What’s Your Story? Hamilton

Hamilton. An amazing musical. A creative innovation that has catapulted hip hop even further into mainstream America. So what does Hamilton have to do with poetic voice?

When I first set out to create poetic voice I can’t tell you how many times I was passed over by clients because I was too hip hop. Even as the creator of an innovative new speaking category that seamlessly fused inspirational speaking with spoken word poetry, even with a growing platinum-level client list of the world’s biggest brands hiring me to deliver poetic keynotes, even with unprecedented success as a full-time poet of over 15 years, I was still a black man with hip hop swagger who rhymed, soooo … “rapper.”

Granted, that wasn’t completely inaccurate. I was a rapper. In middle-school I lost my artistic virginity to hip-hop and have been rapping ever since. But this category of speaking called poetic voice was more than hip-hop, it was more than traditional spoken word, it was a unique style of public speaking that offered valuable business content through the voice of poetry. And I was proud of that creation. So I fought against the “rapper” stereotype and built a successful company based on this unconventional style of communication. Then came Hamilton, [read more] America’s new hip-hop sweetheart. And with it, an influx of calls from bookers wanting me to perform something “Hamilton-esque”. The irony was that I actually started getting passed over for gigs because my work as a poetic voice was NOT hip-hop enough. Unbelievable! The rapper turned poet who once got passed over for speaking engagements because he was too “rappy”, was now getting turned down because his speaking wasn’t “rappy” enough.

This is the plight of the innovator. There will be moments when you will feel that you are before your time, and times when you wonder if you missed your moment. So goes the rhythm of the world as it tries to catch up to your vision. But through it all, you have to be willing to be the biggest believer is your vision. True innovators know that sometimes the world will never really see it …until you show em. So you have to be ok with missing out on what’s “now” in order to blaze the trail toward what’s “next.”

I salute Lin Manuel-Miranda. Hamilton has helped make hip-hop “safe” for (ahem) new demographics… and furthered its embrace by mainstream culture in dope new ways. I actually feel a strong sense of pride about that because I love our art form. So that’s a win for all of us rappers. Yet, I’m also proud of the heights to which I’ve been able to take poetic voice, and part of my mission is to make this style of speaking a win for all of my fellow poets and speakers out there as well. In doing so, maybe I’ll be too hip-hop for some, maybe not hip-hop enough for others. (Take a look at the video below and you decide!)

But in the “ too-rappy” words of Hamilton:

 “I wrote my way out of hell. I wrote my way to revolution. I was louder than the crack in the bell. I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell. I wrote about The Constitution and defended it well. And in the face of ignorance and resistance, I wrote financial systems into existence. And when my prayers to God were met with indifference, I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance.” (from Hurricane, Hamilton)

Or… in the “not-rappy enough” words of Sekou (tha misfit):

“Momma made sure my pen was raised right / So when it’s raised to write

I intend to blaze light / Unswayed by the day’s hype

For I am first generation son of hip-hop

I proudly claim “emcee” among the most academic of poets

For I was there / in the cipher / when Sonya Sanchez and Gil Scott

passed the pen to Rakim and Jill Scott

and said “Remember from whence you came”

That’s why, even when playing to amphitheaters on sold out nights,

I still write for the local open mic

For the endangered few who still dare to listen

…So if rap is has become the Main St. to affluence

And hip-hop, the Underground Railroad to freedom

Poetry … is the scenic route

Where we stop / smell the flowers / and then describe them with such ebullience

You can’t shake the scent of orchids from your cubicle the next day

This / is real talk

From / real life

For / real people

This / is for those unafraid to strip down and be flawed

Beautifully blemished, stretch-marked and scarred /

Who don’t silence the secrets

whispered from peeled-back flesh / This

is verbal eye contact

for thirsty ears / This

is what transpires when the music mutes

…and your head still nods.” 

(from “The Difference”, Sekou)

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