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May 26, 2020

Top 10 Slam Poems that Will Light You Up in 2020

Slam poems have played a significant influence in my life to the point where my dad named me after his favorite poet.

Poetry is an awesome creative medium that’s evolved into music, where modern-day poets are lyricists. We enjoy tons of talented artists who put their words to music, but I don’t want us to forget that there are plenty of poets who don’t put their verses to music, and in many ways, their words are just as impactful. 

Prose has the power to provide deep insights for self-discovery, what we enjoy about life, what we dislike about life, and give us a sense of meaning through articulated words. 

When you feed yourself great art, the words can impact your life. If you’re trying to cultivate a positive and healthy mindset, you have to feed it something that nourishes it. 

The slam poems I’ve selected are made of inspiring, positive words that will make you think while uplifting your mood. They help foster my positive mentality and inner-journey, and I hope they will do the same for you. 

I encourage you to watch all the performances of the poetry with the links below and to watch the videos I’ve embedded directly into the post.  

1. IN-Q (USA), The Only Reason We’re Alive

“And I’m gonna love her till she loses every last root and has to glue dentures to her gums to chew solid food. Ooo, now that’s real love dude. That’s some push comes to shove love. Not when it’s convenient, love. Hospital bed, love. Feed her ice chips, love. Never leave the room, love. Sleeping in the chair, love. Pray to up above, love. Have to pull the plug.”

IN-Q personally had a major influence on my life. A few years ago, I attended a workshop he put on for Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Colorado. He picked me out of hundreds of people to share a poem I wrote in the workshop and after I delivered it, he told me he had no notes! He gave me the confidence to start writing poetry which evolved into lyrics and eventually, my first album. He opened me up to a gift I didn’t know I had.

“The Only Reason We’re Alive” is number one for me because he talks about love in a whole new angle. The way he describes love as growing old and dying together is potent. It’s a beautiful way to embrace long-lasting love, not just heat of the moment, passion. More importantly, he describes that we can have that kind of love at any point in our life, not only when we’re 85. It brings it all back to how powerful love is and how you can have that right now. 

2.  Saul Williams (USA), Ohm

“Through meditation, I program my heart to be breakbeats and hum baselines on exhalation. Om.”

Grandfather of spoken word lyrics, Saul Williams, was combining hip-hop and meditation back in 1998. I’ve always said that these two worlds belong together and why Bling the book and album are such powerful ways to share eastern wisdom with the hip-hop community.

Not only is he an amazing lyricist, but he’s also an amazing performer.  Watch his video to see how he uses his hands to create a rhythm to show how meditation and hip hop are so interwoven. I love that Eastern meditation and hip-hop slam poetry were combined 22 years ago in his work, and I’m sure you will too.

3. Black Ice (USA), Def Poetry Jam

“I don’t give a fuck how slick you flowin’ if you ain’t showin’ these kids nothing or adding nothing positive to the earth. See I’ve been destined to touch this world since the day I was born. To be honest, fuck a deal. God gives me what I’m worth.”

Like Saul Williams, Black Ice is another incredible poet and performer. His untitled piece performed on Def Poetry Jam, calls out the inner workings of society and the music industry in particular. It’s a great piece to watch because he’ll make you think about all the different ways the odds have been stacked against people of color, especially black people.

He talks about everything from slavery to consumerism and cultural norms that have evolved to be new forms of captivity, forcing people to work for others. Black Ice addresses the music industry explicitly where record labels control how rappers sing, what they create, and how to express themselves artistically while continuing to make the majority of the money.  

What’s even more incredible about Black Ice is, that once you watch him perform, it’s clear that he’s talented to become a rapper. 

Instead, there’s something really beautiful about the independence and freedom he’s mustered up to become a poet, instead of making the no brainer financial choice—becoming a rapper. In his voice, you can tell that his soul is free, and his only concern is his relationship with a higher power, not how others perceive him.

I embedded this one for a reason, check it out. Black Ice is incredible.  

4. Bobby LeFebre (USA), Nothing Left

“Outside, the machine is powering down. You can hear yourself when the gears aren’t grinding. When there is nothing left to do but live, simply show up; that has always been enough. And together in this sudden strangeness, radical imagination will run wild; tomorrow being built today.”

Bobby is a local poet from Denver and a national champion in slam poetry from slam Nuba. He wrote “Nothing Left” during quarantine, in the wake of COVID. I love this work because he talks about how right now is the time to get closer to your Self and enjoy the space. 

It’s a great social commentary on the effects of social distancing—that many people are uncomfortable being with themselves, and as a result, they have an itch for social contact. When we learn to love ourselves, we can genuinely see that right now is the moment for self-connection.

Related: Bobby and I were named “10 Colorado Writers to Add to Your Reading List” 

5. Taylor Mali (USA), What Teachers Make

“I make them realize that if you’ve got… this 🧠 then you follow… this 🖤  And if anyone tries to judge you based on what you make, you give them this 🖕 Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true. Teachers, make a goddamn difference. Now what about… you?”

If you’ve ever appreciated a teacher in your life, then this is the poem for you.

I think you’ll love Mali’s work, “What Teachers Make,” because everyone can understand the value of good teachers. Teachers are invaluable in our society, yet so many scoff at how low paid they are. I’m not here to tell you that teachers should make more or less, but my point is they contribute a lot more than money can earn. Mai touched the core of their impact on our lives so beautifully that I believe this is a poem we all need to read. 

6. Aranya Johar (India), To India: With Love

“Just like the Ashoka chakra, we’re wheeling to progress, preparing ourselves for every rise and drop, failure and success.” 

Aranya pleasantly surprised me with her work since she’s so young. She taps into the pride of being Indian using profound imagery such as the Ashoka chakra in the middle of the Indian flag. The 24 spokes in the wheel represent Dharma, which has many meanings, including “the right way of living.” 

The chakra and flag are a metaphor for India as a young democracy, and all the flaws and challenges that go along with it. But in the end, we’re still working on being a great people, and it’s very uplifting and motivating. I’m sure not just Indians, but other cultures and countries can relate as well.

For such a young lady to remind us that we can all have pride in who we are and where we come from, she deserves your time and attention. 

Related: How to Rediscover Your Roots and Rock Your Cultural Identity

slam poems

7. Beau Sia (USA), Give Me A Chance

“It’s been 24 months and 18 days since my art has done anything for me… Cuz struggling, fucking sucks hard after the 9th package of ramen noodle soup. I’m Beau Sia… give me a chance, and I’ll change the world.”

Beau is a funny poet, so if you want a laugh, then you’ll enjoy his work. “Give Me a Chance” is a comedy skit inside a poem, and like any great comedian, he draws on raw emotions and human nature to make us smile. In this poem, he talks about how so many people love him, and he has the accolades, but he still just wants someone to give him a chance. 

We can all relate to that. In Beau’s words, we all want a singular moment of opportunity to “Change the world.”

OK, the ending is a little cheesy for me, but he’s voicing a fiery ambition that people from low-income backgrounds are screaming. People with untapped potential, but limited funds just want a chance to reach their full potential, and do something great. If you can resonate with some of those inequalities and that burning scream to “Change the world,” this poem will make you think. 

8.  Omar Musa (Australia), Play On

“That even though the record was scratched, the needle was snapped, and the mic was unplugged, I played on. This is a warning to everyone: tomorrow is not your friend. So never let the fire in the lamp burn low, cuz you never know, when today might end.”

Omar’s message in “Play On” is about presence. When he says, “Tomorrow is not your friend,” it forces you to stop thinking about the future and come back into the moment because tomorrow’s not guaranteed. It means that we can’t worry about tomorrow, because it’s not our friend—a strong force function to push into today no matter what’s happening.

We don’t have to postpone happiness until tomorrow. We have access to fulfillment and joy right now, and when we live in the present moment, we can maximize that experience. Plus, he did it in a clever, musical metaphor which I love because I’m passionate about music and DJing.

Presence is a key to living life at its fullest, and Omar will bring you back to now. 

9. Anis Mojgani (USA), Shake the Dust

“This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them. For the bus drivers who drive a million broken hymns. For the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children. For the nighttime schoolers. And for the midnight bikers who are trying to fly. Shake the dust.”

Men will dig by this poem. 

With the female rights movement, men, in a way, have become villainized in order to lift up women. In my opinion, in no way is that equity. My point is that we need to lift each other up equally, all the time, rather than turn odds against each other in the name of equality. 

Men need to be involved in the conversation, but they don’t need to be put down to raise others. There are many good, hard-working men busting their asses, providing for their family. We need to recognize them more, and this poem does that.

10. Harry Baker (England), Western Super Nightmare

“I love the beach. And I love swimming in the sea. I love having adventures because I love feeling free. I love people who are up for stuff, and spontaneity. The truth is, I love life. I love people who love life like me. Sometimes, it’s for the glory. Sometimes, it’s for the story. Mostly it’s because I believe we weren’t made to be ordinary.”

Harry Baker is one of the most viewed slam poets in the world. “Western Super Nightmare” is buried inside one of his videos, so if you click the link, this is his second poem during his Ted Talk. This piece felt like the B-side of a good record and reminded me when I discovered “DWYCK” on the B-side of Gang Starr. “Western Super Nightmare” felt like a discovery because it was the second poem in a performance without the title spot. 

Yet, it could have easily taken first place because of its great commentary on when to say “no” to things. There’s so much discussion about saying “no,” being precautious, avoiding risks, setting boundaries, and guardian our time. 

But Baker reminds us to have lightness in life. To be playful, to have fun. 

We have to have a zeal for life where sometimes you just say, “Why not?” 

Related: Look for the Undervalued Parts of Life | The B Side

What Slam Poets Do You Recommend?

What are you reading right now? What’s touching your soul? What’s making you think? 

I would love to hear who you recommend so drop them in the comments below.

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  1. Earnest Hammond III

    Don’t Give Up On Life Poem By Earnest H III it’s a deep poem for those people who think about ending their life