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Ise Lyfe Style

Music Review: One of the country's most talented young poets takes his message from the stage to the studio with the release of two new albums.
 
 
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Unless you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ise Lyfe is a rapper you've probably never heard of. But you will, soon.

The 23-year-old Oakland emcee has been making a name for himself ever since bursting onto the national poetry scene in 2000. As a member of the San Francisco Bay Area team at the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam, he helped capture the national title and captivated audiences with his verse.

Since then he's traversed the country, often blurring the already nebulous line between spoken word and rap, performing on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam and sharing the stage with some of Hip Hop's most iconic figures, including Lauryn Hill, Dead Prez, E-40, KRS-One, Saul Williams, Erykah Badu and comedian Dave Chappelle.

Now, armed with a book of thought-provoking rhymes and fearless determination, one of America's brightest young artists sets out to promote his most recent musical endeavors, including the re-release of his debut album, SpreadtheWORD, and a new mixtape, Forward Ever: The Next Level P.O.W.E.R Move.

Growing up in the place where "crack and the Panthers both first started" (i.e. the streets of East Oakland, Calif.), Ise Lyfe admits to not having been overtly politicized in his early years. Like so many young people living in underserved communities burdened by high unemployment, inadequate school funding and debilitating crime rates, Ise found himself apathetic to the menacing social ills that surrounded him and with little hope for his future. It wasn't until witnessing a murder outside of a concert when he was 15 that he realized how numb he had become to violence, so he returned to his rhyme book.

"Murder," a brilliant track off of SpreadtheWORD speaks to the apathy and misguided anger apparent in many communities under siege as Ise laments, " I'm stepped on by the white man's boot/that's true/but ain't no white man in a suite/ever been on my block and started to shoot. " In rhymes that are neither cliché nor condescending, Ise paints a vivid picture of the world as he sees it in an effort to galvanize his listeners to be their own purveyors of self-determination and social justice.

Ise's poetic rap skills and tendency to delve into a unique singing ability on tracks like "Beautiful" bring back memories of Mos Def's Black on Both Sides . On "Culture Vulture" Ise's tone rises from an invective fervor shrouded in urgency and on "Love With You Anymore" his captivating romantic whisper ensures his appeal to a wide range of listeners. Despite this comparison, Ise Lyfe stands on his own as an artist with a sound destined to change the rap game's perspective.

SpreadtheWORD was first released independently in 2003 and was re-released in late June 2006 under fledging Hard Knock Records. The new album includes several new tracks, new artwork and a free full length DVD featuring a biography, concert footage and a video for the album's first single "Beautiful." Ise Lyfe continues his world wind summer by kicking off a cross-country tour in July with perennial hip hop mainstays The Coup.

The mixtape, Forward Ever unabashedly falls in line with its full-length predecessor, but also pushes the envelope of revolutionary struggle even further. One notable track amidst a bevy of quality contenders is "Live or Die" which, using the hook of 2Pac's classic "Hail Mary" opens with " Pac said the power of the people is in the politics we address/ therefore we are the answer/and the most absolute threat ." From there, Ise extends his venomous tribute to exploring the conditions of his community and the contradictions they often give birth to, once again calling on his listeners to challenge the cycles of systemic oppression that so often devour the people's promise.

Even with the release of two albums and a tour, Ise Lyfe continues his community activism. His organizing include co-founding People Organizing with Each Other for Revolution (POWER), a multi-faceted Oakland-based organization that provides healthy food for elementary school kids and teaches youth "the root causes of violence in their communities" among many other deeds. Ise also teaches social history and spoken word at one of the most innovative charter schools, The School for Social Justice and Community Development in Oakland. He co-wrote and performed in "Cause" -- a hip hop theatre piece that fused spoken word and modern dance, and serves as the Arts-In-Education Associate Resident at Youth Speaks.

Ise Lyfe's activism undoubtedly informs his socially conscious rhymes, and as this gifted poet continues to spread the message of empowerment, more people are destined to be touched by the power of his words.

Jamilah King is an editorial intern of WireTap Magazine.