Profile: Khari B

By Toyin Alaka


Chicago native Khari B fuses his loves for poetry and music together in sweet harmony to create what he considers himself, a Spoken Word Musician. A veteran of the city’s poetry scene, Khari has garnered a strong, loyal following. UnRated Urban got a chance to speak with Khari earlier this year to learn about his past, present and future.

Tell me about your background: where you were born & raised

I am south side of Chicago born & bred, my mother is a retired teacher and my dad is a jazz musician

Tell me how you discovered spoken word? Do you prefer to be called a spoken word artist or to be called a poet?

I prefer to get paid…lol. I guess the term that I use is Spoken Word Musician because what I do is more music oriented, I can’t sing so I can’t actually just be a musician, so I’m a spoken word musician, that’s what’s working now.

Spoken Word Musician, I like that because you do use a lot of music in your work, it’s very heavily influenced, I think.

Yeah, it’s written as music for me and it’s been like that for ages almost as long as I can remember, every time I write, there is something rhythmic and musical going on in my head as I’m going along.

What’s your process, do you say I’m going to set aside this time to write or does it come to you and you have to scramble to find a pen and paper right now and get this all down right now?

Pretty much that’s it. It will come to me at anytime of the day, any day of the week, any moment and I keep a pen in my pocket and a pad on my side so that when the inspiration or motivation does come, I can get it down. I’ve probably lost twice as many poems as I’ve ever written because I either wasn’t prepared or couldn’t at that particular time. Unless it’s a commissioned piece, a lot of times if I’m working with different musicians they would want something specific so I have to find some time and find some focus and actually sit down and create what they want. What I always ask is what kind of feeling are you going for because that’s what’s going to determine how I write. That’s going to determine the calm or the excitement of it all.

How is your work different or similar to others who do what you do? I know people don’t really do what you because you are this wild rambunctious, wild child, you are like all over the place and I know for a fact that anyone who goes to your show cannot expect to just sit there and politely nod their head, absolutely not.

I personally find that very irritating, when they do because I’m working …..what may be different for me than a lot of artists but not all artists is that I that I really don’t have any hang-ups about it all, there is really little to no inhibitions in what I do so I just can completely let go and allow what’s going to happen to happen without giving any conscious thought.

While I can see where a lot of artists either get stuck where they are delivering just as they are and all of that or there are other artists who imitate other artists and I don’t have that problem or issue. I’m not going to move like Omarion or Usher or anyone, I’m letting go, there is no set plan. Any time you see me on stage, there is no plan, it’s just going to happen and I like to get a video one of these days so I can see what happens, cause typically I don’t know and I didn’t know for years.

What you were doing on stage?

Yeah, people would come up to me after and say oh my god you are so wild and I would nod and say ok. So I would like to see the video and separate myself as I watch and maybe say, yeah that dude is kinda crazy.

How many albums have you produced? what’s the difference between each one?

We have two albums thus far, the first one was: Wordsound This Ain’t No Punk Ass Poetry which was done with House of Twang produced by Bemaji done ages ago and the latest one is: I’m A Bad Mutha The Rockstar Poetry Project and also the name of the band The Rockstar Poetry Project.

On the first album I was really spoiled because Bemaji took complete and great unparalleled care of the music for me, he mixed it and flipped it and did all of this good stuff that at the time I was unfamiliar with. It was very soulful and I like it a lot, it has a slightly different demographic than the latest one which is more funk rock oriented, there is a lot more aggression and I had a greater hand in the production of it all because I have a better ear for what I want and how I want it to feel and there was a lot of material that was a lot more aggressive than what I had done previously that I really wanted to get out and that’s what this latest album is about.

This latest album is more politically charged I think, do you think that’s because of the sign of the times? and also in it you mix a group of things, for instance you touch on relationships, prejudice, racism… you mix it all in there without it all sounding like one specific thing. I like the correlations and how you make it sound like you’re talking about a relationship in one piece when it’s actually about politics and vice versa….I like that a lot, explain how that came about?

Right, yeah, for me people are multi-faceted and so their music should be too. The whole pigeon-hole that mass media has locked people into has limited their ability to think, however I believe that there is a great portion of people who are attempting to break out of those boxes and in that process they need to be nurtured and steered and given those things that reflect them breaking out of those boxes and that’s what my music is. I’m not going to come at you in one direction because your brain doesn’t work in one direction it’s all over the place, I know mine is.

So that’s what ends up happening, there is a lot more relationship oriented material in Imma Bad Mutha than people really know from face value because a lot of it came out of a major break up for me where I was sitting on tracks sad as hell, mad, sad and in the dumps, so a lot of that stuff I just kind of disguised… masked.

Exactly, however if you pay attention…you get it

Right, right if you use that multi-faceted brain that’s going in every direction, you will get it. It was written during a very politically charged time, the Bush regime was a major point in world history especially for those of us living in it. So I did speak to that and it’s still relevant and present because of all the damage that was done during that regime is still very present now and we are still trying to recover if we are even trying to recover at all thru that, so you will get a lot of that on the album. I had to address it, I couldn’t ignore it and I got at it the way that I could.

So at a poetry set that you previously hosted the discussion about authenticity came up. How is it determined if someone is authentic or inauthentic when it comes to what you do?

I don’t like people to make stuff really deep, I think it should be real simple, really easy, really digestible. The difference between authentic and fake shit is obvious, you know when someone is in front of you putting on airs, you know that they have no sincere connection to their work, they just want to be in front of you, they need that attention and what we’ve seen in art in the last five years or more is a bunch of so called artists who are really entertainers, part of the social engineering program that’s going on and they just need attention, they are not connected to that work.

Nobody can convince me that… I won’t give any names… a lot of artists mainstream or otherwise really would put out that material if they felt they had another choice or know they had another choice and you see that from the mainstream to the small poetry venues, folks are just getting up on the stage because they get to say this and get that attention whether it’s negative or positive, it’s attention and everybody is screaming out for attention they just don’t know how to get it in a manner that suits everybody. So over the past five years or so it’s become overly saturated and now it’s a thing where everybody can do it.

When you hear certain rappers rap and it’s so disgusting, below elementary and so low brow where you feel like oh, I can do that too and so the next piece of crap garbage comes and jumps up and does that. And we see that in hip-hop, we see it in poetry, we see it in R&B, Soul, Funk industry, it’s just everybody jumping on. A lot of people went away from the live music venues and poetry sets because of that, because they wanted that authenticity that we all felt at one point or another and so I’m trying to do my best to attract those that left and I’m doing my best to set up a comfortable ground with those who want to express that authenticity can and be those artists that we want to see where they have somewhere to come and be and do.

Which pieces on the latest album are your favorites?

umm… that’s hard, I guess Being Me is the Shit it’s just a fun piece, we’ve got three different movements to it and we got to really inject it with how I feel everyday and I wanted to share that with everybody else not just how I should feel but how you should feel, you know it’s not a piece about the sea, this is you, it’s about you. The crowd favorite became F U, I Love You which I never wanted to put on there.

Why did you?

Because that was a personal piece when I was in pain and couldn’t sleep and crying and calling my friends at 3 o’clock in the morning like why did she do this to me, I hate her. It was a personal piece that grew above ground and everybody wanted to smell that flower.

They absolutely did

Yup and everyone got a piece of that. I think the sleeper cut is going to be Weeding and I don’t know how that turned out so well it just did and it was probably the first piece written on the album. We recorded it and the mixer mixed it and I was like wow, that’s kinda…..moving and I think it’s going to catch a lot of people off guard.

The piece I enjoyed writing the most is Terrorism 101, that came out of a research project I did, I personally went down to the 9th Ward in New Orleans to interview people and the voices you hear are actual 9th Ward residents and conversations that we had and I learned so much and it was so rewarding to get the true story that I had not heard prior to going down there and talking to the people myself. I did it a year after Katrina and my intention was to do a larger project that would benefit those residents but it hasn’t manifested yet.

Chicago favs: hangouts, music & food

Chicago Diner is my favorite restaurant because it’s vegan and it’s good. New love is Brother Tim’s Vegetarian Fast Food. Music: Room 11, H2O Soul, Tina Howe and the Fellas, they always throw a killer show and I try to catch them any chance I get.

My band is composed of my favorite musicians prior to us getting together with Corey Wilkes, Frankie Blaze and my dad is on their playing baritone, Aum Muu Rah and everyone including Khari Lemeul who is doing great things. All twelve of us are some of my favorite musicians in the city. I also love Gallery Guichard on King Drive.




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