You’ve been writing and performing for over 20 years at this point. You have 16 CD’s, a memoir, and numerous accolades, with the cherry on top being Steven Wonder calling you an inspiration…
What are some of the major changes you’ve noticed in spoken word over the course of your career?
Although spoken word is not quite mainstream, it’s come a long way in terms of exposure since the 90’s when I began getting serious about it; Jessica Care Moore was winning Showtime at the Apollo, there were a few motion pictures that centered around spoken word (i.e., “Love Jones,” “Slam” and “Slam Nation.”). The venues felt more organic as natural outgrowths of the art form, like legendary jazz clubs. Since then, I have seen poetry slams referenced in television shows, Georgia Me and the group Fiveology have toured with major recording artists, J Ivy and Malik Yusef have recorded with Grammy winners, and Def Poetry Jam and Verses and Flow have inspired a new generation of poets. We have gone from chap books to CDs to social networking and digital video. These days I can record a poem and more people will see it in days than would have in several months back when I began.
What are you working on now?
I am interested in putting together shows that highlight some of the veteran poets I respect most as well as new comers who impress me. So far, this is set to kick off in June of 2017. The initial shows will include Sunni Patterson, Lamar Hill, Narubi Selah, 13 of Nazareth and a few others. Everyone involved is an artist for whom I hold the utmost respect. Writing is still a necessity and I continue to pen new work but rather than put it out on CD, I share it online, for free.
Look for opportunities to showcase your talent.
In your TED Talk you talk about people having gifts, but not using them. In particular, you talk about “Success = Aptitude X Motivation.” It’s clear that you utilized this formula throughout your career, particularly having left a successful finance career for the life of a full time spoken word artist.
What or who motivates Taalam Acey to keep creating?
Even when not trying to write, poems slowly come together in my mind. Back when I traveled incessantly, I gathered a great deal of motivation from watching other poets. As I said in, “Seldom Seen”: “I used to catch a flight every three and half days…used to sit and listen to poets 4 times a week.” My favorite genre of poem was political, but during Obama’s presidency, political criticisms tended to fall on def ears. I have a feeling the new administration will motivate many to gravitate toward political poems again, if only for sanity’s sake.
What words of wisdom would you lend to those looking to make the leap into something they love doing?
Look for opportunities to showcase your talent. Throughout my tenure, I probably said “No” to a fewmore things than I should have. There were opportunities to perform with major artists. Potential friendships with people who were in a position to help should not have all been treated as suspect, and other mediums for exposure that I may have been able to parlay into greater opportunities were considered suspicious.
It is important for an artist to keep his/her integrity but there are a few times when I may have gone too far with that at the expense of introducing many more people to my work who were potentially yearning for it.
Also, there are many financial ups and downs in life and this is aggravated when it comes to artistic endeavors. To the extent possible, I would try to maintain multiple income streams. Economic stability also goes a long way to help in maintaining integrity. Desperate people tend to be more likely to sell out.
Hip Hop culture and lyricists being more appreciated abroad is a common theme we hear from M.C.s when discussing performing internationally. As an artist, who tours regularly both abroad and domestically, what do you find are the major differences and/or similarities between your performances and the crowds you draw here vs. everywhere else?
In the U.S., the delivery and flavor of a poem is as important to spoken word listeners as the writing, and sometimes more so. I have found that international audiences are far more interested in the use of language than the performance per se.
Where are some of your favorite places to perform when abroad?
Austria, The Netherlands and the U.K. Many of the venues I’ve performed in overseas (and in the U.S. too, for that matter) are no longer doing their thing. I could tell you about the rooms (which I imagine are still there) but the experience had to do with the crowds, formats and promoters. In many cases, all 3 aspects are no longer there. I miss that and am hoping to help bring it back with this new show concept.
How important is it for Black men, in particular, to get out of the U.S. and travel abroad?
Although bigotry and racism are subtler in other countries, it’s still there. There are all types of people everywhere. Nevertheless, it’s important to travel and see the world to the extent one can. Many people go through life without ever venturing far from where they grew up. Seeing other country’s landscapes, architecture and feeling the rhythm and interacting with other people is a fulfilling experience, like you are enlarging your world.
This issue of Griots Republic is about beauty… She Conjurez, Through a Wedding Ring, Scars and What You Deserve are four of my personal favorite poems of yours. Each one of these poems happens to be about relationships and attraction, but I find it interesting that you regularly describe beauty on different levels.If you had to categorize and rank elements of beauty, what would those categories be and which would be the most important?
Attraction is preeminent. This includes the physical, spiritual and intellectual. I would not go for one without the other.
One of the most beautiful things about you is your relationship with your children. You get a glimpse of how passionate you are about your children in your poem, “Metaphysix” where you kind of go off. You say:
“See I ain’t got no dead-beat friends.
Cause I know a man who ain’t got his child’s back
can never have my back in the end.
Besides, what makes him think he can stand in the same room with men
Why face your fears?
Stay home. Play PlayStation. Drink Beers.
I hope you choke on 40ozs of your children’s tear.”
What inspired this poem?
Metaphysix was inspired by relationships with women who were single mothers with children who had been ignored by their fathers. The dichotomy between the relationship I fought to maintain with my children through visits and support versus these guys who were apparently comfortable with forgetting they even had children, disturbed me greatly. I would look at their children and wonder if those cats often regretted the abandonment or if they were just happy to be free of their own children. The trigger was a guy telling my woman (at the time) that he didn’t have to be there for her children because I was.
How has being a father contributed to the beauty of your journey?
Being a father is almost everything. A few years back, a gentleman told me he had been successful in life largely because he did not have children. I responded that had I not had my children, it is doubtful that I would have consistently been able to identify reasons to live, much less succeed.