GALO: You seem to be a thought leader on the subject of race in the creative field. Who are other major poets or lyricist influencers that are making an impact socially, and why?

KC: Most everything that put me on the path that I am on is the politically, civically minded MCs that I grew up listening to. More than anyone, I was influenced by the thought and verse of KRS-One and also Chuck D, Rakim, Tribe Called Quest and X-Clan; that moment and era of politically minded, Afrocentric verse that was connecting itself to a tradition of black arts and literature that it ultimately exposed me to. These MCs really sent me to the library to discover the black arts poets, such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, Nikki Giovanni, and so many others. Those who wrote verse about the working class narrative, both in the hip-hop and the Black Arts Movement, really generated my interest in doing similar work, but in my own life. I think that’s the point of all of that verse in some ways; that “I, Haki Madhubuti, am telling you the story of a mixed black boy on the South Side of Chicago [who grew] into a politically conscious black man who is fighting for my people.” That trajectory then, became something that inspired me.

One of the incredible things about being alive in this moment is that I’ve been able to come to know Haki [Madhubuti] and he’s had a really profound impact on my life. I read him in the Northbrook, IL public library when I was 16 or 17-years-old and, years later, we met and he has become a mentor. Also, I’m really lucky because my peers are folks who teach me a lot, and within a creative, artistic community, I am able to bounce ideas off of them. I feel privileged to call, I think some of the best writers of my generation, friends and comrades; particularly, Roger Bonair-Agard, Idris Goodwin, and Adam Mansbach.

GALO: In an article written by Michael Volpe in July 2010 from New City, he said, “Being a white Jewish kid from the uber-wealthy North Shore of Chicago obsessed with Hip Hop is a niche of one.” In the article, it also talked about “living a double life” – coming into the city to experience what the “real America is”; a multicultural America. What was the moment when you realized that you wanted to make the choice to venture out of Northbrook?  

KC: They were boring, and they looked like they were bland and homogenous. I got lucky in a way because I grew up in an era where in order to get hip-hop music, you had to go out and get it. There was no downloading. I came up in an era where the [local] record store did not have a hip-hop section. So, in order to consume the music, I had to leave the suburbs. A few great, early coincidences really sparked my public, cultural imagination and desire.

I went to the Doug Collins summer basketball camp that brought kids together from the city and the suburbs to live together for a week and play. It was like a social science experiment.  But, when it comes down to it, we’re just kids playing ball. If you can play ball, we’re gonna be cool. That also became an important moment, not only because the people I was meeting were very different from those that I grew up with, but also [because I discovered] they had music from older brothers that I was not getting from the suburbs.

Also, my dad worked in restaurants and got produce from Maxwell Street when it was very different from the manifestation of the Chicago 21 Plan that it is today. There used to be open air markets where you could get anything, so I got all of these bootleg [hip-hop music] tapes sold on blankets outside. And I was lucky to get those tapes. I coveted them and revered them. They became, poetically, sacred texts.

GALO: Many people are content with a lifestyle that seems limiting. Never exposing themselves to the unknown or places that are different than what they know. Was there a particular moment where you said I just want to go?

KC: I think it is a lot of what I said previously and an accumulation of those things; to know that there is a grand inequity and historic injustice in part because of the maintenance of where you are. That if the fruition of the American dream is suburbia — [me] knowing that place as empty, morally and spiritually, and knowing that that space exists in part because of these inequities like racism and economic injustice — as a kid, you think, ‘I have to not be here. I have to go elsewhere. I have to do something that is going to make some sort of change, or at least challenge where I am at.’

GALO: Your background, admittedly so, was not mirrored to many of the hip-hop music stories of turmoil and injustice that you listened to or were captured by. Did you find any irony at the time, in that you were able to relate to them?

KC: I think that hip-hop is undeniably fun. To hear the wordplay of Run DMC, I was drawn to them because I didn’t understand how they were juggling words like that. I also think that [hip-hop music] is essentially working class narratives. Though I did not live in an urban community, I did have working class parents, and I could look around at their lives and their struggles and relate that way. I was removed, but I felt connected because of that. Hip-hop [to me] at the time was an articulation of the narrative that existed outside of dominant culture. And I also felt outside of the dominant culture because of where I grew up, and my socioeconomic situation outside of how a lot of my friends were reared and brought up. The more I started to listen; the music was filled with profound, beautiful, and radical emotions.

GALO: Have you ever felt like there was a barrier between yourself and the hip-hop community because of who you are?

KC: Never. And part of the reason is that hip-hop is one of the all-embracing communities in the world. In some ways, hip-hop is rooted in a real democratic meritocracy. If you can do something, and you are good or okay at it, then you will be accepted. If you’re a good graffiti writer; if you can break dance; if you can kick rhymes, you will be generally accepted into that community.

I think where I have had more difficulty is being around white people who I grew up among (i.e. friends, family, rabbis, teachers, etc.). Being interested in things like hip-hop music, black literature (which is American literature), and exploring a larger world outside of the homogenous place that I grew up in, I think that they have had the most problems with gaining interest and garnering ideas from other places and then bringing those back home.

GALO: What is it about your poetry and writing that resonates to a multicultural audience and grasps the attention of those who might judge you before you open your mouth?

KC: What I’m trying to do is accurately represent and re-present what it means to be alive in this moment from my perspective. Part of what hip-hop taught me to do was to record working class narratives, beyond race, that meets a broad spectrum of people in this country and around the world. I think hip-hop resonated with me for what I hope maybe are the same reasons it resonates with those who are not like me; because, I am also trying to tell authentic working class narratives.

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