J. Ivy On The Art & Craft Of Spoken Word

J. Ivy


J. Ivy On The Art & Craft Of Spoken Word

The Recording Academy Chicago Chapter President breaks it down: "It’s time for people to realize that poetry is a tremendous part of music and the music community"

GRAMMYs/Jul 31, 2020 - 02:19 am

By J. Ivy

It should be noted that poetry is the seed and the root of every song that’s ever been written. Spoken Word in simplest terms is performance poetry, whether it’s performed acapella, performed with the drum like The Last Poets, or with music like the late great Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The addition of music with spoken word shouldn’t be confused for rap music. The difference lies in how the delivery, the cadence, the rhythm of the lyrics or the poetry is presented. And yes, rap is also poetry. There’s no denying that. Some of my all-time favorite poets are MC’s, but when you take an MC’s music away from his or her verse, you still hear the rhythm of the rap, you still hear the flow, you still hear the beat. I have a quote that says, “They say he offbeat! I’m a Poet. The beat follows me.” A poet’s flow is more like jazz. Yes, there is a beat. Yes, there is a rhythm to it, but the phrasing that happens between each measure bounces and jumps and pauses and climbs and falls and doesn’t have to rhyme, or be in any telegraphed order, quite like some of your favorite jazz songs. 

In some cases, poetry is sung, in some cases, poetry is rapped, but in the art of spoken word, poetry is a rhythmic conversation, that isn’t confined to the walls of a beat or a measure or a bar. Spoken Word is the freest form of poetry being performed, which it’s why it’s important to keep shining light on this amazing art form, which is why it’s important for poets out there to make sure they’re releasing their work and submitting their projects for GRAMMY consideration in the Spoken Word category. There are so many extraordinary, life changing, lifesaving poets and spoken word artists in the world that it’s so important for the Recording Academy and the poetry community itself, to do everything in our power to bring attention to this rare, beautiful, impactful form of art.

I met this person once, and a few minutes into our conversation, they asked what did I do (for a living). I said, “I’m a poet.” They said, “That’s cool, but what do.” Again, I said, “I’m a poet.” They responded, “I get that, but what do you do for a living?” I said, “Um, I write poetry.” Early on I started my career for the pure joy and love of writing and performing my poetry. As time went on, it was revealed to me that I could make a living doing what I loved to do. But along the way to that realization I was always presented with the fear or the idea that I wouldn’t be able to make a living being just a poet. I was always advised to get a “real job” and do poetry as a hobby. “Work during the day. Do your poetry at night.” To this day those same people always tell me how surprised they are that I’m able to sustain a livelihood with poetry. Every poet that I know, including myself, still does it for the joy and love, but we’re also able to build sound careers and support our families, like any other occupation one may choose.                                                                   

Our support and opportunities are seen in all walks of life. From live stage performances, to the work we do in film, the work poets do in commercials, to the work we do with students in classrooms, to the work most poets do in their communities, to our literary works, to the work we do in the studio as Recording Artist and the music we create, opportunity is definitely out there. You have to be creative with creating your lane, but what I do know is that there’s plenty of room for everyone. Knowing what I’ve been able to do in my career and seeing what friends of mine around the world have been able to accomplish, it’s more than evident that you can be a full time working poet. And the reason being, is because most people are fans of the art. We don’t always get the exposure we may need; but, when the light is on us, like when Russell Simmons HBO "Def Poetry" was on the air, who didn’t tune in? More importantly, for those that did tune in, who with a soul in their body didn’t feel what you saw and you heard on the TV screen? Poetry is cool! The coolest people on the planet are poets. Kick it with a poet. Hang out with them. Listen to their conversations. Peep the views on YouTube. Most people know the importance of the work, they appreciate it, have love for it, and support it when it’s presented to them.

Craft Sessions: The Spoken Word

J. Ivy hosts Craft Sessions: The Spoken Word featuring performances from a nationwide collective of spoken word artists including Adia Victoria, Nate Marshall, Ursula Rucker, Jericho Brown, Mahogany L. Browne - Writer, Sekou Andrews, jessica Care moore and Tongo Eisen-Martin Poetry.

Posted by Recording Academy / GRAMMYs on Tuesday, July 28, 2020

And for those reasons, another misconception to dispel is that poetry is just for the coffee shops. Like Sekou Andrews stated on "Craft Sessions: The Spoken Word," it belongs in stadiums. Poetry isn’t just for books, it’s for albums. Poetry isn’t just for the studious who’s looking to score points with the ladies, it’s for any and every person with a story to tell, who isn’t afraid to tell it. Poetry has no barriers and it’s time that people stop trying to cap its potential. It’s time for people to realize that poetry is a tremendous part of music and the music community. You know I can get deep and tell you that poets are the keepers of history, but to put it plain, Poets are the makers of some really cool shit! Point blank, period. I dare you to listen to a poet and not be moved. I’m waiting!

I sit as the Chair of the Chicago Chapter’s Spoken Word Advisory Group. Wanting to raise awareness with Spoken Word Artists regarding the GRAMMY’s Spoken Word category, our original plan was to have a live event in Chicago that would highlight poets/spoken word artists from the Midwest. Due to Covid-19, we decided, like most, to change the program into a virtual experience. The idea immediately expanded to building with poets who were not only from the Midwest, but around the country. We reached out to poets in our network. We reached out to poets that we’re big fans of. And we reached out to other Recording Academy Chapters for suggestions of Poets/Spoken Word Artists in their music communities.

The response was mind blowing and the list of power houses we ended up with on the show was nothing short of amazing. From Adia Victoria (Nashville by way of South Carolina), to Nate Marshall (Chicago), to Ursula Rucker (Philly), to Jericho Brown (Atlanta by way of Shreveport) to Mahogany L. Browne (Brooklyn), to Sekou Andrews (Cali), to Jessica Care Moore (Detroit), to Tongo Eisen-Martin (San Fran) each of these giants in the game gave a true display of the power of the spoken word. These phenomenal poets are all so accomplished in their careers. Jessica is an Apollo Theatre Legend. Jericho is a Pulitzer Prize Winner. Sekou is a Grammy Nominated Spoken Word Artist. And that’s just to name a few. I use the phrase “lightning in a bottle” to describe the evening and it was just that. Poet after poet, spoke truth to power, raised the hairs on the viewers’ arms, and sparked something, awoken something, in all of us. The stories they told and the poetry they shared was so relevant to the times, so thought provoking, so healing, and so needed. The night was epic. The night was historic. It was an honor to perform and be the host of the Recording Academy’s first ever Spoken Word event.

The nature of being a poet is listening, experiencing life, and documenting what you find. Being a creative journalist, a street reporter, is the essence of the art. We capture what we see and what we feel. We’re moved to shine light on subjects that affect us all. That has been the job of every poet that has come before us, every poet that is in the trenches speaking their truth right now, and every poet that will come after us. Like music, the words of a poet, the performances of spoken word artists, become the soundtracks of movements and the lifestyles we’re encouraging the world to lean towards. We hear the cries of the people. We hear the joy. We hear the justice that most people are fighting for, especially in the Black community. Before the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, before cameras turned in our directions, often times it was the poets who were translating the spirit and concerns and the struggles of the people. We’ve watched our people work for pennies and succeed to the highest heights. We’ve seen our people suffer and mother’s crying. We’ve seen the malnutrition of resources that exists in our communities. We’ve seen men and women with the same tones and hues as our own laid down in the streets by the same system that swore to protect its people. Spoken Word artists bring power and light and hope and inspiration to movements that grow long and exhausting. We combat fear and instill courage for others to speak up. Poets are superheroes. We write time capsules for the future to discover, trails of our voices that will forever tell the stories of what was, what is, and what could be.

J. Ivy is the President of the Recording Academy Chicago Chapter, where he recently led "Craft Sessions: Spoken Word," the Academy's first-ever celebration of spoken word.

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards


Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images


Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

Ivan Barias On Silence As Complicity, Holding Major Labels Accountable & How To Be A Non-Black Latinx Ally

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images


DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.

Anthrax's Scott Ian Is Ready To Speak Up
Scott Ian

Photo: Jeff Vespa/


Anthrax's Scott Ian Is Ready To Speak Up

GRAMMY-nominated guitarist on his Speaking Words U.S. tour, hipsters, Meat Loaf, and the status of Anthrax's new studio album

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

A stand-up metal icon? Arguably there was no such thing until GRAMMY-nominated Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian started his Speaking Words tour in Europe in 2013. Up and down the metal highway with Anthrax for more than three decades, Ian has pretty much seen it all, and as you might expect, the straight-talking New Yorker has plenty of stories to share.

Audiences on this side of the Atlantic can get in on the fun with Ian's North American Speaking Words tour, which launches in Chicago on Feb. 20 and is scheduled to wrap in Portland, Maine, on March 8. Those unable to make it out will soon be able to enjoy the show from the comfort of their own home. Ian has launched a PledgeMusic crowd funding campaign for a Speaking Words DVD.

Meanwhile, Ian hasn't quit his day job as Anthrax's blitzkrieg rhythm guitarist. He's currently at work on a new album with the group, who were nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 56th GRAMMY Awards for their hard-slamming cover of AC/DC's classic "T.N.T." from the band's 2013 EP, Anthems.            

On the eve of his Speaking Words tour kickoff, Ian spoke to about the genesis of the tour, his crowd funding campaigns and the status of Anthrax's new studio album, among other topics.

Is the title Speaking Words a way of differentiating what you do from the more usual spoken word performance?
Yes. When I think of spoken word I think of s***ty hipster coffee shops with a guy smoking a s***ty cigarette reading s***ty poetry from his s***ty book that will never get published. I'm not doing that. I just want to be as far away from that image as I can possibly be.

How did the idea to do these shows first arise?
It's just something that fell in my lap. I wasn't really looking for any new ways to leave home. But back in 2012, I got an offer to come over to London and do a solo gig. At first I thought that meant sitting on a stool playing acoustic guitar and singing songs, which I don't do. But my agent said, "No, they want you to come and tell stories. It's this series that this venue wants to do called 'Rock Stars Say The Funniest Things.' They want you, Duff McKagan and Chris Jericho." "All together?" I asked. He said, "No, no, it'll be all your show."

The show was about two months down the road. I thought I would be real professional and prepare and write a script, but I kept putting it off. So the night before the show in London I'm in a hotel room with my wife Pearl and I'm sweating like a pig because I'm so nervous. I'm not afraid of public speaking, but I had no idea how to do a show like this. Yeah, I could tell stories. But would that be good enough? People were paying to come see this. I was freaked out to the point where I was gonna call my agent and say, "Cancel the show. I can't do it. Tell them I have the flu or something." But my wife said, "You know all these stories. You are these stories. All you're gonna do is go to a bar, sit with your friends and tell stories, like you've done a thousand times before." That was enough to get me onstage. Two and a half hours later, I'm standing in the dressing room with my agent asking, "How can I do more of this?" That snowballed into a whole European tour and now these U.S. shows.

When you do the show now, how much is scripted and how much is extemporaneous?
None of it is scripted. I've got 10 or 12 hours-worth of stories stored in my brain, basically. I've got all of that to choose from in a two-hour show. Although there's a Lemmy [Kilmister, Motörhead singer/bassist] story and a Dimebag [Darrell, the late Pantera guitarist] story that I told every night on the last tour. I don't get tired of them. If I did, I'd stop. That's something I learned from putting set lists together with Anthrax. We never want to look or feel bored playing something. If you're bored it's always gonna show. 

What are some of the more interesting and unusual topics that have come out of each performance?
Pretty much every night someone asks me something about having Meat Loaf as a father-in-law. Depending on what kind of mood I'm in or how the room feels to me, that basically dictates what kind of answer they're gonna get, which obviously isn't always gonna be truthful. If I tell the crowd, "Oh dude, he's got the whole Bat Out Of Hell set in his backyard and we f***in' jam that s*** every day," obviously that isn't true. But I'll say that totally seriously and people will believe it.  

There's a DVD of the tour on the way, and you're crowd funding it?
Yes. We all know how things have changed in the music business. For artists, bands … anyone; to make money, you have to find new ways to do things. It was actually my record label, Megaforce, that pointed me in the direction of PledgeMusic, because they had worked together on projects with a couple of other artists and it went really well. So basically I get to own my own content and fund the whole project by selling merch and experiences. You donate $50 and you get a signed DVD; donate $250 and you get to chat with me on the phone — all the way up to a private show, where I would actually show up and hang out with your bros in a bar and shoot the s*** all night.

What were your feelings on learning that Anthrax had been nominated for a GRAMMY for your recording of "T.N.T."?
I was happy about that. … AC/DC are my favorite band. So maybe the fact that we got nominated kind of validates that we did a good cover version. I was actually pretty nervous about that. I didn't know if we could do it justice. And it really wasn't until [Anthrax vocalist] Joey [Belladonna] sang on it that I realized, "OK, this is f***ing great." He just channels Bon [Scott, the late AC/DC lead singer] on that.

Your version is pretty faithful to the original. But was there anything you wanted to do to interpret it your way?
No! We're doing a cover version because we love the song, so why would we want to change it? It's just that our tones are a little bit bigger and it's a more modern production. So it sounds maybe a bit more muscular [than the original] overall. But as far as changing arrangements or anything like that, no.

Is there a new Anthrax album on the way?
Yes, we're in the thick of writing it now. We started back in October and we've got a lot of material. The vibe has been great. It's pretty much the fastest we've ever written songs, which is awesome and scary at the same time. We're not working to any schedule at this point, but I would like to think it would be out later this year, if not early next year.

Can fans expect more of the classic Anthrax sound?
We're just continuing from where we were at on our last album, [2011's] Worship Music. People all over the planet connected with that one, and we had a two-year run touring on that record. We really couldn't ask for more. There's certainly more of a thrash element in a lot of the material that we've come up with, because it's just really fun to do that. We still love to play fast.

(Veteran music journalist Alan di Perna is a contributing editor for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His liner notes credits include Santana Live At The Fillmore East, the deluxe reissue of AC/DC's The Razor's Edge and Rhino Records' Heavy Metal Hits Of The '80s [Vols. 1 and 3].)