Various Artists

New Skool Poetics, Vol. One

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While nothing can replace the experience of seeing this collection of performers live in action, the first volume of New Skool Poetics has been assembled with loving care, taking great advantage of the varied possibilities of mixing and editing. This is not just a typical "various-artists" compilation in which the only connection between the performers, besides possibly details involving philosophy or content, is that they appear on the same compilation. The New Skool Poetics group has been appearing as a unit since at least 2002, taking turns as soloists and emcees. New members obviously come in and out of the mix. The result can be a tremendously moving experience, as long as the listener is open to the idea of rap and poetry being the same thing.

This group, based out of Chicago, is hardly the first to make the latter case, and after all even "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" is technically a poem, and a better one than anything Eminem has come up with. The performers in New Skool Poetics are wed to the idea of poetry as a challenging, mind-expanding experience, however, providing a contrast and at times even a conflict with the simplistic, easy-thrill nature of most commercial rap. This extends to utilizing surrealistic imagery and abstract impressions, an idea that has the potential to make rap about as unpopular as free jazz with the thinking-disadvantaged mainstream audience.

In a live performance, the obvious rapport and inspiration flowing between the individual performers smoothes out the differences between brilliant performers such as Kevin Derrig, whose background is American Irish, and others whose writings involve less crucial themes. On this initial volume of CD documentation, a somewhat similar effect results from the mixture of recorded sound, ranging from low-tech live rants to well-produced tracks involving background music and what at least sounds like studio production. Many of the ideas take firm leads from the type of hip-hop tracks prevalent on the radio in the early new millennium. Avery R. Young bursts into soulful song, reminiscent of Usher on "U Got it Bad". Another performer does something of a deconstruction of a Beatles song. Perhaps the ongoing careers of some of the artists featured here will, in retrospect, make this collection of historic importance. As an artistic movement, New Skool Poetics deserves enthusiastic support.