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CD Review: Khari – Victory (Spoken Word)

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While shooting the breeze with a friend in Second Life about two years ago, I was given a link to the poet Khari Toure’s MySpace page where I immediately fell in love with the tracks “Beauty Queen” and “Thickness,” two tracks he streamed for free. This began a passionate appreciation and love of Khari’s style as a poet and a performer that outlasted the friendship of the person who actually introduced me to him.

I haunted his MySpace page for a long time, and followed him to Facebook (along with his legion of fans) because his poetry is a real glimpse into the mind of a man — not one of these Stepin Fetchits from JigabooTV, but the mind of a real man.

Khari is perhaps one of the better known spoken word performers in the US. He has sold thousands of CDS of his poetry (a feat deserving of accolades on its own) and performed at poetry venues numbering in the hundreds. He has also published a well received book of poetry.

His May 2010 release of the double-disc Victory satisfies the need many of his fans had for a longer form collection of his works. Produced and written by Khari, he uses jazz, neo-soul, and hip hop to form the base on which his poetry flows. And flow it does… almost exquisitely. The album is deeply personal and social-minded, love-infused and sexy with the music underneath offering the right note to his voice.

Khari, through sheer skill and talent, manages to engage your emotions from beginning to end. This is rare in most art forms today, and in a music industry packed with tin-can music, gel-juiced singers expressing hollow emotion, it’s refreshing and truly pleasurable.

This is what good poetry is. Not just the music, and his spoken word style, but his actual poetry. It throws up a mirror for us to see ourselves and our experiences laid bare.

His social mindedness is sharp and on point on “Levon’s Legacy.” The last line still makes me wince a bit, and this is the power of this album. That social message shines through in “The Beast,” and “Sara’s Sentence,” “Lovestruck” and “Soulmate” — telling stories that cast shadows on the wall as the neo-soul vibe sinks deep into your awareness. “The Beast” especially should be mandatory listening for every young Black man under the age of 20. More real hip hop than some of that nonsense those gold-toothed nitwits peddle. This is real art, real reflection made personal because we see these stories through Khari’s powerful and evocative imagery.

Khari is just as famous for the love of women that appears so much thoughout his work, but this is no cheap, tawdry business crooned meaninglessly. “Go Deep,” “Squirt,”  ‘Kiss Your Tears Away,” and “Bedtime is at 11pm” are enough to make your skin tingle, stroking your mind’s pleasure centres and making you believe in possibilities again. Add them to any Quiet Storm playlist you have going, some babies are going to get made.

Throughout this double disc, Khari shows a range and depth of emotion that very few performers can. Maybe it is his medium, but when he chokes up in tears at the end of “Heart Transplant” and “Soulmate” it gave me goosebumps the first few times.

Ginuwine released an album by this name, A Man’s Thoughts, last year, and if Ginuwine is the crooner, Khari provides the grit… both albums are like bookends, with Khari being perhaps the voice with the most gravitas. I only mention Ginuwine’s album because there is a similar confessional style to Khari’s poetry. I do hope Khari produces quality work like this until they cover him over.

I am still rocking to Victory. I’ll be listening for a long time, taking away something new with each listen. My one and only complaint, is that he did not include my favourites of his poems, “Beauty Queen,” on this disc.

This album sold over 10,000 digital downloads on iTunes within the first few weeks of its release, and I am encouraging you all to go get yourselves a copy. This is modern spoken word performance at its best.

Follow Khari Toure at Reverbnation, his MySpace and Facebook pages, and BlackPlanet.

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