Poetry vs. Hip-Hop offers a friendly competition
With strong hip-hop and spoken word communities, Atlanta is the perfect city for this event
Courtesy Queen ShebaLooking to start a debate with the family this holiday season about something other than politics? I have an idea that's sure to start a heated discussion but won't result in anyone being excommunicated from the family.
Ask your relatives if they think hip-hop is a form of poetry and watch as the room becomes divided over the topic. Some might find similarities in the lyricism and cadence of certain rappers to that of spoken word artists. Others might argue that artists such as Talib Kweli, Kenderick Lamar, and J. Cole are more closely linked to the art form than Migos, Rae Sremmurd, or Young Dolph. Like the upcoming year-end rankings from your favorite publications, you'll likely feel that some responses are completely wrong and others are sort of right. Mostly, though, it's all subjective.
If the conversation is particularly intriguing, and you're not sick of your family after dinner, there's a chance to test your opinions by watching spoken word artists battle rappers in a lighthearted competition this weekend.
Poetry vs. Hip-hop was created to highlight the best of both art forms. And in a city known for its contributions to hip-hop and its strong spoken word community, there's no better place to pit the two against each other. And to show off their commonalities, perhaps.
Atlanta resident and spoken word artist Queen Sheba describes Poetry vs. Hip-Hop as a "Def Poetry Jam meets Wild N Out meets 106 & Park freestyle battle." Only one of those shows presently remains on air, but all three are known for engaging audiences with an entertaining show that highlighted the top talent of its medium.
Sheba has been hosting poetry slams since 1998, but she didn't get the idea for Poetry vs. Hip-Hop until three years ago. At the time, she was working as the booking manager for Apache Caf̩ and looking for an idea to fill a blank date on the venue's calendar. Jacksonville spoken word artist Moses West suggested she host an event where poets and emcees could engage in a friendly battle to see whose medium reigns supreme. Today, Sheba, and her business partner and fianc̩, DJ Knodat, produce two Poetry vs. Hip-Hop events in Atlanta each year and travel to cities such as Phoenix and Memphis, highlighting five poets and five rappers in each city. Sheba said it's important that the two-and-a-half-hour show reflects the talent and identity of each city. Since she began hosting the events, Sheba said almost all of the shows have sold out.
The event is divided into rounds and at the end of each session, the audience chooses the winner.
"I feel like we're always trying to prove our weight in the hip-hop world, and the hip-hop artists are always trying to prove that their genre is better than poetry," Sheba said. "It's really just to see who has the better wit, the better edge, the better pen."
To ensure that the competition doesn't get too heated, participants have to hug it out on stage after each round. The winner takes home a small cash prize ("not anything worth bragging about"), while the loser gets a notebook and is encouraged to continue writing.
While she serves as the permanent captain of the poetry team for each show, Sheba admits she has a deep respect for hip-hop.
"A lot of my cadence comes from hip-hop, but I want to make sure to stray true to storytelling so that people remain interested in what I have to say," she says. "It's kind of like having the beat in the background. Some people think that I'm rapping, but I'm not."
The Atlanta events take place annually in May, during the Tamika Festival hosted by Tamika "Georgia Me" Harper, a Tony, Emmy and Peabody-award winning poet, and Thanksgiving weekend. This year's Nov. 25 show at Aisle 5 will feature a performance by the Hamiltones, Anthony Hamilton's backup singers, and poet Ashlee Haze. Tickets are $15-$20 before the show and $25 at the door.
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Jewel Wicker is an Atlanta native and award-winning freelance reporter who has been covering the music industry and hip-hop in Atlanta since she was a college student at Georgia State University. In her spare time, she loves to eat lemon pepper wings and debates the validity of your favorite artists.