ReadNext Poetry Squad


ap music and Hip-Hop culture grew up much as any folk form does: through
the ingenuity of a people living in oppressive surroundings and creating
art through economic constraints. Rap’s roots can be found in the African
griots—traveling musicians who moved about to give the news of the day
through semi-spoken, semi-sang performances. Town criers, if you will,
with a sense of rhythm. Bearing this in mind, the “instruments” of early
Hip-Hop culture included rappers’ poetry, voices (human beat-boxes), and
turntables (erstwhile percussion instruments that doubled as means to a
wealth of recorded excerpts). While many Hip-Hop performers never realize
the protest potential in their music, many others have made the most of
it. Ensembles such as Public Enemy were wonderfully militant in pieces
like “Fight the Power” and on topical albums like

Fear of a Black Planet

More recently, artists such as the Coup and Dead Prez have offered seriously
radical Hip-Hop to mainstream audiences. 

The ReadNex Poetry Squad is a quartet of young men and women of color who
perform in a spoken word style born of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Within
their urgent statements, one can feel the spirit of luminaries such as
Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, and Amiri Baraka. Yet,
the multi-cultural spectrum of their September 2006 CD release

Social ISsUe

brings the message into one not only of self-identification, but of internationalism.
Happily, this group infuses Spanish-language rap into strains of the spiritual
“Wade in the Water” to create a powerful hybrid. The interplay of culture,
genre, and social study is at the heart of ReadNex. They offer the listener
visions of a global ’hood. 

Bits of seemingly off-the-cuff dialog interspersed with Hip-Hop are accompanied
by strong electric guitar and an almost orchestral use of turntables. The
spoken word becomes song, transforming into pure rhythm, and back, as band
members Free Flowin,’ Cuttz El Colombiano, Decora, and Latin Translator
put it forward. Fear not, aging activist, you will not be deafened by the
intelligently programmed drum machine. It grooves as a pulse that will
only drive you to the next cut. Here’s Hip-Hop that is anything but exclusionary
or sexist. This music is as exciting as it is welcoming. This is the kind
of CD you’ll want to borrow from the youth in your life. Its progressive,
anti-war, social action message is as apparent as any. Standout cuts include
“I Write,” “Wade,” “Ms. Education of Bling,” and “Ready for War.” “Cold
World” offers a brilliant combination of multi-culti rap and Stax-like
R&B vocals, while the disc’s closer, “Ghetto,” could be the next wave of
the Last Poets. 

Okay, many leftists prefer their musical poets to carry acoustic guitars—or
perhaps punk-laced electric ones. Let’s keep those as relevant as ever
while also considering the strength of the new. Think of that while you
ponder the importance of bringing more young folks into the movement. Then
wonder why the ReadNex Poetry Squad was overlooked as performers at the
recent peace demonstrations in DC and will probably be overlooked at the



John Pietaro is a protest musician, labor organizer and writer from