Ise Lyfe
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Ise Lyfe

Band Spoken Word Hip Hop


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"Regaining Consciousness"

"I want to be a mainstream artist," says East Oakland rapper and spoken word poet Ise Lyfe, discussing his rejection of the label "conscious rap." "I'm not trying to be some backpack cat performing in Davis. I want to be ..."

The 23-year-old trails off thoughtfully. "I think the only way to do it harder than Jay-Z is to have a real movement, something tangible that will effect change in the world through music. I'd like to be that big but at the same time put a dent in the Earth."

At first glance, it's hard to imagine a rapper less like Jay-Z than Ise Lyfe, whose 2004 self-released debut, SpreadtheWord, is devoid of the big pimpin', cheese-spending exploits that have endeared Jiggaman to millions. But like James Baldwin — who once said he didn't want to be the best black novelist in America, he wanted to be Henry James — Ise isn't talking about betraying his identity for success. He's simply saying he wants to be the best, period. If there's anything common to all four of these artists, it's the awareness that in order to be the best you must change the game. With the rerelease of SpreadtheWord, complete with new artwork, a bonus DVD, and a mildly retooled track list, on fledgling independent Hard Knock Records, in addition to his recently concluded nationwide tour with the Coup, Ise Lyfe is hoping to do just that.

Born in 1982, Ise was raised in Brookfield, deep in East Oakland next to the notorious Sobrante Park. "I grew up as a young kid right when the crack epidemic was flourishing and having a real effect on our families," he says. "My father had been affected by drugs. For me, growing up in a single-parent home was the manifestation of that existing in our community. But I also came up amongst a large level of social justice activity and youth organizing. That influences my music. I think Oakland has a history that unconsciously bleeds into everyone from here."

The legacy of this history — which includes a spoken word scene at least as old as Gil Scott Heron's mid-’70s albums for underground label Strata East — endures in Oakland, where Ise first made a name for himself as a teen slam poet. "I would be three years deep into performing spoken word before there was any place I could go and perform hip-hop," he says. "Hip-hop was all 21-and-up venues, where I was the number one slam poet in the country when I was 19." Repping the Bay in 2001 at the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam, Ise would achieve a modicum of fame through appearances on HBO's Def Poetry Jam.

"When I started recording," he confesses, "folks didn't even know I was making a hip-hop record. They thought it was a spoken word record, but I fused both in there." The success of this fusion of art forms is all the more apparent on the rereleased SpreadtheWord, the continuity of which has been improved by a few judicious edits. Ise's flow is so dexterous that the moments of purely a cappella poetry enhance rather than disrupt ...the musical experience. In fact, musicality underscores an important difference between SpreadtheWord and most conscious hip-hop recordings, for most of the beats on even otherwise impressive efforts sound like they were made sometime in 1993. The lack of curiosity about the sound of contemporary hip-hop gives such music a perfunctory air, while the tracks on SpreadtheWord are infinitely fresher even after two years. While it's not exactly hyphy, a tune like "Reasons" still sounds like a Bay Area slap that would work on a mixtape with other new tunes.
"My fan base is predominantly young people of color," Ise says, articulating his other major difference from most rappers who fall under the conscious rubric. "I think it's all good. The music is for everybody. But I'm proud of seeing the music connect with who it's really written to, directly from, and for. I don't want to be distant from the community." In the face of the failure of so many conscious rappers to continue to appeal to their original listeners, it's hard not to attribute Ise's own success to his closeness to both his audience and hip-hop.

"It's important for me to have real community work behind what I say," he explains, commenting on a busy schedule that includes everything from teaching classes to street sweeping to performing at the Youth UpRising community center on the bill with Keak Da Sneak on Aug. 25.

Moreover, his refusal to place himself in opposition to the hyphy movement despite his very different approach to hip-hop lends him a credibility unavailable to others.

"I consider myself just the other side of hyphy," he concludes. "I don't think there's anything different in what I'm saying than what they're saying. Those cats is positive — they're talking about uniting the Bay. I just think it's important that we set a standard for what's acceptable. When we calling a 13-year-old girl a ripper, it's just abusive music. But even in its industrial prepackaged form hip-hop comes from the hood, and I think that going dumb or ge - San Francisco Bay Guardian

" Reviews"


Artist: Ise Lyfe
Title: SpreadtheWord
Reviewed by: Paine

If revolution had a movie, Ise Lyfe just might be theme music. This 23 year-old Oakland poet/MC attacks the status quo of the greater ghetto community on his debut, SpreadtheWord (Hard Knock Records). Divided between poetic verse and song, Ise researches the content for his rhymes, demonstrating tremendous effort. "My people went from fighting for freedom to acting dumb for free," Ise's opening line from "Murder", proves this point from a debut album devoted to raising awareness and standards for our young people.

Musically, Ise Lyfe is passionately improvisational. "Reason" is a charged manifesto that justifies the street lifestyle as a reaction to the lacking government voice. The energy climaxes with a groaning chorus that feels impromptu. "Feet Ankle Song" plays off Khia’s 2002 hit, with an opus devoted to physical and mental health. Ise Lyfe's third verse, whether intentionally or not, bares a simple rhyme style reminiscent of rap's earliest days. "Kids" overtly pays tribute to the early '90s Hip-Hop, in the vein of Ahmad's "Back in the Days", in one of Ise's more carefree moments on a thoughtful album. Andria Batise's jazzy vocals help ease the tension in one of the best musical moments.

While the songs may not have the smoothest deliveries, the poetry is unmistakably serious. Whether it's a mockery of the misinformation on the female image on "Beauty" or the community criticism of "Murder", Ise Lyfe's poems show relevant subject matter and strong metaphors. Equally, the poet tells a story on "Enigma" that also externalizes the symptoms of violence in present-day Ghetto, America.

Certain albums are made for headphones because the production lacks or the MC speaks very intimately to the listener. SpreadtheWord is an album that should be played from cars circling the battered blocks of the world. However, the lyricism in the poems is too precise to be played from anywhere but beside the listener's ears. The music is rough around the edges, but in a way that comes across only as honest-not amateurish. In its approach, the album channels bits of 2Pacalypse Now and Black on Both Sides. If the Hyphy movement is a party, SpreadtheWord is the resolution the morning after.


"Lyfe, Poetry, & Hip-Hop"

Ise Lyfe
Spread the Word
(Hard Knock)
US release date: 27 June 2006
UK release date: Available as import
by Quentin B. Huff

Lyfe, Poetry, & Hip-Hop
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner
Because the revolution will not be televised, brother
—Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

I make party music—Black Panther Party
—Ise Lyfe, “Black Panther Party Skit”

You’re the poetry man, you make things all rhyme
—Phoebe Snow, “The Poetry Man”

After watching Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in The Lake House, I’ve experienced a renewed interest in time travel. I’ve been thinking, “What if our favorite entertainers could reappear, young and vibrant, in today’s market?” But, then again, maybe those reappearances are already occurring, like when Erykah Badu seems to be channeling Billie Holiday. Here’s another one: spoken word artist and emcee Ise Lyfe, on his debut album Spread the Word, reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron.

Geographically, they are quite different, with Ise Lyfe stationed squarely in Oakland, California, while Gil Scott-Heron moved around a lot (he was born in Chicago, Illinois, moved to Tennessee as a youngster, spent his adolescence in New York, and did a year in college in Pennsylvania). Ise Lyfe’s allegiance to Oakland runs deep, as evidenced by his song “City of Oakland”:

I’m knockin’ on the door,
They gotta shoot me a chance,
Oakland ain’t been on the map since Hammer had on them pants

And then there’s the song’s revealing hook:

I’m from the city of Oakland where the barrels stay smokin’
Where the pigs done killed the Panthers and a gang of my folks, man Spell it out for ya like they did on Soul Train O-A-K-L-A-N-D, man.

Ise Lyfe represents his home the way hip-hop crowds used to say, “Brooklyn’s in the house!” But, more than that, he knows where he’s at—as an individual and as part of a community, geographically as well as metaphorically—and he funnels that awareness to tell us, through music, where he’d like us all to go.

Musically and lyrically, Ise Lyfe and Gil Scott-Heron are chips from the same block of marble. They both love going straight for the jugular with bitingly political poetry. Ise Lyfe’s spoken word pieces mainly resemble Gil Scott-Heron’s song-poem “Whitey On the Moon”. At the same time, both artists can be smooth and subtle, making their points through descriptive parables and wordplays. Although Gil Scott-Heron’s discography weighs more heavily in the R&B and jazz classifications, Ise Lyfe’s album is good for a riff or two. And, for what it’s worth, I’d love to hear Ise Lyfe do an updated version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “B-Movie”, an extended critique of the Reagan Administration set to jazz.

Spoken word poetry has been around for decades, of course. But these days, blame the films Poetic Justice (1993), Slam! (1998), and Love Jones (1997) for the current spoken word explosion.

In Poetic Justice, Janet Jackson’s “Justice” uses poetry to connect with her emotions and resolve her inner conflicts. Writing helps her cope with the death of her boyfriend, played by Q-tip. The story was shaky as Jell-o, despite some scene-stealing moments from the late Tupac Shakur, but at least we got some poetry from Dr. Maya Angelou.

In Slam!, writing and reciting poetry helped Ray Joshua (played by Saul Williams) rehabilitate himself and rejoin society after doing time in prison. Poet Saul Williams wrote verses for the film.

But those movies are nothing compared to Love Jones. That’s because Love Jones, starring Lorenz Tate and Nia Long, made poetry seem sexy. I’m not talking about “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” (Robert Frost); I’m talking about “I’m the blues in your left thigh / tryin to become the funk in your right” (Love Jones). It’s one thing for poetry to keep you on the right side of the tracks (Slam!) or for you to find solace in your journal (Poetic Justice), but it’s another thing for your lines to exude sex appeal. When Darius Lovehall (Lorenz Tate) went onstage and recited his flirtatious and risqué poem “Brother to the Night (A Blues For Nina)” for Nina Moseley (Nia Long), we were like, “Hell to the yeah,” when we saw how the movie audience responded. Ladies were suddenly bombarded with new age pick-up lines patterned after Love Jones poetry. Quicker than you could say, “Oh, snap!”, Love Jones paved the way for the ‘90s revival of coffeehouses, spoken word and open mic nights, and a flurry of neo-jazzy-soul-sexy-love poetry.

That’s basically where Ise Lyfe entered the picture, with appearances at poetry slams and battles, as well as Def Poetry Jam, the Russell Simmons production hosted by rapper and actor Mos Def. But unlike Darius Lovehall, the young urban Shakespeare of Love Jones, Ise Lyfe has a more activist, community-oriented agenda. The first track, “Can H -

"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."

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
- Alternet: WireTap


"SpreadtheWord" (In Stores Now!!!)

"Forward Ever" - Mixtape (Coming Soon)



Powerful content, unique style of delivery, and theatrical street-smart performance pieces that depict the daily struggles of every day people have made Ise Lyfe one of this nation’s premier Spoken Word Emcees.

Fusing the art of Spoken Word and Hip Hop, Ise Lyfe, has opened for Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, KRS-One, Saul Williams, dead prez, Ben Harper, and more. The 23 year old has also been a featured poet on Russell Simmons' HBO Def Poetry Jam.

Hailed in 2004 as one of the Bay Area’s “Top 25 Under 35” by City Flight Magazine, Ise Lyfe’s ability to rap about change and empowerment, without sounding preachy or corny is resonating with not only Oakland's hardest Hip Hop heads, but with people of all ages across the country.

Rising from the streets of Oakland, Lyfe is no stranger to challenging the status quo. In the midst of an ever growing culture of “Hyphy” and “Going Dumb,” Lyfe chooses to direct his energy in a different direction, toward the uplifting and empowerment of others, via his vocal and lyrical artillery.

"Our communities are full of beautiful people that can’t see their own beauty,’” Lyfe says. “People look outside of themselves for anything to make them feel good about themselves, or just good period. Before all of this is over, I'd like to play a roll in influencing people to see the answer within."

Inspired by Langston Hughes as a child, Lyfe began interpreting the world as he saw it through poetry and rhymes as a teenager. It wasn’t until he began to battle other emcees, enter, and win youth poetry slams that his popularity began to grow. In 2001, Lyfe gained national recognition after winning a spot in the Youth Speaks annual Poetry Slam Finals. In 2001, he gained further recognition when he went on to represent the San Francisco Bay Area at the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam.

But life hasn’t always been without hurdles for Ise. As a youth, Lyfe was afflicted by many of the same negative elements that other young men growing up in poor communities fall victim too. Distracted, at one point, he stopped writing and lost interest in not only his talent, but his future as well. Despite having lost friends and family members to drug abuse, incarceration and violence, Lyfe says that it wasn’t until he witnessed a murder at a concert that his outlook on life changed for the better.

"I realized that I had become numb to the violence and had somehow accepted the idea of dying young. I never wanted to be that way." It was this life altering experience that would return Ise to his rhyme books and journals.

As an artist, Ise’s impact goes well beyond the stage and studio. Striving to prevent youth from following the same destructive cycle of violence that almost caught up with him as a teen, after returning to writing, Lyfe went on to co-founded the P.O.W.E.R. Movement, a multi-faceted Oakland based organization that addresses the educational, social and political needs of young people.

In 2003, he began teaching social history and Spoken Word at one of the nation's most innovative charter high schools, The School for Social Justice and Community Development in Oakland, CA. And In 2004, he went on to co-write and performed in "CAUSE", a Hip Hop theater piece that fused spoken word with modern dance to address the legacy of hate in the world.

Refusing to fit the mold, Ise Lyfe is the new mold.

Look for Ise Lyfe's debut album "SpreadtheWord" featuring the upcoming hit singles “Beautiful” and “Retro” along with an exclusive DVD in stores soon.

To see an interview with Ise Lyfe go to or

Lyfe Productives

Today, even as his artistic career continues to approach celebrity status, Ise still manages to keep community organizing and activism at the forefront of his career. Today he is Executive Director of Lyfe Productives, an organization that crafts alternated forms of education via interactive workshops, spoken word, curriculum building, and community based events that promote a popular culture of consciousness. Lyfe Productives workshops and trainings are geared towards both youth and teachers. Topics range from the “Cycle of Violence – How and Why Drugs Get Into Inner City Communities” to “The Power of Words – A Critical Analysis of Hip-Hop Music in American Culture & The Influence It Has On Young People Today.” For more information on Lyfe Productives or to book a presentation, visit or contact Lyfe Productives at