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BreakBeat Poets collective intertwines hip-hop and spoken word


Hip Hop Poetry Group GraphicLily Böhlke, Copy Editor

The BreakBeat Poets, a Chicago-based poetry collective, call themselves the authors of “the first poetry anthology by and for the Hip-Hop generation.” Tonight, April 29, Grinnell students will have the opportunity to hear from this anthology firsthand: poets Britteney Black Rose Kapri, Kush Thompson and Kevin Coval will be giving a performance at 6 p.m. in the backyard of Eco House, 1130 East Street.

The BreakBeat Poets write poetry influenced by hip-hop and events happening in their home city of Chicago. One of the goals of the book, “The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop,” is to bring the perception of poetry away from “dead white dudes who got lost in a forest,” according to the anthology’s back cover.

Chance The Rapper described the anthology as “[a] cool and diversified version of a mixtape.”

According to BreakBeat poet Nate Marshall’s article, “Blueprint for BreakBeat Writing,” in Poetry Foundation’s magazine, hip-hop music and poetry are inherently intertwined.

“Hip-hop is as much about what is being said as it is about how it sounds. In traditional poetry we express this spectrum as lyrics versus narrative,” Marshall wrote. “While we recognize some rappers as important because of their sonic genius rather than deep content, we recognize others as vital because of what they had to say despite a limited sonic or rhythmic range.”

The event is being held by KDIC, with funding from ACE. The Concerts committee in conjunction with tonight’s visiting artist Noname helped KDIC head Evan Bruns ’16 get in touch with BreakBeat Poets and bring the collective to Grinnell.

Noname, a Chicago hip-hop artist and poet who is performing in Gardner Lounge tonight, is a direct product of the BreakBeat Collective. Her concert in Gardner aligns with the BreakBeat Poets’ performance, while giving the poets an added incentive to come out to Grinnell.

“I think something bad about Grinnell is our geographic isolation — it really limits what we can be exposed to. Even if you go to Des Moines or Iowa City, it’s not the same experience as being in a city like Chicago, New York [or] L.A.,” Bruns said. “I thought it would be interesting to bring a performance you can only see somewhere like that to a place like Grinnell.”

Bruns said one of the reasons the BreakBeat Collective is relevant to Grinnellians is Grinnell’s diversity problem, particularly now with the ending of its relationship with Posse.

“I think it’s always important to represent as many people as possible. That’s something we’ve been doing all year here at KDIC,” Bruns said.

Grinnell alumnus Daniel Kisslinger ’14 was also instrumental in bringing the BreakBeat Poets to Grinnell. Since graduating, Kisslinger has been a DJ and organizer with the poetry collective.

When discussing the impetus to bring the BreakBeat Poets to Grinnell, Spero commented that amidst traditional academic poetry, it is important to be exposed to other kinds of poetry as well.

“We study a lot of academic poetry, but more and more we get other types of poetry to come here, whether it be spoken word or just not as academic,” Spero said. “I think students are really interested in seeing this section of poetry … more focused on hip-hop and how that relates to poetry.”

According to Bruns, the collective is interesting because many of the poets were introduced to rap before they were introduced to poetry.

“The role music will play in people’s performances is going to differ person to person,” Bruns said. “But sort of the hip-hop sound and vibe will be a consistent theme.”

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