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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.


  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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