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Peoria-raised MC and poet Brandon Alexander Williams on the power of rap and spoken poetry as an art form

Brandon Alexander Williams is performing at the Peoria Riverfront Museum as part of the "Dark Tower Hour" series on August 24th.
Brandon Alexander Williams
Brandon Alexander Williams is performing at the Peoria Riverfront Museum as part of the "Dark Tower Hour" series on August 24th.

Peoria-raised MC, DJ, and poet Brandon Alexander Williams is giving a performance at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on August 24 as part of the "Dark Tower Hour" series, celebrating the Chicago Bronzeville neighborhood during the Black Renaissance.

In an interview with WCBU, Williams spoke about the power and the long cultural history of rap poetry, and how he uses rap and spoken word performances to express ideas to his audiences.

"Poetry on the paper can be read however you want to read it," Williams said, contrasting against the flexibility and emotion that live poetry can display. "When I perform it, I get to choose the terms of engagement. I specialize in performance poetry because I get to use words, linguistics, phraseology to tell stories in different ways, and use wordplay, entendres, and puns to sometimes just show off the ability, but other times to get a point across or teach a lesson or allegory."

Williams cited an example of the emotional power of the spoken word form in his original piece, "(She Calls Me) Mr. Write," which involves repeating themes with shifting emotional inflections that gradually reveal the narrative to the audience.

"That's my most memorable piece, because of how unique the style is written," Williams said, explaining the meanings and tactics of his piece, "(She Calls Me) Mr. Write," "but the secret to 'Mr. Write,' is that it's the same poem, but I add hand gestures, and so when I say the exact same poem, but I add hand gestures, or say it slightly slower, the audience reacts differently."

Williams also talked about his career in not only performing live performance poetry, but also teaching students how to write rap-style poetry themselves. Williams taught courses in writing hip hop and rap at the University of Iowa's School of Music.

"I taught a course that I called 'writing rap: the basics,'" Williams said, also mentioning his courses that taught the historical and cultural origins of rap and hip hop styles, "I took it all the way back to West Africa and the oral traditions of passing on stories through music and through song."

Williams said rap is a multi-disciplinary art form, combing both musical and poetic skills into one medium. This nature also makes it difficult for some institutions to place within their multiple departments, he said.

"The schools don't know whether to put us in the English department, or in the school of music," Williams said, illustrating that rap blurs the lines between both fields, "The truth of the matter is that, just the art form itself is English and it's music."

Williams also expresses that rap also serves as a vehicle for him to communicate information to his audiences.

"That's everything that I love about rap, that there is depth, there are things to figure out, and you can conceal information in rap form," Williams said, offering an analogy for why he believes that rap is a powerful art form.

"The rap is the candy, and the information is the medicine," he said.

For more information on the "Dark Tower Hour" performance series from the riverfront museum, visit peoriariverfrontmuseum.org. For more information Brandon Alexander Williams, visit his site at brandonalexanderwilliams.com.

Holden Kellogg was an audio producer at WCBU.