Spoken word performer and poet Lyrical the Lyricist is one part of a poetry duo that is taking over the D.C. underground scene. Born as Jo'rell Whitfield from Queens, New York, Lyrical and rhyming partner Archie the Messenger mesmerizes audiences who venture into one of D.C.'s hidden treasures. Niteside caught up with Lyrical to learn more about the underground spoken word movement that is taking over D.C. and his rare combination of poetry, comedy, drama and theatrics.
D.C.'s poetry scene is largely untapped by the mainstream. How would you describe yourself and what you do? I'm a poet in the traditional sense. I went to school and studied English ... and how to do it critically. But I'm also a performer -- there's a separation between the arts. Like all things, [poetry] evolved to spoken art, and I'm definitely a part of that movement that's been going on for about 30 years starting right after the Civil Rights Movement. They took poetry off the page and put it into the spoken essence. Now, we're a part of this evolution of what they started.
Why do you feel that poetry doesn't get as much attention like other art forms such as dance, visual art or even music? All of poetry is underground. Mainstream and the masses can't touch it if you're not going to these venues. You're not aware of it. To me, it's all underground until somebody brings it to light. [Poetry] has it's HBO shows but there's only a couple of those and those even went off air. We're like a secret society.
How did you hook up with Archie? Archie and I went to Morgan State [University]. He had been doing poetry for years before slamming in different states. I was just starting and getting a feel for the spoken word. The thing is we never practice ... all that we do is impromptu. I've never even written a poem with him. He'll write something and I'll hear it twice or so and [we] feed off of each other. I don't know what drew us together but we definitely have some kind of kinetic energy.
Are there are any great poets that you draw inspiration from? I love Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. When I was coming into the spoken word of it, the artist Taalam Acey was an inspiration and a group called the Fifth Element. Those were like the first spoken word artists that I met and studied.
What's your favorite aspect of performing? Is it performing alongside artists like Floetry or...? We've done a lot of performances and met a ton of people but it's really about meeting the people. There was a poem we did recently called "In God's Eyes" and afterward a lady asked to hug us. She explained that her son was locked up. She just broke down into tears and started crying. She asked me to send her a copy of the poem so she can send to her son. People will come up to you and break their lives down ... once you have this interaction with them, perform for them, they'll reciprocate with pure honesty.
What can people expect from your performance on Tuesday? For people who haven't seen it, they'll be introduced to the art of spoken word. The new and evolved art of spoken word. You're going to get a range of drama, comedy, [and] you're going to laugh hopefully. You're going to hear compelling stories in an entertaining manner. We're going to definitely get up close and personal. ... It's an intimate experience. It's not just us up there telling a thousand poems. I mean, we don't even want to call it performing anymore. Every time we do it, it's an experience.
Lyrical the Lyricist will be performing with his poetic duo Archie the Messenger at Liv Nightclub tonight. Their second CD, "Writing 4 My Life Vol. 2" will also be released this Summer.