Nikke Stiletto: We’re here with Prentice Powell and he is our very first spoken word artist! Tell us a little bit about Prentice Powell…
Prentice Powell: Ok! Yes, I’m a spoken word artist. I am from Oakland, California. I enjoy putting my insanity onto the notebooks to kind of make sense of my thoughts. I am blessed to be able to share that with other individuals and actually have people want to hear my thoughts, which is still kind of surreal to me.
NS: I can imagine!
PP: It is…it definitely is. But, I enjoy it. I definitely realize what it is that I am embarking on and I’m doing it way bigger than me so I am just happy to be a vessel to be able to, apparently, help people out while helping myself.
NS: Cool! And I was noticing while I was reading up on you that you have so much success in a relatively short period of time, in comparison to others who may have started around the same time that you did, and you’re very good at what you do! So it would seem like you have been honing your skills for years and years. So when did you start writing poetry and what inspired you to go that route?
PP: I always have to give credit to a cousin of mine named Tyson Amir, he’s actually a really talented emcee. He’s a couple of months older than me. Growing up, everything he did I tried to do, too!. When he started playing football, I started playing football. When he got interested in basketball, I started playing basketball. He was always better..which was ok! [Laughter]
In 2003, he came to the local library, [and] I remember that he did this poem and the poem was awesome! And I went home and I said ‘let me try to write a poem’. So I went home and I wrote a poem in my notebook and I actually shared it with my mother. And in high school I did forensic speech and debate at James Logan High School in Union City and I had an excellent mentor by the name of Tommy Lindsey and we memorized 10-minute scripts. I had a lot of success doing that on a national scale. So it wasnt hard for me to remember poems. [Also] in 2003, I had broken up with [my] girlfriend and I was sitting at home eating ice cream and watching Brown Sugar.
PP: And my mother said, “No you need to get off the couch. This is depressing to look at!” And she took me to the Oakland Slam and she signed me up and I didn’t know it. So I was there to slam, my first time ever at a slam. They called my name and I went up there and I shared my poem and I got scored rather well. So the coach, her name is Sonja Wittle (she’s one of the founders of the Oakland Slam), she asked me to come back next week to compete for the team. I explained to her that I had never written a poem prior to last week! Long story short, I wrote a new poem each week for 4 weeks straight to compete and I made the team! Two months after writing my first poem we came in 4th in the nation and I placed 15th individually. So from there it opened my eyes to the concept of writing my thoughts on paper and from there I continued to have success in the slam world. It was never anything I took really seriously because it’s always been therapy for me. But it wasnt until [about] two years ago that I really understood how much of a gift that I have and decided to approach it on a more serious level. Ever since I’ve done that, like you said, things have happened so quickly! So fast! It’s kind of hard to take it all in, it kind of seems really surreal…
NS: Wow! Well way to go to your MOM! She was like ‘You are going to do this!’ [Laughter]
PP: Right! [Laughter] Like, you are getting out of this house. There is no reason why you are growing a beard! [Laughter]
NS: [Laughter] Well it was a blessing in disguise that you and the girl broke up!
So that leads me into my next question: Do you feel like Spoken Word is now a way of life for you or is it more, like you said, therapy or your outlet?
PP: It’s always therapy. For me, I never set out with what was written in my notebook to “be known”. I used to write a lot of my poems in third person because I didn’t have the confidence to say I was talking about myself. What [poetry] did for me was let me know that I was not alone. It let me know through people’s response’s, through feedback, through opinions that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts and it actually gave me a lot more confidence in myself; which I didn’t have before.
But now, after I got in Slam and I competed, I’m a very competitive person. So now it’s something I can never let go. I have sacrificed time, there have been relationships that have gotten shaken up over me paying $60 for a Greyhound ticket to go across country to perform and hopefully sell enough CD’s to pay for a one-way back.
PP: Yeah, I’ve slept on couches, at the airport, in greyhound [stations] just to get on the stage and be heard because this is something that I’m passionate about! I’m passionate about how I feel, I’m a very passionate person and I think, for me, that’s what comes across to people. I’m sincere and passionate about what I say and I just want to be heard. So it’s a way of life in a sense that its something I just want to be great at. I don’t want to better than any poet out there. The thing about Spoken Word, I don’t feel its a genre of art that’s really comparable to other people. You are your own individual. You have to say what you have to say and it’s not about being “better than”, it’s about expressing yourself in the manner that you want to do it and I just want to get better everyday at this art form. So I study everyday (I read, I talk to people, I work with individuals) because I want to get better! My co-workers know that when I’m talking to myself around campus, I’m doing poetry! My wife, my kids, my co-workers…when people see me talking to myself, they know I’m doing poetry!
NS: So with all this traveling, how did you end up on the Arsenio Hall show? How did all of that come about?
PP: Arsenio Hall actually came as a result of Lexus Versus & Flow!
PP: I’ve been blessed with being a part of Versus & Flow since its inception, season one through season three, and the wonderful production company, Walton Isaacson. They have really been supportive of what I do! I really don’t know any other way to put it. I can’t mention performing on Arsenio Hall without mentioning Versus & Flow because they were the reason why I initially got that first chance to be on Arsenio, as a result of Andrew Logan, the Director, and, again, Walton Isaacson allowing me to do a poem I have called “The System” on Season Three. The people at Arsenio saw the poem via Versus & Flow and it kinda went from there!
NS: Wow! It kind of had that domino effect!
PP: Yes, everything has had that domino effect. Everything! Which is amazing!
NS: Most people don’t ever see it happen like that [even though] they try and try and try. You touched on that a little bit in your piece “The System” when you said, “Even though rappers suck they don’t give up…”. I see artists say they are in the studio all the time but you never hear them on the radio, on tv, or doing anything else! And they’ve been doing this for years!
PP: [Laughter] I kinda think the strategy for me is NOT to care as much. It sounds ironic but if you take slam poetry, for instance, its competitive. Some poets, all they do is eat breath and sleep slam poetry. They want so badly to win that they can’t think of anything else. My approach is being competitive but not really caring too much about the politics of it. So for me, I just give thanks and improve and worrying about getting better. And I feel like everything else will fall into place as a result of it.
NS: Right. It’s not the end all and be all of your life. But it is a major aspect of your life.
PP: RIght it’s not the end all and be all but I can definitely say that now, with the success that I’ve had, it definitely is something I take very seriously.
PP: Theres a business aspect to it now that I did not realize before. I am a student of this craft and I think with that things naturally progress. I was put through a very rigorous boot camp by my mentors in this Spoken Word movement so I understand what its like to work for something. People don’t see [the struggles] I go through so I can get home to my [family]. They only see the performance. They don’t see the notebooks, they don’t see how much myself and my collective, Fiveology, how much we’ve practiced…they don’t see that. And I think its important to be as transparent as possible about what it is that I do and who I am.
NS: And it is very important if you are as passionate about something as you are, I think the transparency is very critical in someone career because your fans know when you’re fake.
PP: I think its important to be authentic because people need that. I need that. I need to know that some of these people who I’m meeting in L.A. and on television and in Hollywood are authentic, genuine people! It motivates me to be the same way! I mean some of my favorite poets are no longer some of my favorite poets because of who they are when they’re not a poet!
NS: Right! And you touched on that in your Superhero’s piece…
PP: Oh that’s totally what that’s about! I was heartbroken! [Laughter]
NS: [Laughter] I so understand!!!
PP: [Laughter] It’s so disappointing! Why are you so awesome on the mic and so horrible when you’re off?
NS: It’s like who are you?? [Laughter]
PP: Right! So now when I’m in a position when I have people approach me, I’m going to stop what I’m doing (as long as its reasonable) and I’m going to spend a moment to thank you and listen to you because that’s what I would want the poets who I still admire to do with me; to at least listen to me.
So you spoke a little bit about Fiveology a minute ago. Tell me a little bit about Fiveology and how you all came together.
PP: We are all friends. We’ve known each other for years. Shawn Williams is my mentor. He was the first person I saw do poetry on the Slam stage. I competed against him and he was on the Slam team when we came in 4th in the Nation. Andrew I’ve known for years. Rudy, I used to pick his brain and Jovan Johnson and I actually competed against each other in high school in forensics and at Nationals on the final stage. So we are all individual spoken word artists and we were joking about doing a show together. So [we ended up doing] a show in Oakland and it was an experience I can’t really describe! It was bigger than us just doing some poems with each other. The whole purpose of us getting together was just to grow. We wanted to challenge ourselves and what better way to do that than by surrounding myself with four of the best poets in the world. How can you not learn from that? That’s how we looked at it and as a result of that, it led to Versus & Flow, opening for Jill Scott’s summer tour last summer, performing a Radio City Music Hall this past New Years Eve with Jill Scott again, and we have a 90 minute show called InnerMan/OuterSpace. Our next show is April 19th at UC Santa Cruz. I’ve definitely gotten stronger, we’ve benefitted from being around each other and we’re genuine friends. Its something we all believe in and that we can [all] grown and get better.
NS: That’s dope! I think the foundation of you all being friends is great!
PP: It works effortlessly…
NS: So what else do you do other than spoken word?
PP: I work in education. I develop and create creative writing curriculum for school districts and non-profits. I teach and work primarily with African-American boys. I also develop youth leadership developement programs for non-profits focused on African-American youth. On top of that, my 9-5 is working with Autistic children with severe behavioral disorders.
NS: Oh Wow! That is great! Well I definitely appreciate teachers like you!
PP: Well thank you! I appreciate it. But honestly, its something that I find a lot of beauty in it. These kids are so talented and amazing and how they choose to express themselves. It’s definitely rewarding to do something where you feel like you’re making a difference.
NS: Well I definitely think you are doing an amazing job out there. I congratulate you on all of your current and future success because I know you’re going to be much more successful than you already are. And maybe we wills ee you a the Grammy’s next year!
PP: Honestly, I watched the Grammy’s this year and that is my goal!
PP: I’m working on attending the Grammy’s and being the first spoken word artist on Yo! Gabba Gabba!
NS: [Laughter] That is so dope! I will definitely be rooting for you!
PP: I will be THE MAN to my kids if I make it on Yo Gabba Gabba!
NS: Nice!!! Well where can people find you on social media?
PP: I have an artist page on Facebook: Prentice Powell. And also Twitter: @FollowPrentice. My booking info is there [as well]. And one thing I want people to know during this process is that its amazing how much truth you can speak on a microphone but yet how much you can hide behind your truth and allow your truth to come and shelter you. I am definitely a work in progress and I just appreciate people being so receptive. Its been an educating and amazing journey so far..
*This interview has been brought to you courtesy of Nikke Stiletto, LLC and is for entertainment purposes only.*