Wes Flexner with new pal Chuck D Photo by Halle M. Malcomb
Normally if someone invites me to a spoken word event, I bestow the same mistrust I would if that person borrowed a $5 from me and did not pay it back. I might be polite but I would have a distant politeness to that human until they showed me a reason to want to engage with them. So I was a bit leery when I went to the Jan. 28 reading at No Place that featured N.E. Alt-Lit stars Jordan Castro, Mallory Whitten, Richard Wehernberg as well as Columbus “poets” Alex Mussawir, James Payne, Danielle, Cagialno and Ryan Eilbeck. The writers from N.E. Ohio are primed as this era’s voices. So if they were corny, then poetry would be ruined for another 5-12 years depending on what technological advances, atrocities and new drugs created another generation. As far as the people from Columbus, I am not so sure if I wanted to see them naked. Fortunately everyone mixed humor with insight. Some highlights, James Payne started the evening singing an acapella version of “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin, and went on to speak candidly about student debt often having zero correlation with job prospects, and his preferences for interacting with certain types of intellectuals. Danielle Cagialno - with full awareness - said the normally groan worthy-phrase “writing poetry is like dying” but flipped it with a dry sexual double entendre that was funny, and also clued you in she was joking when she said “writing poetry is like dying.” Alex Mussawir basically did stand-up for people who would get a joke where the punchline would be the band, “Screaming Females.” Jordan Castro lived up to his hype by being funny, vulnerable and relevant in a world where a poet should be able to reference Gucci Mane, drugs and dropping a deuce in High School. Every poet was likeable and not off-putting. (Especially, Richard, Mallory, and Ryan) I just have to move to the next topic. On Friday, Boston punk pioneers Gang Green played Ace of Cups. To be honest, I had never listened to them in my life. But I had seen their name in a 1980s Thrashers magazine, listed on Skate Rock compilations and culture round-ups, so I looked at it as a mandatory event. The mosh-pit was super sloppy. I mean, Gang Green’s staple subjects are skateboarding and beer. So when the proto-East Coast hardcore band played, “Alcohol” and “Skate To Hell,” the crowd slid back and forth into each other. There would be occasional conflict, but on the most part people were just drunk and celebratory. Gang Green covered the Beastie Boys “Fight for Your Right to Party” which was where I transitioned from observing nostalgia to experiencing it. I came to the conclusion that I had been listening to Def Jam hip hop when others were bumping Gang Green. So I was stoked when Chuck D of Public Enemy spoke at the Ohio Union as the opening ceremony for United Black World Month which also overlapped with the OSU Hip Hop Literacies Conference. Before Chuck took the stage, Hip Hop Education innovator Dr. Christopher Edmin and Columbus emcee Searius ADD infused NGE language techniques with other forms of world-play in a display of confident edutainment. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Chuck came out and immediately began breaking down Ohio music history. He discussed Cincinnati’s King Records output in the 1940s and 50s. Chuck spoke of the Isley Brothers. And of course Chuck mentioned Ohio funk bands such as the Ohio Players and Zapp. One fact Chuck enlightened me on: freestyle rapping started in Cleveland, and was exported to the rest of the hip hop world by an emcee named Bango when he rapped at the 1985 New Music Seminar. I am sure the origin of freestyling could be debated but still, it was cool to hear of an Ohio dude rapping at the NMS in the 80s and innovating.Chuck’s point was that we need to have an in depth “Knowledge of Self” vs. the shallow “Knowledge of a Selfie” that permeates social networks. Chuck spoke on the need for Ohio radio to play Ohio artists. I would argue MGK and Kid Cudi get love on the air but we still could use more. Chuck also touched on the prison industry, and how the current worship of the dollar could result in hip hop being in bed with the prison industry. After speaking, Chuck hung out, took photos with people and was the positive elder statesman from the legendary rap group Public Enemy.