Describing the event as a “hip-hop fuelled rhythm and poetry party”, on Saturday 9th June at King’s Place, Poet in the City hosted The College Dropout R.A.P party. Poet in the City is an arts organisation dedicated to pushing poetry forward to new audiences. They host around 50 events a year across London.
The event exhibited spoken word poetry from poets inspired by Kanye West’s seminal The College Dropout album with their DJ Sid Mercutio following each poem with a song from The College Dropout and later song from Kanye’s other work.
In some ways this event was both a celebration of Kanye West’s artistic legacy and an elegy for who Kanye has become. Most of us in the hip-hop community grew up being inspired by ‘Ye even before we heard him rapping. We loved his production on Jay-Z’s Blueprint for example (Izzo (H.O.V.A) will always be incredible). But The College Dropout represented something big for many of us. It was fantastically produced of course, but it brought to the mainstream charts a lyrical depth and variety that was overshadowed by rap’s ‘bling bling’ era. The bling bling era was fun, but most of us didn’t have 22-inch rims or a $50,000 gold chain nor even want those things. But The College Dropout went beyond material excesses and connected with the everyday person, and was filled with introspection and a self-awareness that provided a blueprint for modern day hip-hop and its fans.
Kanye West was our soundtrack during the mid-noughties and it’s fitting that the first line-up of performances reflected that. Kareem Parkins-Brown, a former Barbican Young Poet, based his poem on Slow Jamz, and depicted an awkward teenage boy at a house party learning to navigate girls, dances and friendship. Hannah Lowe, a current poet in residence at Keats House and winner of the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection, offered a poem inspired by ‘Workout’, except significantly less sexist and an ode to Brixton’s finer characters.
But as mentioned before, this night was also an elegy for who Kanye Omari West has become. It’s safe to say that no one in the room was a fan of reality TV Kanye West, the controversy courting TMZ embracing polemic. Kanye “Slavery is a Choice” West was dissected in a manner that was part evisceration and loving chastisement in the way one might try to correct a family member.
Theresa Lola, winner of the 2017 Hammer and Tongue National Slam Champion and 2016 Magic Oxygen Poetry Prize, delivered a stunning condemnation. Reciting to a stunned audience, she said:
“I want to know which slaves spilled spicy secrets to Kanye
Which one implied chains were such high-quality accessories it had to be wrapped and re-gifted to their children?
Oh Kanye, I want to know how much you purchased your expired conscience for”
With a crisp and powerful delivery and tremendous imagery evoked, East London based writer and musician Shadé Joseph gave us a lesson in how to overachieve. Not only did she write her poem on the same morning of the event but it garnered one of the best receptions.
The spoken word element was handled fantastically, but DJ Sid Mercutio did a wonderful job playing songs from across Kanye West’s discography and then beyond into more solid 00s and 10s staple tracks, which made for a fun dance filled night, even if some of the poem topics were heavy.