Idris Goodwin is the Neapolitan ice cream of words. He’s a rapper, an HBO Def Poet and an award-winning writer. His material mixes and serves the best elements of these genres. He’s also a “hip-hop educator” who has lectured in institutions across the country on themes like culture and empowerment. Literary journals have published him and clubs have played his music. Goodwin is from Chicago but has duel residence in Illinois and New Mexico. The cherry on top is that he’ll perform as part of the Wordstream Poetry Series at the Harwood Art Center on Friday, June 18. (Full disclosure: In 2006 I acted in Goodwin’s play Braising.)
Goodwin’s 2005 self-titled debut album was a mix of hip-hop and spoken word that grabbed attention for its depth. His wordplay was noted as tricky, clever and positive. Break Beat Poetica—his second album, released on March 2—is no different: The raps are smart. Goodwin tells stories with crisp articulation, and apparently nothing is off-limits. Social and political issues are addressed, but the poet has also mined his own history. On “Nomad,” he blends nostalgia, excitement and other feelings that come with moving frequently, delivering the final message: “I can live anywhere when I know where I been.” (Incidentally, this track has a few nods to living in Santa Fe.) His childhood experience in basketball camp gives the listener grins—“Isaiah Thomas Camp most improved player / let the rock go now I’m a rhyme sayer”—but also delivers a deeper message about work ethic and supporting each other. The album is also good for dancing. Hypnotizing, moving beats with subtle undercurrents of electronic music were created by Chicago artists Anomaly and Lee Chest. There’s a piano in there, too, and a surprising bit of remixed klezmer clarinet.
With a background in theater as well—directing, performing and playwrighting—
Goodwin’s always writing, and his Harwood show will be a mix of songs from his albums, spoken word pieces and, who knows, maybe even something he invents on the ride to the venue. Catch what he has to say while he’s still in town—Goodwin is touring and could be gone again before his last word stops ringing.