Live From the Writer's Bench: What Are Your Expectations of Hip Hop In 2014?

This week, the crew chop it up about what their expectations are of 90's MC's/Groups dropping new music in 2014. Can the OG's still bring it?

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The Sanctuary: Ben B.

I'm not the biggest poetry fan in the world and I think most folk who come 'round here have heard me say that a million times. But every now and then I come across a poet who I actually rock with and if I rock with 'em, then ya'll KNOW they must be dope! So, ya'll already know, if I rock with you, then I'm down to do any and everything to help support you. So check out an interview that I did with my new fave poet on the block,  Ben B. Oh yeah, best believe that me and Ben are cooking up some treats for ya'll too!

What got you into this whole poetry game? 

What got me into poetry? I love this story. My first 2 years of college I had a few mentors that introduced me to what true Hip-Hop was and I fell in love. I decided one day I wanted to make Hip-Hop music. Around this time I switched my major to Anthropology. While learning about different cultures, a respect for diversity and a need to listen more, I decided I would take things slowly. I figured before I could rap, I would need to learn how to write poetry. I signed up for a Creative Writing class out of nowhere. I was the only non-CRW major in the class and I felt I was in over my head. But everyone was really supportive and I learned a ton. In that class I met my first mentor who led me to Spoken-Word and Slam Poetry. She said I had a Spoken-Word style and told me about the open mics around Tampa. It only took 1 show and I was hooked. Spoken Word mixed with my desire to be a teacher, I found my calling. I truly feel poetry, and Spoken-Word in particular, is a huge part of the revolution. 

What was your first poem about? 

My first poem was about and to my sister. My little sister Rebekah had an aneurysm and blood-clot in her brain a few weeks before her 18th birthday and was unconscious in the hospital for months. This was right before I signed up for my poetry class. My first poems were written by her bedside. To her and my family, about how Bek was not only going to get better, but going to go on to do great things. About how awesome the human brain is. About her and I and education and kids and Hope. My first poem I read on stage was called "Happiness." 

Do you ever get writer's block and if you do, how do you get past it? 

I rarely deal with writer's block. I think it is because I am "always writing." Whether it be journaling my dreams, or saving lines/rhymes/metaphors to my phone, or just freestyling with my kids (at the Boys & Girls Club). I'm always keeping the creativity flowing and going back in my laptop to look at things from recent months for even more inspiration or to find connections with new pieces.

I know a lot of people don't see the relationship between poetry and MC'ing, but I've always thought the two go together hand and hand. What are your thoughts on that? 

I don't see how anyone could NOT see the connection. Doesn't rap stand for Rhythm and Poetry? Look at the greatest MCs and real Hip-Hop artists and you will find beautifully heartbreaking and talented poetry. There are great MCs who never consciously "write poetry" and yet can still flow and tell stories and control the crowd with the best of em. But I think it is all in what we are calling it. If you're a story teller, griot, MC (Master of Ceremonies), truth-sayer, bard, etc. Then you are a poet.

I know you've been doing a lot of touring lately, what has been your favorite city to perform in so far and why?

Oh man. This one is so close. I'm going to have to give a sneaky answer here haha. My favorite show is "The Session Live" hosted by Spiryt the Tattoo-Poet in Columbia, SC. Always so much fun, high energy, an interactive and supportive audience and talent for days. As for my favorite cities to perform in, I'll give it a tie between Austin, TX and Seattle, WA. The poets are DOPE, the scene is huge, and the cities themselves have so much to offer. Also shout out to Kansas City, OKC and Little Rock, that's the fam, they know how to take care of traveling poets, for real.

What's your process for writing a poem? 

My process really depends on the piece I am writing. Sometimes, I know my topic, I sit down and write, and get everything out in a few hours. This is how "Happiness" came. But other times I will write a few lines/stanzas here and there, do some research, do some interviews, and sit on a piece for a while, sometimes a few months. Then when I feel ready, I'll go back and collect everything I have and put it all together, make cuts and edits, and figure out how to get it to flow.

I know you pride yourself on being an educator first, have you used your gift of poetry to work with the youth you serve?

Youth Poetry is my biggest and most favorite priority. In 2011 I started a poetry club at my high school alma mater and served as the poetry coach and mentor there for 2 years before leaving for tour and AmeriCorps. I have also taught youth writing workshops across Florida, California and in South Dakota, as well as hosting youth slams and open mics. One day, when I get back from Peace Corps and my travels, I want to start a nonprofit in my home town - St. Petersburg - that will be a dedicated, safe youth arts space where kids 18 and under can come and work on their crafts - dance, poetry, music, painting, whatever it may be - and also host monthly showcases for the community to come and see the young talent in their city.

You just dropped a book, tell me about it and where can folk purchase it from?

My first collection of poems (in book form) was released on March 31, 2014. It is titled "A Lion Called Winter". It is a collection of short stories and poems that I have written over the past 2 years while touring and serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America). It's very exciting for me as most of my early poems were really for the stage and for a CD. But I have been trying to expand my horizons and work on my page poetry. It has been an awesome challenge and I am eager to share all I have learned with the world. You can purchase the book here...

What's your favorite poem that you've written and why? 

My favorite poem I have written is my "It's Your World, Dream Peace Tour" poem. It recounts some of our best memories from the road (on our 36 city tour in 2012 that went from Miami to Los Angeles) and all the lessons we learned from them; the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is my favorite because every time I perform it, I am taken back to those spaces. The faces of the people in the poem stay vivid with me and the feelings I got while experiencing those life-changing lessons come bubbling up from my heart to my throat every single time. It is the first poem I actually "got free" with during a performance, and the poem that I will perform in front of an audience that is new to poetry or that I am still feeling out. It reminds me that everything will be okay, it's all about perspective.

Who are some of the poets that you respect and look up to and why? 

My list of poets I look up to and respect is endless. Anyone who is telling the truth, anyone who is writing to heal, anyone who is standing up to injustices, anyone who is speaking uncomfortable truth to power - I look up to you, I respect you, I have love for you. As for my personal mentors and list, it would go something like this: Lizz Straight-my first mentor, the woman (force of nature) who introduced me to Spoken Word. Richard J -my brother, the lion who helped me find my voice. Wally B-my role model, the guy who showed me the right way to serve my community.

My teammates Giddy and Spokenheart, who taught me what family really is, they always have my back, through the good times and the bad. After that, there are so many more. Mo Man, Jordan Stone Aleshea Harris, Reggie Eldridge, Detyme, D-Rod, Adrienne Nadeau, Tom Earl, Cuban, Ebony Payne, Lane Shuler, Max Parthas, Danny Strack, Lady Tess, Glennwoord Urbz, Mousie Brown, and many many more. Honestly the list goes on.

What's next on the menu for you? 

I got accepted into the Peace Corps and June 12th I will be leaving for the Eastern Caribbean and be serving as a K-5th grade English and Literacy Teacher in St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and/or Dominica. I will also be doing youth and community development with an emphasis on youth poetry, you know! Also, June 4th-7th I will be competing with my team The Misfits at the Southern Fried Poetry Slam in Greenville, SC.

Let the people know how they can get at you? Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. 

The Misfits Slam Team and, @benbthetruth on twitter, check my blog, and Ben B the Truth on youtube.