Def Poetry Season 1
Label: Home Box Office
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Technically this is "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Season 1" but
through this review let the truth be revealed - Russell Simmons really
doesn't have shit to do with what you'll see and hear here. Sure he walks
out at the end of an episode to say "thank you and good night" but quite
honestly other than that and his name on the cover, what's his contribution?
Financial backing? No, Home Box Office (what we all call HBO) provides that.
The club the performances are recorded in? Nothing to do with that either.
The poets who appear? They are not artists signed to Def Jam. In fact
initially the only poet you'll recognize is Mos Def, but once you get to
know the artists who appear here you'll want to know more. So if you want
to give Russell Simmons credit for anything, give him credit for being smart
enough to put his name on this project, and that by putting his name on it
he gave it a kind of clout it might not have otherwise had.
Many people may have made the leap mentally from HBO's "Def Comedy Jam"
to this show, but even though these poets are often times funny they're
certainly not joking. Like some of history's great comedians, their pain
is the truth with which they make other people laugh. The laughs are not
the primary focus though by any means, and oddly enough what's often most
entertaining is the pain minus the humor; although "entertaining" may be
the wrong word altogether. When you watch "Def Comedy Jam" it's a fairly
passive experience - something you can do while sipping on a brew, eating
popcorn, talking to your friends or all of the above. You could try to
do all of these things during "Def Poetry" but the odds are you wouldn't
succeed. The form of poetry these artists use is often called "slam" and
that's an accurate description in two ways - it slams you in the face so
you pay attention and it is in itself SLAMMING as in good to hear.
Putting in this DVD and pushing play may at first seem an idle experience,
but once the introductions are done and Stephen Colman steps to the stage,
you'll quickly realize it's anything but. The drink is forgotten, the
popcorn goes stale, and the friends who were chatting will turn to the
screen in unison - some with "What the fuck?" looks on their faces. Colman
is not just a member of the 1998 National Slam Champion team, but the
quintessential definition of what a slam poet is - charismatic, vibrant,
engaging and thought-provoking. He challenges the audience and listener
alike to redefine what a poem is, and simultaneously challenges why the
nature of time is ignored when it only took three minutes to for cops to
beat up and anally rape Abner Louima or three minutes to bomb and destroy
Hiroshima. Shit gets deep like that. What's truly remarkable about "Def
Poetry" though is that the poets and their works are all equally as gifted
as Colman, none less so and some even moreso. Georgia Me raps about
a black woman's "Full Figure Potential" and might I say is a vision of
that lovely potential personified - her presence demands more screen time
than just one episode of this show can hold. Vanessa Hidary is the
funniest to appear so far, a self-styled "Cultural Bandit" who steals
in the night and proudly combines disparate elements into a unique whole.
If you're proud to enjoy spicy thai noodles, matzo ball soup and clam chowder
all in the same stomach, you'll dine on her delicious words while realizing
that multi-culturalism is a blessing we all take for granted. "Lemon"
is the closest to a rapper you'll hear, offset by Nikki Giovanna getting
as serious as cancer about how poetry has become rap. The streetwise
and thuggish Black Ice, the soft looking form but hard hitting words of
Suheir Hammad (whose gets blamed for 9/11 even though her brother's in
the Navy), and of course Mos Def himself - and that's all just the first episode.
While the menus and layout are pretty light on features (there's not even
any background music playing when you boot up, which is a shame since the
instrumental Minnesota made for the show's outro is fat as hell) there is a
nice "Making of Def Poetry" bonus included on the disc. And really, when the
content of the episodes including on here is so fat, with a running time of
120 minutes total, who needs a really fancy presentation anyway? In this
case simple is better, because the poets of "Def Poetry" speak for themselves -
LITERALLY. If you've ever tasted even the smallest bit of Saul
Williams rap, or studied the work of Allen Ginsberg, or heard Amiri Baraka
being sampled in a song, you'll know just why this poetry is in fact so def.
If you haven't, then prepare yourself for an experience that is just as
engaging as it is educational, as inspiring as it is multi-racial. "Def Poetry"
may or may not have much to do with Russell Simmons, but if the muh'fucker
wants to take credit and say "thank you" at the end I'll say "thank you"
right back for putting his name on it simply because it got people interested.
Thank you for that Russell, you do the poets proud, and that's truly def.
Content: 10 of 10
Layout: 8 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: July 19, 2005