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Spotlight

Okechukwu W. Iweala ’06, affectionately known as Oke, began his relationship with poetry in elementary school. Just a little more than a decade later, Oke opened for Busta Rhymes’ on-campus concert last spring. His affinity for poetry in all its forms—traditional, rap, and the spoken word—goes as far back as elementary school.

I always was fascinated by the power of the word and the ability of writers to generate meaning through stories or just recounting information…I began to immerse myself in rap, viewing it as a natural extension of my respect for the word and for communication. In high school, I began performing in poetry-slams after some guidance from an English teacher, in addition to small hip-hop concerts, and thus was introduced to the “spoken word,” or performance poetry. For me though, a lot of the barriers in genre-title don’t exist. I view hip-hop and rap as poetry: any time an individual takes words to express herself, she makes a poetic statement.

His baritone voice carries and has the power to fill auditoriums with his words. Thankfully, when he arrived on campus he found a home in the Spoken Word Society, an outlet through which he can channel his creativity and ideas and develop his craft.

The Spoken Word Society has been a truly inspiring and invigorating family for me, a strong group of people who love the power of the word but also love service and connecting with others…The workshops help serve as spaces to relax and to inspire people to write in any form (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, rap), and the open mics bring out peoples of all types. I really enjoy the way that we have tied the word to teaching and involvement with middle schools and high schools.

Last year, Oke had the opportunity to reach an even larger audience through his the Undergraduate Council concert commission.

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Last year, I helped host the Busta Rhymes Concert with my good friend [Ayodola A. Adigun ’06]. With her, I emceed a freestyle battle, and then later performed throughout the show just giving some of my own verses, freestyling myself, and trying to keep the crowd hyped.

As with many artists, his passion permeates several aspects of his life. He says he lives his words, and holds those of other hip hop artists in high regard. According to Oke, academia could take some pointers from hip-hop.

There’s no way to separate the inspiration of the word and music from the processes of my life. I always feel like I have rhymes coursing through my mind, and just go throughout every day rapping or writing new verses. And listening to music is always a transformative experience for me...People don’t realize that someone like Tupac gave himself the same type of college education in sociology and philosophy that Harvard students get here, purely of his own volition and interest. People don’t realize that rappers like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Nas all have vast amounts of literature and orature behind them that move into their works. As far as school, I’m resolved to change the way that I view my education, because any knowledge I can integrate into a song or into a creation, and at the same time, I have been trying to shift the way I view school into something more akin to a creative work of art, in which a person makes school their own creative tapestry, to conduct explorations rather than just have information presented.

—Cassandra M. Cummings

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