GaKnew Roxwel
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GaKnew Roxwel

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Band Hip Hop Spoken Word

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"Review of GaKnew's 2008 release"

Hiphop critic Patrick Taylor of RapReviews.com says, “GaKnew's rapping style is a little Kanye, and a little Jay-Z at his most earnest and soul-bearing. Think "Moment of Clarity" but with more soulful production, and you are approaching where GaKnew is coming from”…

“He draws upon the mastery of language essential in good poetry to create rhymes that are layered, complex, and a step above your average rapper.” …

“A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into making "Mannequin People," (new album) and it shows. GaKnew deals with the struggles of the inner city, as well as the challenges of relationships, being a musician, and trying to make a place for yourself in the world. GaKnew is an insightful and honest rapper, and his positive but real approach is a welcome contrast to rappers who glamorize life on the streets, either intentionally or unintentionally. There are a lot of rappers spitting tales from the hood, but not that many offering solutions or analysis of how to make things better. GaKnew does this without sounding preachy or corny, which is no small feat.”

- RapReviews.com


"Poets in Hiphop"

Hollywood's Ivar Theatre is the setting for this intimate gathering of up-and-coming hip-hop poets, who reveal their provocative views about love, politics, racism and war through the medium of the spoken word. With a lineup that includes the rhymes of Gaknew, Miss Kimm, Joy Jones, Gina Loring, Jahaira and Bridget Gray, this unforgettable evening delivers some of the best new voices in the business. - Netflix


"HBO Def Poetry Interview"

HBO sits down with Def Poet Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel . . .

HBO: You're married to each other and you perform together from time to time - which came first? How did you meet?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: We met about four years ago at the Poetry Lounge, a venue that we both slam at in LA. She was on the Los Angeles slam team and I was on the Hollywood slam team. I'd been doing it for a while and she was new to it. Both of us had a lot of bitter love pieces from previous relationships (laughs). But I also did a lot of community stuff. At the time I was doing a lot of work with group homes and juvenile halls, so a lot of my work was inspired by the kids.

We began to get booked for a lot of the same local gigs - club gigs and college gigs. We were both in relationships when we first met, or she had just come out of one. And when you're in a relationship, you may see someone that's cute, but, y'now, that's all it is.

Thea: The first time I saw him it was 2001 at a slam event in LA. It was his first time slamming and he won the grand slam that day. I was impressed, but he was too serious for me. He says I was all on him from the start, that's not how it was. He had a big beard and a big 'fro - he was looking as serous as it gets. It was kind of intimidating. I thought I'd have to be Angela Davis to be dating him - he was completely revolutionary. But I was thinking he was a good performer. He's the only person to hold two-time grand slam champion record titles!

HBO: So how did you end up dating?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: There was one time we both had two of the same gigs on the same day. She had a crush on me already, and so she called me to see if I wanted to carpool. But I knew what was going on. Someone had already told me. That's her in the background right now, she's saying, 'Tell her you saw me and thought I was cute!' (laughs) We ended up carpooling. By then I had gotten out of the relationship, but she didn't know. So we ended up hanging out.

Thea: We have a back and forth on this ...He admits that he noticed I was cute - that's as far as it went - he was dating someone else. The point is, he noticed first (laughs). Then in 2002, he got a haircut and shaved his beard, and you could see him smiling. I told a mutual friend of ours, gollly he's really cute - and cleans up well! But he was dating someone, so I was a day late and a dollar short. Then I saw them together and thought, they don't look right together. Something's not right. When they broke up, my friend dropped the dime on me. He tries to make it seem like he knew when I called him about carpooling, but I was really smooth about it. He's like, 'You never called me to carpool before.' We didn't go out for another month after that, then we were inseparable.

HBO: Have you ever been in a contest against each other?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: Yeah, actually. Her first year of slamming, we both went out for the Hollywood team. She ended up going overtime and got a big point deduction, and didn't make the team. But she ended up on the Los Angeles team.

HBO: How would you say your styles differ?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: I'm more the rapper, and she's more the passionate one. I'm passionate too, but that's really her niche. People fall in love with her because every word she says like she really, really means it. For me, I like word play and stuff like that. We kind of rub off on each other though.


Thea: He's more into the style of the writing - the wordplay and rhyme scheme. He's very good at that. That's what I'm trying to do more of. I focus more on the emotional undertones. His is more clever. I try to focus on getting things off my chest, thinking of the most powerful word. When he's up there, people are like, "Man, that's fresh." My audience is more of a listening audience - they don't react until the very end. But we both do a lot of political and social pieces.

HBO: Have you influenced each other?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Thea: Oh yeah, a lot. Our birthdays are three days apart. The things that irritate us about each other we both do - he does the male version and I do the female version. Kind of like our poetry. But even personality wise, people see him as a lot softer now. They see him with kids and family and he smiles a lot more. And he teaches me to not to be so naive and gullible, 'cause I can be. He's definitely more street smart - I'm more academic. It's different, but we work on that.


Gaknew: I've always done a lot of political stuff, and stuff about my own personal issues, family stuff - everyone's got issues (laughs). But I'm working on just having fun more. In the past, there was all that bitter relationships stuff, and you don't want to just make depressing music. Around the house I'm more playful, and I'm gonna focus more on that - try and put all of me in the music, rather than just the bitter stuff.

HBO: What are some of the challenges of being a married couple that performs together?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Thea: We admit that there's some ego, but neither one of us have huge egos. The lounge is our home. If we don't go there for a while, or if we perform and people aren't going nuts, we're like - wait a minute. I've gotten some opportunities and vice versa, but the way we look at it is, it all goes to the same place. If I had a job where he could be off work, I'd love it. He handles more of the industry side of our relationship. I don't have the drive to do solo things – as much as I do with collaborative effort. But we don't compete - it all comes to the same place.

HBO: How about the perks/benefits?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Thea: You can bounce ideas off each other, run it by them, get an honest critique from a writer's point of view, not just a fan's point of view. My family's just like, 'Oh my baby's good.' We can work together really well, yet we have different facets - at home and professionally. At home it's mommy and daddy.

HBO: The poem you read together, "A Different World," did you write it together?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Thea: It was originally a rap song on GaKnew's album, about when I gave birth to our first daughter. But in his version, he was more the bystander. So I interjected how it felt for me. It's a fair representation of what happened, at the same time it didn't scare people off from having kids. We're describing some of the bad things - but it's part of the design for something better. You've got to do it together.


Gaknew: For the rap song, some of it came to me that day - the day she was in labor. Things will come to me in rhyme, and end up in a poem. So after that, we kind of broke it up, and she wrote stuff to go in the in-between segments - and it just took a whole new direction.

Thea: Writing it from my side was easier - you don't forget that.

HBO: Sounds like it was pretty scary - the labor, giving birth - for both of you?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: Yeah, right after, we were both like - adoption next time. There was a real moment of panic. They gave her the pitossin to induce, and they upped it too much, and one contraction caused the baby's heart rate to drop. Suddenly the midwife and everyone's panicking, but didn't want us to see them panicking. It was like the Nascar swat team - five different nurses came in, made everyone else leave, moving this, moving that - we don't even know what's going on. Doctor's trying to put the needle in her back, and bloods coming out - they had to try a couple of time and it wasn't working. It was freaky for me, cause that's her spine, and I'm thinking she could be paralyzed. But I'm trying not to let her see me panic. She's looking at me to be the glue. She's like 'I can't do it!' And I'm thinking, it's too late. (laughs) But now we've got a very strong, hyper, tough little girl - 19 months old!

HBO: And you had another after all that?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: Yeah we did. The second one was much easier. And it's a good thing afterwards. They're so much fun it's incredible. It's a lot of work, worrying about this and that, they get sick, hurt themselves. At the same time, our daughter is so funny it's amazing - so much personality and character. I get tired from watching her all day and chasing her, but then when she goes over to grandma's house, I miss her! I can't sleep if she's not home.

HBO: What kind of reactions did you get after you performed this poem?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Thea: There was a lot of 'Woooo, 36 hours.' But there was also a lot of 'That was great.' We weren't trying to send a big message, it was just a narrative. And people really responded.


Gaknew: The comedian, Shayne, was like, 'Man, you make me want to have kids!' Mos Def was like, 'Man, that's the most beautiful piece.' It felt so positive and so good, especially because of the stereotypes of men in the African American community, that the man is never there and the single moms and the baby moms. So people responded to us being a married couple and talking about a tough situation that we went through together, but we'd do it all over.

HBO: How has being a parent changed the topics you address in your work?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Thea: When I was pregnant with our first, it was the beginning of the war with Iraq. It was a more panic-stricken feeling, this 'Oh my god I'm about to have a kid in this world' feeling. When I was pregnant with my second, I had a friend who said, tell me how it feels to be pregnant. So I wrote a poem that was more about the emotions and fears.


GaKnew: Right after having the first, the material got real heavy - like, I'm getting older, I need a house, a lot of issues. Things I wish I had, thankful for stuff that I did have. Having kids makes you look back at your parents and everything else, what did and didn't happen. I had a single mom, and she never filed for child support, so it was a tough situation. So I'm trying to look back and ask, why didn't she file for child support? At the same time, there's two of us and we're both doing lots of stuff for the baby, and you still get tired. So it's like, how did my mom do it?!

HBO: Is your mom still here?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: Oh yeah. She comes to the shows. She's like a team cheerleader. Sometimes you gotta not let her know. She's like the voice over everybody. Awww yeahhhhhh!!!

HBO: What's next for both of you?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Gaknew: We have an album coming out called The Family Album - it's a celebration of our children and us coming together. We're also working on material for another album that we're putting together with this new group we formed. We've gotten together with two other people - a guy I've been rapping with for the last 10 years, Mike Holden, who's also a percussionist, and another friend, Noni, who sings and does poetry too. It makes for a good live show - singing and percussions and poetry.


Thea: We perform regularly in LA at the Poetry Lounge and Mike and Dim Lights. And right now I'm in school for human services - social psychology and family therapy. I'm going for a double master's. It's rough but it will be great. We've both have a lot of experience working with underprivileged kids. Our plan is to open our own art youth center and work with foster kids. Artists Venting Youth Center. That's what I want to be able to pass down to the girls

HBO: How do you juggle school, performing, family life and making a living?

Thea Monyee and Gaknew Roxwel :
Thea: He works at Kinko's full time. After maternity leave I go back to Enterprise Rental Car full-time as a customer service manager. It's crazy on the family - so heavy on my head. I manage a staff -so it's like taking care of 12 adult babies plus two actual babies. He works nights and I work days - perform and practice, rehearsals and school - we literally drive ourselves into the ground.

A lot of our friends, they're waiting to get married and have kids. They want to wait until they launch their careers. But for us, that may never happen. Family is our biggest priority. We got married a year after we started dating - we had none of the problems other people had. We started with complete and total honesty, like, tell me about your ex girlfriend... I know I couldn't find anyone else out there like him. His mom was a single mom, and he was always putting other people before himself. When it came time to pursue his own endeavors, people weren't there for him. He's been on this hustle for so long - my dream would be to find a job where he didn't have to work. He changes diapers, gets up for feedings, does the hair - for two girls! He does everything I do - it's a complete partnership.


- HBO.com


"Mentioned in Tre' Hardson Review"

Jazzy, soulful and melodic, Tre Hardson has re-emerged onto the hip hop scene with a new band, a new album slated for release in April and a distinctive musical style that is all his own. Formerly SlimKid3 of the legendaryL.A. hip hop group The Pharcyde, Hardson is now exploring the boundaries of hip hop as a solo artist, replacing the standard industry format of drum machines and sampled beats with live instrumentation—providedby his 5-piece band, Fuqawi—and collaborations with some of music’s most adventurous and expressive performers, such as spoken-word artists Saul Williams and Gaknew of Urban Poets, as well as MC Lyte, Chali 2na (Jurassic 5), Kim Hill (Black Eyed Peas), N’Dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), and Dionna Nichelle to e a few. hat hip-hop material, but also reveals his singing abilities with songs reminiscent of Bill Withers t there is life after the Pharcyde and Hardson is a dynamic, evolving musical force contend with all on his own. bum “Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde,” which a” and “Passin’ Me By.” ,000. Unfortunately, Delicious Vinyl soon faced a run of bad luck with distributors, and e group left the label. - Belly Up


"L.A Times (12/31/02) edition E-1"

By Gayle Pollard-Terry

It’s Saturday night at a raucous hip-hop concert at Biola University, a religious college in La Mirada. Enyce is in the house. So are Ecko, FUBU Platinum, Rocawear and a multitude of hot, high-priced, name-brand, urban designer fashions that might as well be labeled “You Spent What for That?!” During the freestyle rap, an improvisational riff is inspired by a guy in the audience waving one of his new must-have Js, top-of-the-line $200 Air Jordan XVIIs, athletic shoes in black and white with a copper strip gleaming on the heel.

Then the poets take the stage.

GaKnew wears old tennis shoes, generic jeans and a basic blue-and-white sweater. A former rapper, he keeps the rhythm going with his lyrical “Vision of an Underground Poet.”

“Well, I done quit my job,” he starts, speaking up-tempo, snatching the attention of the crowd. He closes with his signature “I Am,” singing, “Black man

Thea Monyee performs in a gray turtleneck she’s borrowed so often that her roommate finally gave it to her and shoes she will describe only as “not Prada.”

This gig pays, hallelujah.

GaKnew and Monyee get $200. Each. They make another $150 selling videos of his performance film and their self-produced chapbooks. Monyee meets her goal. She sells out of her “Escaping the Cocoon: Falling in Love With Life,” except for the nine taken from their table while they’re on stage by students who think the pamphlet-sized books are free.

The loss, $45, is a big deal, because as Monyee enthuses endearingly in her romantic ode, they are “Broke Lovers”:

You mean more to me than just your paycheck,

So you don’t ever have to sweat over keeping up with the Jones’s,

You see what we lack in finance, we more than make up for in romance, and can’t nobody slow dance to Lenny Williams the way that we do!

The resumes are unique

He’s 26. She’s 21. Economically, they don’t stand out in their demographic. Young and broke go together like love and marriage.

They don’t stand out at a hip-hop concert or a spoken-word performance. He’s slender, of medium height, bearded, with curly black hair and, as his lady love says, quoting from his poem “I Am,” “root-beer-bottle brown” eyes and skin the color of “deep wine.” She’s nearly as tall as he is, also slender and, through the eyes of the poet who loves her, the color of “caramel

They do stand out in their occupational preference. On how many job applications can one reasonably write: Poet. Artist. Dreamer. Believer.

Spoken word is to poetry as stand-up is to comedy or hip-hop is to music. Expressive performance art, it’s original poetry recited, generally from memory, with dramatic attitude, faster than routine conversation, and often accompanied by emotive gestures. Think in-your-face beatniks, front and center stage. On speed.

It’s big. Mainstream big. “Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam” is one of the hottest tickets on Broadway. HBO has announced it will air a third season of Simmons’ “Def Poetry” show. (Monyee appeared on it last summer, and happily received a $625 paycheck.) Clubs routinely charge a $10 cover to listen to artists who cost nothing to hear last year.

It’s big enough that maybe they can make a living. Like Coco Brown. He took spoken word to the top of the Billboard charts two years ago with his melodic baritone in “Sundress,” a seductive paean to women.

This is not how GaKnew (pronounced ga-NU, ne Lanny Wilson) planned to make a living. At Santa Monica College, he studied filmmaking and art for a year until his mother moved to Virginia, forcing him, at age 18, to get his own apartment and a full-time job. To support his art, he works full time at Kinko’s, making $9.99 an hour.

This is not how Monyee (pronounced moan-YAY, nowhere near “money,” nee Griffith) planned to make a living. At USC, she aced premed studies during her freshman year before her parents divorced, wiping out any hope of paying the next tuition bill. Disillusioned, she took a break from college and got a job at a rental car agency, where she earns $9 an hour. She’s back in school at the much more affordable Cal State Dominguez Hills, but premed gave way to English when she caught the fever.

“Poetry is a starting point for a lot of things. Lanny works with film. I’d like to write novels. It’s a way to break in,” Monyee says. “It opens a lot of doors. I’ve gotten calls from producers. I have no idea where I’m going, but I’m going to ride the poetry horse until I can ride no more.”

“You can’t make a living off of poetry,” says GaKnew. He knows plenty of poets who are as broke as they are. But he won’t give it up. “Poetry will always be there,” he explains. “A poet is who I am. Like a man is a man, I am a poet. Even if I’m not performing, I’ll be a 79-year-old man writing poetry.”

Hard-earned money

It’s a rainy Friday night. They show up at Midnight Records in West L.A. to host their weekly open-mike Safe House Poetry Jam. It’s canceled unexpectedly, eliminating the possibility of making a few bucks.

It’s a standing-room-only Thursday night at Lush in Santa Monica, home of the Flypoet Spoken Word & Music Showcase, a monthly melange of poets and musicians who perform while an artist paints on a large canvas just offstage, immediately capturing their essence. Monyee’s teasing tonight, briefly previewing the show she’ll put on Jan. 9, when she’s a featured poet. She needs to draw a crowd because she’ll make $5 for every patron who says her name at the door.

Outside the club, she parks her 4-year-old Toyota Camry on the street, avoiding the valet fee, the tip and car envy.

So I would roll with you, in a bucket, missing three doors!

And I’d still feel warm as though I was rolling in the leather seats of a 2003 Escalade,

owned by a couple who constantly argues over still not making enough money

It’s a Wednesday night, and GaKnew is not making as much as he hopes at Doboy’s Dozens Coffeehouse in the Crenshaw district. He’s screening “Thoughts of Egression,” his performance film, at $10 a ticket. His profits evaporate when the projector he reserved is not available after all, and Doboy’s owner bails him out at double the original cost.

The following Wednesday, he is featured at the Magic Johnson Starbucks on Centinela near LAX. His “I Am” draws a standing ovation. He pockets $15.

GaKnew needs every dollar, because his film has been accepted by the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. The $1,000 entrance fee is due by the end of January. Then there’s plane fare to New York in April.

The couple also are looking for paying jobs because they’re saving big-time for their “Broke Lovers” wedding. They’re engaged, although the only thing Monyee has to show off on the third finger of her left hand is a manicured, unpolished fingernail. Their love, she says in the second stanza, “is not based on BLING BLING, Because

It’s a packed Tuesday night at Da’ Poetry Lounge at the Greenway Court Theater on the campus of Fairfax High School. Admission is $5, none of it flowing into the wallet of Monyee. She competes in a poetry slam judged by members randomly chosen from the audience. She usually wins, which is how she made the Los Angeles team that competed against GaKnew’s Hollywood team at the Poetry Slam Nationals in Minneapolis in August.

This night, first place pays $50. She comes in second. She’s exhausted from working at Enterprise Rent-a-Car from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., studying for finals (only three semesters to go!) and performing everywhere she can.

On Dec. 25, when he picks her up from work, GaKnew surprises Monyee with a sweet marquis-cut diamond ring. To pay for it, he cut out all “extracurricular activity,” held onto the Biola University check and saved money from his day job and whatever he made at other readings. Thanks to his winning raffle ticket, they’ll honeymoon briefly in Hawaii.

The next day, they’re performing at a Kwanzaa festival at a church in Long Beach. They don’t get paid, again. - L.A. Times


Discography

HBO Def Poetry - "Season 5 - Episode 5"
Nike Battle Grounds - Radio Commercial
Shihan's - "Stomp" and "DPL Anthem"
Tre' Hardson of the Pharcyde - "Stepping Stones"
Roscoe Umali & Styliztik Jones - "L.A. Dodgers "
Mannequin People - GaKnew's Solo album
Mandrill - "DWBB"
Macho of the Tunnel Rats - "Labels"
GV7 RANDOM URBAN STATIC - poetry documentary
Thoughts of Egression - poetry documentary
Poets in Hiphop - poetry documentary
Battle for L.A - Hiphop documentary
Underground Poet Society -The Grand Opening (CD)
Urban Poets - The Family Album (CD)

Photos