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The 14 Best of Def Poetry

Poetry is supposed to be spoken. I imagine a time before the internet, before television, before radio. The people there are crowded around poets, listening to their words. When I was a kid I discovered Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO. I’d watch the poets late at night, and though I didn’t understand half of them, they fascinated me.

April was National Poetry Month, and I spent the day watching some of the old clips on YouTube. I’m a bit late to the party, but oh well. Here are 14 of my favorite def poets.

1. Kent Foreman – Epiphany

No better way to explain women, and love, in 17 syllables.

2. Oscar Brown Jr. – I Apologize

Absolutely amazing. Love this guy. This is why poetry is supposed to be spoken.

3. Daniel Beaty – Knock Knock

Not going to lie. Kind of teared up a bit here. This is powerful.

4. Twin Poets – Dreams are Illegal in the Ghetto

Hilarious. Then sad. Then uplifting.

5. Taylor Mali – Totally like whatever, you know

One of my favorites. Says precisely what I’ve always thought but never been able to articulate.

6. Louis Reyes Rivera – Bullet Cry

“Did you ever try to be where you never could have been, yet somehow you had to be there.” True poetry.

7. INQ – When Hip-Hop Was Fun

So true.

8. Lemon – Shine

The sinking of the Titanic rewritten.

9. Julian Curry – Niggers Niggas & Niggaz

An interesting perspective on the word nigger.

10. Javon Johnson – Elementary

When I grow up I’m going to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. You can always dream. “I am ruler of the universe, simply because I am a writer.”

11. Kevin Coval – Family Feud

“My mother is in Arizona. My mother is Afghanistan. My mother is in Iraq. My mother is in Palestine. I love my mother.” Peace.

12. Oscar Brown Jr – Children Of Children

On here twice. That’s no accident.

13. Sarah Jones – Your Revolution

Objectification women in hip-hop.

14. muMs – Ploylessness

The craziest, most ridiculous and awesome spoken word I’ve seen.

3 Comments

  1. Nice list was expecting some black ice and suheir hammad. By any chance do you remember the poem that had the line ” if you believe it you should be it or leave it be”?

    • Jeff

      September 26, 2015 at 7:46 am

      No, I don’t remember that one. The list was based off who I could find on YouTube easily, so I’m sure there are plenty of good ones I missed.

    • Laura “Piece” Kelly – Central District

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