Smile Politely

The Aaron Ammons Project is about to drop

On February 6, Aaron Ammons and Dr. Raymond Morales will release the second volume in the ILL Poets Society spoken word album series. They were eager to sit down and talk in detail about their experiences within the spoken word community and about the album itself.

If there’s one thing I gathered within the first five minutes of meeting them, it’s that they’re two men who seek personal truth from themselves and others. They will never lie to you about their experiences, opinions, or passions through the art they create, and they would appreciate it if others extended the same courtesy toward them.

Raymond Morales, a South Bronx native, has attended MIT, Yale, City College of New York, and Columbia University. He received his PhD in Biochemistry at the U of I in 2012, and will receive his MD upon completing the Spring 2014 semester at UIUC. He has also participated in radio and television broadcasting for several years, all of which is documented on the website for his radio show.

Champaign Central alumnus Aaron Ammons has recently been elected as the president of SEIU Chapter 119. He’s currently working on his Bachelor’s through Eastern and UIUC and has written a couple of poetry books. He currently hosts S.P.E.A.K. Café (Song Poetry Expression Art Knowledge) at Krannert Art Museum.

Renaissance men, both.

They both appreciate the free form aspects of spoken word performance and its lack of formal constraints. “I noticed that spoken word was less constrictive than certain types of poetry,” Morales said. “Along with that, the storytelling style attracted me to it. I mean everyone contributing is a storyteller in some regard, whether it’s their own personal angst and frustration, or perspective on stories they’ve read about.”

Ammons likens spoken word to a performed poem. “It is more of an animated poem than a story,” he said. “It’s almost like a bridge between acting and just reciting a poem. It has more expression involved in it. It’s more natural to me. Poetry that’s written as a poem tends to be something that you read, but some of the things that I do—if I write it, you might say it’s an ‘OK poem,’ but if I perform it, it’s a completely different feel.”

While Ammons has been performing spoken word material for about nine years (“I’m not a slam champion or anything like that,” he told me) and has organized Speak Café since 2005, Morales feels that there hasn’t been enough recognition. This is probably due in part to the fact that Ammons, who also goes by Brotha A-Dub, enjoys focusing on young voices in development.

“For me I absolutely enjoy helping other people,” Ammons said. “Especially helping younger people find their voice. There’s a special feeling I get when there are young people, or just anyone who faces their fear and comes up in front of a crowd and speaks the truth about what they’re feeling. That’s liberating, so I enjoy it from that perspective.

“It’s a part of my personality to bring people together and watch them flourish and blossom and Ray is helping me to understand that I have to also put forth what I bring to the table. I was really appreciative of the opportunity to have that showcase in the spotlight, because what I’m saying gets out there further. I appreciate the opportunity for others to notice my work and to be noticed as an activist.”

“The problem is that Aaron is developing and cultivating these other artists,” Morales said, “but he rarely gets showcased. And so my goal in this project was to give many people an opportunity to participate, but also to showcase Aaron and all the things he does.” He is concerned that people may only know Aaron Ammons the activist within SEIU, but not Aaron Ammons the spoken word artist and Speak Café organizer. Morales hopes to remedy that with the release of ILL Poets Society Vol. 2: The Aaron Ammons Project.

It’s been over a year in development and was supported in part by a City of Urbana Arts Grant through the Public Arts Program and also funded by SORF. Including Morales and Ammons, there are ten artists: T.R.U.T.H, KillaNoyz, Xplicit, Littleman Lopez, JRoseProse, Kevin Cory, and David Huettner. The artists range from professional spoken word performers to current undergraduate and graduate students to singers and emcees. With the eclectic backgrounds of those involved, the one thing tying it all together, according to Morales, is strong emotions:

“The one thing I asked everyone to do was to tell stories that were meaningful to them in whatever regard, whether it was a personal anecdote or an experience they felt strongly about. I wanted the emotions to be visceral in whatever they communicated.”

“I don’t think you’re going to say that ‘this album is about this,’ but it is about expression,” Ammons said. “When we sit down and listen to something, we don’t always listen to the words. A lot of people get caught up in the music, the track, the beat, and that’s it for them. The reason Ray chose the people he chose was so the music would enhance their words. In this situation, an individual was able to listen to the words and pick tracks to fit the words.”

For The Aaron Ammons Project, the vocals were recorded first, and Rokmore of TheGr8Thinkaz later produced a score. Morales thinks listeners will be impressed by the seamless nature of the music and lyrics, and he’s correct from my point of view. I listened to the free single currently available for download, and if I wouldn’t have known beforehand that the music came later in the process I would not have noticed at all. That’s how well done it is. Morales believes this is the first time a spoken word album has been done this way, at least in this community.

In terms of what Ammons wants listeners to take away from the album, he says he wants us to grow together. “I don’t write for the hell of it, I don’t write just for me,” he said. “Much of what I write is very much connected to my activism and the way that I live. It’s also from my perspective, my pain, my experiences. It’s not necessarily written to attack anybody else. Just understand where I’m coming from. This is how I see it, this is my perception, this is my reality. So how do we work together to create reality that we all feel is in our best interests. That’s really what I want people to get from what I share, and as an artist that’s what I hear in most other artists.”

Morales is looking forward to the audience’s response in relation to subject matter: “I think there’s going to be a lot of pieces on the album that people will find fun, playful, and delightful. There are going to be some pieces that people will have difficulty digesting because of the content matter and subjects that we broach. I think everyone should come with an open mind and understand that these stories are so important to have a conversation about and be honest about. I’m definitely looking forward to what people have to say.”

The February 6 release will be held at Krannert Art Museum, which will feature an open mic event including several artists off of the album. In addition to the festivities, they’ll have two hundred copies of the album to give away for free.

Ammons said he’s excited, but nervous: “There’s always some nervous energy when you’re displaying your art. If you just kept it to yourself it would be one thing, but when you put it out for other people you wonder what they’ll think about it and things like that. But I think there’s a desire and a growing energy around spoken word in this community. I anticipate a large crowd looking forward to hearing it and wanting to be a part of Speak Café. I’m excited, but nervous.”

“I’m excited, particularly to showcase at least one of our videos we’ll have done for that day to get feedback and see peoples’ reaction,” Morales said. “The way we chose to produce the art at all levels I think reinforces the creativity of the actual spoken pieces. So whether there was animated text or drawings I think people will be taken aback.”

While there is certainly excitement surrounding the release of The Aaron Ammons Project and showcasing the artists and their talents, Ammons is still more focused on the reaction to the substance and content over the style, and spoke on the topic with humility: “There are times when it feels good and the flow is good and you can see the interaction with people and you’re enjoying the moment. I’m not saying I don’t get that. I absolutely get into those spaces where I feel the energy of what I said was tight. I do have those moments, but it means more when someone comes up to me and says, ‘I appreciate you telling my story,’ because they didn’t have the desire or courage to share that story. That probably means more to me than someone saying, ‘that was a tight verse you dropped.’”

Artist and Track Listings for the album:

  1. Aaron Ammons aka Brotha A-Dub – Sharing
  2. T.R.U.T.H – Retribution
  3. KillaNoyz – My Name Is George Junius Stinney, Jr.
  4. Xplicit – Suicide By Signature
  5. Aaron Ammons aka Brotha A-Dub – Product Of My Environment
  6. Littleman Lopez – Does A Blind Man Dream In Color
  7. JRoseProse Feat. Kevin Cory – Redemption
  8. Xplicit – Cubicle Cutie
  9. Raymond Morales – NUMB3RS
  10. Aaron Ammons aka Brotha A-Dub – Do I Remember
  11. T.R.U.T.H – Familiar Felon
  12. Chase Baby – Effortless
  13. Raymond Morales – The Addict
  14. Aaron Ammons aka Brotha A-Dub – Slim Gem
  15. Kevin Cory – My Music
  16. Xplicit – College Livin’
  17. T.R.U.T.H – Contra-Dick
  18. David Huettner – Routine Maintenance
  19. Aaron Ammons aka Brotha A-Dub – What Is The Struggle?

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