By Sophie Yalkezian
Photos by: Sophie Yalkezian, Rebecca Sands and Katia Dmitrieva
Ryerson’s Urban Hip Hop Union saw a packed house on Friday night for their event ‘Love, Hip Hop and the Spoken Word’. Guest speaker Shihan Van Clief both entertained and fascinated the audience with stories relating to those three topics, each one brimming with positivity.
Van Clief is a spoken word artist from New York, best known for his spot in the Def Jam Poetry series, produced by HBO, and later in its follow-up national tour hosted by Russell Simmons. He is counted as a friend and peer to poetry and hip hop greats including Saul Williams and Mos Def. The event’s second portion was a poetry slam of Ryerson’s own student talent, judged by four of Toronto’s established spoken word artists at the Ram and the Rye.
In regards to love, Van Clief advised male students to be open with their feelings, instead of “letting it fester inside them,” thinking of it as feminine or womanly. “I think in many ways, love is vulnerability, like just being open and vulnerable to things,” he said. He named trust, communication and fearlessness as some of the key components to a loving relationship, like the one he shares with his wife of ten years (who, he says, proposed to him).
Van Clief had mixed feelings about the world of hip hop today, saying that it needed more “responsibility,” but also that he felt pride in the genre’s international popularity. “Music is the new cotton,” he said, referring to the negative image that rap artists enslave themselves to through songs about pimps, crime and murder. He cites a 50 Cent awards show performance as the perfect example, describing how the rapper stood among half-naked girls in a flashy suit and cane.
On the other hand, Van Clief is happy to see spoken word poetry getting more recognition in both hip hop and general culture. “I think it’s important when poets are recognized because poetry has always been seen as the retarded stepdaughter of theatre,” he said, creating a joyous rumble of laughs in the audience.
The light-hearted Van Clief spent the rest of the evening performing and answering audience questions. He performed some of his more popular poems, but also took many requests.
After that, the audience moved over to the Ram and the Rye, packing another room with students ready to hear poetry. But this time, the words flowed from the mouths of our fellow peers. Many picked up the mic, some for the first time ever, all to be judged by four local Toronto artists who would choose the slam’s winner.
The topics of poems were varied, but included love (or pain resulting from love), the African nationality, and even one clever take on the social usage of Blackberry Messenger.
Overall, the event opened both our minds and hearts in preparation for that annual day of love this February. It brought out students from different programs and nationalities and united them through the inspiring worlds of ‘Love, Hip Hop and the Spoken Word’.