Dove and Common, who performed at a poetry reading at the White House on May 11, 2011. Jill Scott's and Common's presence and participation at the White House poetry reading raised ideas and perhaps concerns for some about what constitutes poetry and poets.

What cultural and artistic considerations, I wonder, led Barack and Michelle Obama to include Rita Dove, Jill Scott, and Common in a single poetry event?

Speaking of links between poetry and R & B, consider Erykah Badu. Her iconic fashion statements (especially those colorful head wraps) and her display of consciousness in her song lyrics were clearly connected to those distinct African American artistic communities that practiced or at least embraced spoken word poetry. Folks in the conscious crowds were thrilled when Badu first hit the scene because she validated and popularized their look and values.

For Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, spoken word poetry communities were important sites along their journeys of artistic and intellectual development.

Related content:
Poets Who Read vs. Poets Who Perform
Spoken Word Poetry & Black Intellectual Histories
A Poet, A Rapper, and His Notebooks

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