We're all looking for something. What if we actually find it, though? Then what? What if everything we think will happen, happens? What if that big break really comes through? Will we be ready? How quickly will we believe our eyes? Imagine what that would feel like. "As a man thinketh," right?
Far before I was considered a spoken word artist, I was an introspective individual. I would spend time thinking about my life and how it would pan out as if I'm a character in a movie of some sort. I would think about forthcoming events and anticipate my response before it even comes true, only for my reality to be easier or much difficult given details. Life is full of details-- so many that if I attempted to divulge all of what I've seen it would overwhelm all of us (me as the writer and you as the reader). I'll try my best to write how I've come to be a spoken word artist. Thank you for reading.
Growing up, I would listen to people around me and the language they've chosen to communicate. I would listen to word choice, inflection, cadence and tone. Sometimes, adults would say things to one another I didn't understand which (in hindsight) had political and social undertones. I learned personalities before I learned people. Some personalities were easier to engage with while others were cold or negative. I knew to stay away from them. Given the people in my environment (which is no choice of mine nor my parents), [the people in my environment] had different things going on with them which affected who they were; that was obvious to me. What wasn't so obvious was why I felt so heavy of emotions when engaging with others. I didn't like talking to strangers-- even family felt like strangers. For that, "strangers" would make me uncomfortable so I would cry and that was all I could respond with. It didn't take but for too many unknown people to talk to me (as a child) in a certain way before I started "going across their head." It was disrespect for disrespect. As Ghandi would say "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," there we stood, in darkness together.
Elementary through middle school was kind of rough for me socially because I didn't play that "teasing game." I never understood that. I understood "roasting" and joking around with friends. I also understood suggestive jokes as censorship wasn't taken seriously and I wasn't sheltered from 'the real world.' I didn't (and still don't) like when people group up on others to single them out and make them feel less than. I knew/ know what that feeling is like.
Elementary I'm from down the hill, Simon Bright, Kinston, North Carolina. Outside of school was a bit rough, in the house was/ is always tranquil; but in school, it was a mixture of everything. I was a high achieving student enrolled in the Academically and Intellectually Gifted program in 2nd grade. I was awarded numerous times for academic achievement. It was never really a big deal to me as I thought that is what I was supposed to do. [I know there are probably some people picking apart this writing for grammar, structure and yada yada, but let's always focus on the message; that's how we really make a change] In school, I would get in trouble for talking in class, "outbursts," and fighting but it wasn't frequent. I would always stay to myself when I could and engage with close friends in the neighborhood who had obviously similar culture to my own. Hip hop was at the core of who I started to learn who I was and what I liked. I liked how people communicated through music. I liked beating on the tables during lunch and free styling with my friends (yes, in elementary school). Grindin' by Clipse was my instrumental of choice. Prior to us moving from Kinston, NC, Mr. Boyd had [the 2nd grade class] write a poem for class. The winner would get a nice stack of sports cards. They were new. He would give them out for good behavior. Sometimes, he would have holographic cards or rare rookie cards. They have high value now, but at the time, sports cards were in reproduced frequently making the value depreciate. I went home to write my poem, but couldn't think of anything so I wrote down the lyrics to "187" by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The next day, Mr. Boyd called me up to his desk. I thought I was going to get another award, but instead, I was scolded for plagiarizing a rap song. He gave me another chance though. I wrote an original piece and there it began. Middle School While still 'ten toes down' in Hip Hop culture, learning the language and art of rapping through listening to the music my relatives would listen to and watching projects produced by pioneers of the culture, I started to become more aware of myself and surroundings. I could describe more in a way of which a comedian would. Dave Chappelle was/is one of my most watched comedians. His influence appears in my stage presence and writing styles when it comes to setting up a punchline. Punchlines. Some days after school would be spent at my aunt's house with my cousins. I would talk go over, play the game, politic and enjoy the company of the people who made family feel like family. My cousin, Chris, would freestyle all day while I was playing the Xbox 360. I would be the subject of all of his lines. He had some good bars. One day, I had enough of just listening to him and I decided to crack jokes back to the rhythm of a D-Block instrumental blaring from the living room television. My bars were always structured like [set up, filler, filler, punchline] in the form of couplets. After I let out what I had in mind, the entire apartment cheered on as they heard what I said. Fat J was sitting in the corner and said "Yo, you should really write those down and use them." I went home and that's what I did. I started to write what I had in my head. I would write and recite. It was kind of like freestyling, but I had time to revise what I initially had in mind. That was how I could tame my mind... writing. One day, I went to school and was sharing my newest rhymes with "Shaq." I always trusted his opinion when I wrote new compositions. Shaq would make and keep up the beat on a desk and I would rap from my bent notebook, my pen tracking each word as it glides across the page. Once finished, he said "that's dope." I believe this was 6th grade. It was in middle school when I met one of the dopest MCs by the name of "Dom D." He has a flow that I never heard of. It was/is real, raw and authentic. I always appreciated that about his writing style. "With success, comes the hate;" that's what they say. One day, I was performing a new piece to either Shaq or Dom in line and my teacher was upset that I wasn't quiet in line. We were in the back, a little behind the others because we were sharing new pieces when my teacher snatched my paper, read it and threatened to share it with the whole class and get me suspended. Well, they didn't share it with the class, but they did share it with the principal and I was suspended for the content in the writing. Hip hop was never censored. It was always meant to be way to express ourselves in an unadulterated mode. I kept writing.
High School In 2007 I lost my oldest (closest to my age) cousin in a car accident. Following that, music was still a bit of a "go to" place for me as MP3 players and PSPs became popular. That's when I started to be more introspective and value life more. In my spare time, I would read encyclopedias, textbooks (as I did when I was a younger child), newspapers, philosophical and religious texts to fill my head with less intrusive thoughts of anger, violence, death and so on. My new thoughts were more about life, love, happiness, unlocking new parts of us we have yet to discover and the like.
I started dating around this time as well. I didn't have a car so most of my relationships would be considered long distance even though we went to the same school. Social media wasn't popular then nor was it used for dating (????) so I had to rely on proximity which included me going out to the mall and other places to hang out and meet people. I had a few relationships. We would text most of the time. I started being more imaginative and descriptive in my writing because that's the only way I could communicate how I felt. Imagine how dedicated we had to be with someone to T9 text them exactly how we felt. It was a different time. It was a time when emotions were high and I felt everything... so I wrote it down and sent it to them.
My most memorable text which still lives today in multiple forms: spoken word, written, hip hop song (cover), hip hop song (original) is "Simple Words."
I originally wrote "Simple Words" to Elle Varner's "Give it to You" featuring J. Cole with hopes that one day she'd hear it and be moved by my words. I needed a muse as those in my area were occupied or weren't my taste. She was perfect as her persona in "Give it to You" was someone I could see myself engaging with. Here it is in the purest form on YouTube. It was two verses with the theme of "Give it to You" and "New Shoes" as she referenced new shoes in the song. In college, I won the school's talent show with that same song, but an acapella version. Watch the acapella performance here. In high school, my work became more sophisticated. My musical palette was diverse and there was the rise of a new artist, J. Cole. He released a few mixtapes by the time I "discovered" his music and I had to play catch up. I was mind blown. There was the rise of two more notable artists as well... Wale and Drake. Wordplay became my favorite thing to do, learn, live and enjoy.
It was time for me to leave home and go to college. I started attending UNC- Charlotte and had to familiarize myself with the new environment. I had to 'survey the field' if I wanted to be precise with my movements (in regard to where I wanted to go and how I wanted to be perceived. The 'big stage' was near and I had to be a part of it). UNC- Charlotte had some nice star performers come to campus and we would be able to engage with them. One time, Sevyn Streeter visited UNC-Charlotte; she was signing autographs. I remember her asking for someone who had bars. There was an enormous crowd around her single table in the middle of the student union when one of my friends said "here he is, right here." She was like "right where" then my other friends joined in pointing at me. I was put on the spot to perform. What do you think I did? You're right! I performed for her. I was shy at first, but then, with the mic in hand and voice projecting with confidence, belted a verse from "Give it to You" (now "Simple Words"). She loved it. She signed a poster of her face with the words "Keep Rapping" and a heart at the bottom of the exclamation point. You know what that means? ;) She was doing her job the right way. I felt special. I want(ed) other people to feel the same way I felt at that moment.
I was active on campus as an "activist" (but really I was just doing what I felt was right. I guess that title gets associated with those who choose to be on the right side of what they believe in-- I digress). I was initially involved with T.A.P. (Talents, Ambitions and Passions) a multi-disciplinary organization which primary focus was mobilizing through our modes of expression. It later dissolved into MERGE, UNC- Charlotte's first spoken word organization on campus. Shortly after, I participated in Pride's talent show and placed 3rd. On February 23, 2014, I placed 1st in the Campus Activity Board talent show. I knew I had something. I had talent as an orator/ speaker/ spoken word artist. I didn't call myself a spoken word artist, but I was classified as such. To me, I was rapping acapella, but other ears heard poetry. Later that year, I transferred to the illustrious North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T SU) to pursue my studies in Business with a concentration in Marketing. I was learning to master the art of being a successful artist (by the standards of business). I joined Couture Productions after performing on the spot for one of the OG performers which allowed me to perform in front of a packed audience in Harrison Auditorium that same day. I didn't know open tryouts were that day, but I did know it felt like my day-- a great day to have a great day. I performed three years in a row at The Poetry Cafe hosted by Josephus Thompson III. From 2014- 2017 I performed exclusive pieces at The Artist Bloc and over 100 performances all over North Carolina. There was one day when I traveled from doing a performance in Greensboro, North Carolina to Charlotte, made another stop back in Greensboro and finished the day in Greenville, North Carolina at ECU. I can be found under the names of Denzel Fleming, "nonotwashington," and Juszel.
I figured something out, though. I figured out how to be an Alchemist. I figured out how to take negative energy and make it my own. After I made it my own, I then reintroduced it to myself. I started to translate the language given to me to be something I understand beautifully. Those who knew me, no longer no know me. Those who know me, have a lot to learn. Those who will get to know me will constantly search; We all do.
In conclusion, we meet personalities before we meet people. Sometimes words are the only proof we have of our existence. They then crystalize and become memories. I want to be remembered, Not as someone stuck between a rock and a hard place, But a diamond in the rough. On days when you want to relax, listen to Simple Words Instagram Archive for More Social Proof