Rhyme with a Reason – On Campus:

Poets are beatnik snobs, banging on bongos, dressed in all black and wearing berets, sipping strong black coffee. Right? Wrong. Poets are JoJo in her “La Voz Latina” and Akil Dassan, Buddah Lunjonz, Anthony Morales ’98, and Jamaal St. James from “The Male Ego” show. Last weekend, these poets amazed a packed crowd in Kemper Auditorium with their lively personalities, seamless recitations and though-provoking phrases. JoJo, the night’s female poet, held her ground with her poems, influenced by the diversity of New York City and the falsehoods of hip hop. Without much introduction, JoJo jumped right into her first poem, “No, I mean her,” about the influence of her life had on her poetry. Whenever JoJo said, “I cut my wrist,” or “I hated the universe,” she ironically added, “No, I mean her.” In the final moments of the poem she sits down with a gun, a bottle of pills, and a pen and paper. Rather than ending her life, she decides to take up the pen and paper realizing that she “can be reborn through poetry.” JoJo was born in Santo Domingo and came to the United States as a child. However, she returned to Santo Domingo for high school. She considers this to be a wise decision because she was able to escape the vicious cycle that her friends were subjected to. JoJo said, “When I came back to the States all my friends had kids and their baby daddies were all locked up.” The rest of her poems were similarly insightful and addressed issues of personal significance. When reciting “New Aged Slave,” she was unafraid to make mistakes in front of her audience. This poem addressed the false images presented in the hip-hop culture. She wrote the poem “Sasson,” meaning seasoning in Spanish, with PA students in mind. She said, “Everyone has a different sabor, taste bud exploding with the knowledge of knowing we are the same. We are all humans with just different seasonings.” The final poem she performed, “The Gift,” centered on safer sex and protection from sexually transmitted diseases. She urged kids “not to be statistics, but overachievers and put stereotypes to shambles.” Her hard-hitting words proved that writing about common themes still requires a special talent. This down-to-earth style of presentation did not hinder her performance but put students at ease with the serious subject matter. The audience left inspired to also speak their minds and express their emotions through poetry. Student coordinator of Latin Arts weekend, Elinel Almanzar ’07, admired JoJo “for her strength, passion, and profound message. She empowers me and all other Latina girls to speak the truth.” While PA students learn about the classic iambic pentameter and different meters of poetry in the English classroom, the talented poets of Male Ego electrified audiences in the syncopated, hyper-speed rhythms of spoken verse. The show opened with Dasan beat-boxing and crooning, “They say it’s a man’s world…But I wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.” From that point on audience members were hooked by each poets charm and style. The four men represent the diversity of males in America. Dasan is a black Jewish male who grew up in a culturally diverse suburb of Philadelphia. While LovJonz represented the Asian community, Puerto Rican Morales represented the Hispanic community, and St. James represented the African-American voice. Although these poets understand their culture and how it affects their lives, they said they were by no means the full representation of their entire respective races, just samples. “Male Ego” was divided into four main themes of racial stereotypes, family, love, and politics. Each poet expressed their own opinions on each theme and gave the audience diverse issues to contemplate. In St. James’ poem “Transcend,” he delivered it in a rather timid voice, amusing and charming audiences. However, his message was clear, and he was far from shy. As a young child he was complacent with a life in the projects, yet as he got older he knew there was more to achieve in life. He compared his struggle to being “trapped somewhere between ‘bling bling’ and ‘Sing Sing.’” Hailee Minor ’08 said, “Normally guys don’t let their feelings and emotions out, but these guys really broke the taboo.” On the other hand, Buddha LuvJonz tried to explain how life was like as a “yellow brother.” He said, “This is not a bootleg poem…you cannot read me like a subtitle…I survived the American dream from Canal Street.” He also captivated the audience with his rendition of the classic love poem, saying “Roses are red, violets are blue, all I want to do is impress you.” Then Anthony Morales gave audiences a taste of “a throwback poem” all about love. On a sadder note, Morales also discussed childhood memories of his parents’ tumultuous relationship. St. James said, “These poems about relationships are like Usher’s ‘Confessions,’ minus the six-pack abs.” Back in his Andover days, Morales was inspired to write lyrics to songs and then poetry about certain girls in his life. Morales “thought he was God’s gift to shorties.” Finally, Akil Dassan really got the crowd going by playing his funky beats on his guitar, rousing the audience to a standing ovation. The crowd swayed back and forth, doing a simple “two step” and listening to Dassan comment on the current political situation in the United States. He said, “Historically, poetry has always been the language of the oppressed and the voice of the downtrodden. However, now poetry is the spoken voice of everyone, even males.” The “Male Ego” will be performing in high schools and colleges across the country. St. James summed up the purpose of this highly talented group of poets when he said, “We hope that we can break down the mainstream perspective of all issues and bring insight to everyone in sight.”