Little Five Points Poet

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I do poetry hopefully to touch other people as well as to share a talent,” said Craig, “you never know whose going to jump from that bridge who needs that little bit of inspiration to find a reason to continue to live.

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The psychotherapist used to tell him that he could write down his feelings into poetry. After living in an abusive and neglectful household for 18 years, Craig Hickerson had enough emotional ammunition to write Leaves of Grass, but it wasn’t until he met Nikki Giovanni and the impression she made on his poesy that warranted his poetry as less emotional doting and more of a high art.

That meeting occurred in a special assembly taken place at Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Maryland. Craig was the only Junior in the all Senior auditorium. He had been held back, but the Art Director ushered him in with a certain agency that only an Art Director could for a special poetry reading such as this. Unfortunately, Craig’s former class, the class of 1996, didn’t have the slightest idea who Giovanni was.

Craig knew.

After several empty threats to hold back seniors another year had failed to hush the crowd, Craig volunteered to read his own poetry first; a sacrifice for the literary giant.

Expecting a barrage of heckles and cat calls, Craig crept toward the stage where Giovanni sat. To Craig’s surprise, shushes and elbow nudges infected the crowd as Craig stepped up to the microphone. He pulled out a folded up poem in his pocket he had written and delivered a performance that Giovanni would later rave about. His classmates were stunned and so was Giovanni. Craig wasn’t the martyr that evening, he was the maven.

It’s hard to believe that this part of Craig’s life didn’t influence who he is today, since he is still reciting poetry, but it isn’t necessarily for his peers or literary scholars like Giovanni. Today, Craig wakes up every morning underneath a bridge in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta, stands in front of the commercial shops and businesses and freestyles his poetry for tips.

Craig moved from Fort Washington, Maryland to Atlanta, Georgia and began printing and selling his poetry in 2002 for $3 in Woodruff Park until he was introduced to freestyle poetry. Business was slow one day, Craig said, when a woman approached Craig with a proposition. She was a fan of the movie, “Before Sunrise,” wherein a poet on the streets asks for a random word for which he develops a poem around, so she queried Craig whether he could do the same. She even stopped some passersby and introduced them to Craig. Craig took the challenge and excelled.

That day Craig said he made over $250 dollars – $200 of which came from the woman that asked Craig to freestyle his poetry. She inspired Craig to scrap his written verse for oral presentation.

“I do poetry hopefully to touch other people as well as to share a talent,” said Craig, “you never know whose going to jump from that bridge who needs that little bit of inspiration to find a reason to continue to live.”

And Craig is talented.

His poems slide off the tongue with a lyrical quality that carries the tone and melody of song, but close enough in meter to resemble written verse. Craig’s unique bardic style paces along with the canter of each stressed and unstressed foot as he walks his listeners through each extemporaneous line. The gait of his delivery is only matched by his wit for puns and his wry social commentary. His topics often cover spirituality, poverty, the struggle, flowers, sex, politics, religion, and he has a strong penchant to use the phrase, “the heartbeats render,” which persists in all of his poetry, sometimes appearing twice or three times in one stanza. It’s his trademarked go-to line.

A quick Youtube search of “little five points poet” or any such version would lead you to find dozens of impromptu freestyles of Craig’s, some of which the videographers explicitly admit to paying nothing and explain Craig’s methods as a hustle. Some videos are shot by companies such as Honest Tea producing shoe-string budget local web videos or some even shot as entries in contests for big websites like Vimeo. A little bit of investigative reporting, though, exposed some mixed emotions involving Craig’s efforts on the streets.

Two employees in Criminal Records, a well respected business and record store in the community, had harsh words and criticisms for Craig, citing his poetry as paltry solicitations and even accused Craig of verbal harassment. On the other hand, I witnessed first-hand the respect and friendship Craig has gained with other businesses in the area like Arden’s Garden, another well respected business and smoothie shop. Employees at Arden’s Garden knew Craig by name and happily offered him left over smoothies on the house.

One would have no doubt of the impact Craig has had on the community if shown the special mural painted in the likes of Craig’s portrait with the words, “Little Five Points Poet” surrounding the piece. The mural is infused with streaks of purple and pink, blue and green, highlighting the deep dark cracks and folds in his skin. Craig said the mural was done by a Chicago artist who was looking for inspiration and the artists found it in Craig’s poems.

“I’m doing this to help other people, not just myself even though I do get tips for it. It’s not like I’m trying to get rich. I’m just trying to get to a place where I’m comfortable, but hopefully I can help other people get comfortable,” said Craig.

Possibly the most fascinating part of Craig Hickerson, the Little Five Poetry Guy, is the altruistic nature of Craig’s efforts as a poet. Craig said that he likes to help people. But, what does a man pushing poems on the street have to give? Well, Craig believes that his words can be transformative and enlightening. Craig believes that his gift of poetry must be shared with as many people as he can and this experience has lead him to believe that he has a higher calling. He has expressed an interest in building a non-for-profit to “just help people.” He doesn’t necessarily know how or when that will be, but right now his words are his mortar and the building blocks that he needs to reach out to people are his poems. He is building the foundation that will one day bring him closer to those in need and satisfy his need to help those.

Craig believes so highly in the power of words and storytelling that even after I couldn’t pay for his lunch, he said that I didn’t owe him anything; my words were more valuable than anything else.

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College Radio is the Ish

I only need 3 presets in my car’s radio. With arguably one of the best college radio stations in the country, Atlanta some amazing tunage broadcasting 24 hours a day. WRAS 88.5 or Album 88, Georgia State’s radio station broadcasts at 100,000 watts, the same as any professional radio station in Atlanta. WREK, or 91.1, Tech’s station. And WABE 90.1, Atlanta’s home for NPR.

I love these three radio stations because when I turn on the radio I don’t expect to hear the same thing I’ve heard for the last 6 months. In fact, you’re not guaranteed anything with these stations. Often college radio DJ’s make mistakes, stutter, ramble, pause or just play awful music, but therein lies the point. Nothing is for certain. In fact, if you haven’t memorized what shows come on when, you can expect anything from Celtic Irish dance music, 80’s Soviet Union techo, movie and game soundtracks, sports broadcasts, interviews, live performances, silence, or even as I encountered tonight, Atlanta’s police scanner set to ambient noise.

That’s right. I listened to the po-po respond to emergency phone calls over the ethereal synths of ambient soundscapes for 15 minutes straight. It was bliss.

If your interested in hearing this, just go to youarelistening.to and you can hear police scanners from all sorts of cities across the U.S. and even Canada.

If this hasn’t convinced you to stay locked into college radio (and don’t forget about NPR; The MOTH story hour, This American Life, All things Considered. Ughh, man I can geek out on public access for hours) then check out this 8 minute short brought to you by the good people at WRAS.

Oh… Also, don’t forget to vote for your favorite college radio station here: http://blog.ratemyprofessors.com/collegeradiowoodie/

Atlanta artist on the streets

Here’s a gallery of pictures taken in one fell swoop, all in one day, just to show how the salient the Atlanta street art scene is. Beginning with Christina Bray’s  Urban Works exhibit at Callonwolde Fine Arts Center. Some of Bray’s acrylic-on-canvas paintings are of notable Atlanta graffiti landmarks like Krog Street tunnel, where you can see the Dekalbit Rabbit seemingly copulating at intersections and crossroads around Dekalb Ave. The big concrete wall mural can be found at the intersection of Dekalb Ave. and it’s called Float by city of Atlanta sanctioned street artist Alex Brewer, or HENSE.

Macklemore: a Hip Hop review?

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Lifestyle Choices

“Look at me, look at me, I’m a cool kid 
I’m an individual, yea, but I’m part of a movement
My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said” – 
Macklemore, Wings

First worn in 1995 and retired in 2000 the Air Jordan 11’s, aka Air Jordan Space Jams, were re-released on December 23, 2011 for only $180. Only $180. This was somewhat of big deal in the sneaker world – don’t ask me – I’m not a sneaker head nor do I play a lot of basketball. Guessing by the frenzy this caused, I’ve been lead to believe that the typical Air Jordan fan is not only passionate, but borderline psychopathic. Sneakerheads around the globe celebrated the joyous occasion of the Space Jam’s re-release withstabbings, gunfire and near riots. A woman in Lithonia, GA was even arrested for locking her two toddlers in her SUV while she stood in line. You might be asking yourself, why does this belong in a hip hop review? Well, that’s best explained in the words of the spoken-word-acapella-turned-movie, Wings, by Seattle based rapper, Macklemore…

 

Macklemore is more than familiar with the pitfalls of the consumer lifestyle because he experienced firsthand how an expensive pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers is not just a pair of shoes, but an unmistakable identity that can leave a mark on any unsuspecting youth. Macklemore, says, “we are what we wear” meaning there’s a struggle, as a consumer based society, between our identities and the commodities we consume. The dichotomy of lifestyle and our lifestyle choices is a lesson Macklemore has schooled me on.

Several weeks ago, I bought two tickets to go see Macklemore and his DJ/producer, Ryan Lewis, perform at the Drunken Unicorn, but sadly, I never got to see him play. The problem was I ordered the tickets too far in advance and I had the tickets mailed to my house not knowing the concert was going to take place the weekend before finals. I should have double checked, but I was just too excited  – Macklemore was coming to Atlanta! After finals week, my hasty impulse buy left me with nothing but some exam anxiety and two useless tickets to Macklemore. You see, instead of just being content as a fan, I rushed to purchase the tickets weeks in advance to prove what a loyal fan I was. In actuality, I managed to prove that I can’t appreciate the music (the commodity) before I put myself first as a person. This is a lesson I learned through the creative words and images of Macklemore’s.

A Different Breed

Macklemore is part of the slowly ebbing flow of talent coming out of Seattle like the Blue Scholars, Common Market, and Jack One, yet what sets Macklemore apart comes from his brilliant music videos. The first Macklemore video I saw was Wings. Before the music video was made for the song, though, the song wasn’t even produced yet. In fact, it was a Spoken Word piece. In 2008, Zia Mohajerjasbi, the director of Wings, attended a show where Macklemore performed the acapella to Wings and Zia approached Macklemore with the idea that, if Wings were ever to become a song, he would want to direct the video – so, to make things even more complicated – the song was a video before the song was an actual song! Well, unfortunately, they had a great artistic vision, but not enough money and resources to make the video, (as is the case with most of the arts, but I digress) so they started a fundraising campaign using Kickstarter, a do-it-yourself fundraising platform, and got 423 backers and almost double what they needed to fund the project, $18,269. The memoir style reflections of Macklemore’s past as a sneaker-head came to life brilliantly in the end, with Ryan Lewis’ almost film score-esque production with the beats, the stunning cinematography by Zia and the sincere lyrical confessions of Macklemore. The music video was one of the best I saw last year, and there was some pretty unique videos in 2011, like the video for Tyler the Creator’s, Yonkers.

Unlike the absurdity of Tyler the Creators video, which he directed himself by the way, Wings is rooted in narrative. As the video begins, Macklemore silently steps onto an empty basketball court seemingly familiar to Macklemore, but simultaneously in an unfamiliar time. As Macklemore bows his head in introspection, the court seems like a place of worship. More than just a recreational facility, it was sacred, divine. Soon, it becomes clear that this hallowed place is a frame for which to follow the Tarantino-esque plot device back into Macklemore’s past as he reflects on his childhood and growing up beginning with the first lyric “It all started when I was seven years old.” Suddenly the listener is flashed back to little Macklemore trying to dunk with his brand new Air Jordan’s, playing pick-up games in the rain, and walking around school. This is to show how a sneaker became Macklemore’s identity. Beyond Macklemore’s messages of consumerism, the director is also able to relay his own visual patterns that create a message, which is not very common in music videos, especially hip hop ones. As the video continues, Macklemore stands in front of a group of teenagers on a bus and on a stoop with a large red book in his hands which is an allusion to a famous Nike commercial with Spike Lee, director of Do the Right Thing. Director Zia Mohajerjasbi also adds to the narrative as he shows the little Macklemore walking home from school, bereft, with no shoes on. Someone had stolen his. The striking video ends with Macklemore saying “consumption is in the vain… it’s just another pair of shoes” and little Macklemore suits up a brand new pair.

To you, this may be another review of a “conscious rapper”, but to me this is way more than just rap – Macklemore is a different breed of rapper. Not like the Lil’ Wayne, “I’m an Alien” type of different. I mean, he is cut from a different cloth. He understands and acknowledges what most hip hop can’t; he knows that most rappers underestimate the influence that rap has on children and he knows that most consumers of hip-hop are young white males; he understands that he was a product of the hip hop culture, not the other way around; he owes his allegiance to hip hop and he knows what white privilege is; he can even make an Irish Celebration anthem from a hip-hop song, or a Dance anthem in the style of an 80’s David Bowie song. He is a sage and a bard in hip hop and if you are a hip hop fan, you have got to check him out. He may even appear on XXL Mag’s Freshman list for 2011, so be expecting Macklemore in 2012. (Josh Pate)