one of the dopest writers on the planet,” according to hip hop recording artist Common. Yusef, dubbed “a legend in Chicago” by rapper Lupe Fiasco, will spotlight his skills when he performs alongside Jill Scott and Raheem DeVaughn at the
“They are two of the finest examples of our industry. So, obviously, their voices are unmatched, and their personalities are golden as well.” Yusef himself is an industry leader. He has won a Grammy and Emmy Award for his work, and was awarded “Best Spoken Word Poet” at the Chicago Music Awards for the last six years.
But you may not have heard of him because, although he is lauded by a lot of rappers, he’s not one of them. Yusef is strictly a poet. “And how many famous poets do you know?” the 37-year-old South Side native asked with a smile. His choice of genre was not entirely up to him. Yusef has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading, spelling and, in some cases, speaking difficult. It is the reason why he does poetry instead of rap.
“All the time, [when I was breaking into the industry] I came across people who were like ‘Why don’t you just be a rapper?’ But I’m dyslexic so I don’t have that kind of syncopated rhythm. Rapping takes a different rhythm. You’ve got to be on time and stuff like that. A lot of dyslexics, we don’t have that timing,” he said.
“Spoken word has its own natural timing. Spoken word has its own metering. You can be slow with it and its accepted.” Yusef has, however, kept company with some of the industry’s finest rap talent. He is among a famed group of Chicago artists who started out in obscurity and pulled each other up as they rose through the ranks of the industry.
“I wasn’t even doing poetry when I met TuPac and Common and those guys. I did my poetry, but I never thought it would turn into a music career. I would sit around with Pac kicking poetry,” he recalled. “I got famous because my friends got famous; Common, Rhymefest, Kanye, Twista, Carl Thomas.” Now, he is on West’s label, G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) Music.
Common and John Legend are also on the label. His first album with West, Good Morning and Good Night, will drop in September. “[The album] represents a complete cycle. A life cycle, a day cycle. Also, it shows the differences between what we love and we’re afraid of. Good morning is like, ‘Oh, I made it through the night.’ Good night is, ‘Oh, I’m going through something again.’ It’s the ebb and flow of the universe,” Yusef told the Defender.
And Yusef will count on West to put music to his lyrics. “Kanye’s a genius when it comes to music. He hears music differently than most people in the world,” Yusef said. But the spoken word artist, who reads literature in French, Arabic and Swahili for inspiration, would never trade places with his multiplatinum selling friend.
“There’s a lot that poetry can do, that rap can’t do,” he said. “I can go into a library and perform. I can go into a church, on any dayà It’s broader.”
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