Russell Simmons Hits the Road for HBO in Search of Talented Teenage Poets
When I was coming of age back in the day, most of us who were musically-inclined tended to have an interest in either jazz or R&B. But the current generation of such aspiring artists have been profoundly influenced by the idiom known as hip-hop, so they care more about the spoken form than singing.
If you’re an old school fuddy-duddy like me, you probably worry about the toll the mind-crippling mixture of misogyny, materialism and macho bravado popularized by MTV and BET might be taking on impressionable young minds. For, while we might be wise enough to know not to mimic the assortment of self-destructive behaviors promoted by millionaire entertainers posing as ghetto gangstas in hedonistic music videos and on equally-decadent reality shows, it is reasonable to fear for the future of kids who weaned on such silly folderol.
It is therefore with a sigh of relief I am happy to report about the first few episodes of Russell Simmons Presents: Brave New Voices. Narrated by Queen Latifah, the HBO series chronicles a 45-city search for the best poetry slam performers in the country. And what they found was a potpourri of talented up- and-coming teenagers capable of baring their souls while spinning a lyrical line on stage.
Because rap originally emanated from the inner city and ostensibly inspired the ensuing rise of slams, I fully expected the competition to be dominated by youth residing in the ghetto. But no, it is apparent that this brash brand of expression has gone mainstream, permeating not only lily white neighborhoods in the cities but also reaching the suburbs and rural areas as well.
Consequently, the impassioned young voices heard rapping here reflect the concerns of a rainbow of ethnic groups: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, even Hawaiians and Native Americans.
As fascinating as their diversity, however, is the intimate nature of the subject matter touched upon in their mesmerizing rhymes. The poems reveal individuals grappling with personal struggles ranging from typical teen issues like sexual harassment and dating to questions of survival such as Sickle Cell Anemia and Cerebral Palsy.
So, don’t short-change yourself by passing on this surprisingly-sophisticated documentary by thinking that the strident, staccato form of expression profiled is just about booty calls and drive-bys.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 30 minutes per episode
Brave New Voices airs at 11 PM (ET/PT) on HBO on Sundays, starting April 5th (Check local listings)
Trailer for Brave New Voices