The Welfare Poets
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The Welfare Poets

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"Links to other Press"

(1) Shield Magazine out of Hunter College

(2) Article in the New York Daily News

(3) Article in Urban Latino Magazine

(4) Article on Indy Media

(5) Article in El Dario newspaper in NYC
- Various Sources

"HOOD HEALERS: The Welfare Poets and The Puerto Rican Freedom Project"

BNN Exclusives
Written by Lynx Garcia -
Monday, 13 October 2008

My people, mi gente…what does the word “movement” mean?

raypoets.jpg We often throw the word around, yet give little attention to its meaning. Many would say a movement is the act of motion, or a particular manner or style of moving objects, or physical matter. And of course, they would be right. But the movement I am about to present to you, is a progress of events of a desired and strived goal, by a group of people from all walks of life, from all ethnicities, determined to move towards change, towards a common goal, towards the liberation of their people, towards “true” democracy. You may not agree with the vision of the movement, but you will definitely respect how the movement began and how it has come through, faith, consistency, creativity, expression and love for their culture.

Q. What is The Puerto Rican Freedom Project?

A. It all began with The Welfare Poets deciding to put out this CD compilation, to raise funds and awareness about the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War. We made an initial call at the end of 2007, to not only artists for song contributions, but to individuals and organizations to take part in implementing a project of this magnitude. From this initial call, a committee was formed, the Puerto Rican Freedom Project Committee. In addition to raising funds and awareness for the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and P.O.W.s, with the hopes of adding to the campaign for their freedom, we also saw the necessity of raising funds for their families. A lot of times, we only think about the political prisoners and the sacrifices they make, rarely reflecting on the sacrifices their families have had to make.

Q. Who are the Welfare Poets (who are the members) and where are they from what do they represent?

A. The Welfare Poets are, Rayzer Sharp (from Puerto Rico, brings lyrics and some percussion), The Legendary MIC (from Puerto Rico, brings lyrics, some percussion), Jamaki-bo (from St. Croix, brings lyrics and plays trap-drums), Fidel Paulino (from Dominican Republic, plays guitar and percussion), Arturo Rodriquez (from Puerto Rico, plays Bass), John Restrepo (from Colombia and plays flute and sax), Dahu Ala (African American and brings lyrics and some trumpet), and Sharat Somashekara (from India and plays guitar, sax and bass). There are other members who flow and in and out from time to time, but this is the core of the group and we have come together to use our culture as a tool of resistance, for the betterment of humanity. Our music is a gumbo of various styles, most prominently Hip Hop, but we extend to Latin Jazz, forms from the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Q. What is the Welfare Poets role in this movement and why did you all feel compelled to be a part of this movement?

A. Culture is critical in the history of the movement, for self-determination here in the United States, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. From giants like Bob Marley and Fela, to even more recent artists like Dead Prez and Immortal Technique, the need for critical art is as important today as it was yesterday. We follow in the tradition of using our art to bring about positive, social change. There is no compromise with our position. We are talking about real issues that our communities need to deal with. We are exposing contradictions this country will soon drown in; the water is rising by the minute. The misogynistic/materialistic shit-hop our people are being forced-fed, is what happens when culture is co-opted and created to reflect supply and demand curves. And they can play that shit, it is cool, we do not want to censor anyone, but we just need a space for real music that inspires. In this country, we are so focused on the freedom of speech, when it is the freedom to be heard that is most denied. But we push, continuously and remain consistent and pertinent. That is all we can do.

Q. Have you personally written or been in contact with any of the prisoners and if so, what are their thoughts on the current state of democracy and freedom of speech?

A. We have definitely been in contact with most of the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners/POWs who we are attempting to assist. They are all very clear about the need for true democracy here in the US, which would be reflected in their world-hegemonic policies, especially as it relates to Puerto Rico. Some of the prisoners we are attempting to assist, have been incarcerated for nearly 25 years now for the love of freedom; that is a quarter of a century of commitment and resistance. We owe them the world. We know this country is a hypocrite with futile attempts to camouflage their imperialist intentions. These brothers and sister locked up (Oscar Lopez, Carlos Alberto Tores, Avelino Gonzalez and Haydee Beltran) are symbols of our strength as a people. It is like the biblical story of David and Goliath, no matter what odds we are up against, we are more than confident in the fact that we will be victorious in the final battle. The US is fading, both militarily and economically. When was the last time they've won a war? This country is now buying time (actually printing bills without any value to do this). They will be defeated in Puerto Rico, the same way they were defeated in Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan (yet they've hesitated to declare these losses).

Q. What was some of the inspiration behind some of the music?
A. Freedom and Resistance. Also the beauty of our culture still in the face of the Americanization of our island, the gentrification of our communities both in the US and in our homeland, and the constant oppressive forces that weigh on us. We are GOD's children, the children of sun, dancing our war dance, and they are out of sync with nature, stumbling on their humanity.

Q. What do you hope to achieve through this album?

A. We hope to first raise awareness regarding the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, and Prisoners of War and Puerto Rico's fight for self-determination. So, not only do we want our patriots free, but we want what they have struggled for, the freedom of our homeland, Puerto Rico. Until then, we want to raise funds on behalf of our patriots and their families.

Q. What can people do to assist the cause and the efforts?

A. One thing they can do is learn about the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners/Prisoners of War and Puerto Rico's struggle for independence. Another thing they can do is write them and send them funds to write back and do other things. Also let as many people know about The Freedom Album, which will be out early winter 2008/2009 and of course, purchase it. Call radio stations and request the music. Get a copy of songs and send mp3s to DJs, Internet radio, anything. Get the word out. We are not backed by huge corporations, but the support from those pushing for real change/real freedoms can definitely make a huge impact.

Q. How can we continue to raise the consciousness of the African Diaspora and understanding our commonalities, within the African-American, Afro-Latino & Latino communities, with the intent of bridging the gap and 'Building Ethnic Unity'?

A. For us, our symbol, the symbol of the group/band is the two-headed ax of Chango, which embodies the force of justice. So we swing that ax at the heads of those who dehumanize. The two headed-axes also has two flags which symbolize black and brown unity, the Red, Black and Green flag and the Puerto Rican flag of Lares (our independence symbol first used to end Spanish colonialism and to abolish slavery on our island since the 1860's). We need to understand as a people of African descent, that only our unity will free us, so we can give humanity back to the world.

Leaning more about each other outside of predefined words to describe us is crucial. They want to call Puerto Ricans and Dominicans for instance Latino, yet Haitians are not. How can that be? How can we have them define who we are? I hail from East Harlem, considered by many, Spanish Harlem for decades, due to Puerto Ricans existence in huge numbers in the area for close to a century. But this area in reality was always mixed with African Americans. The project that I was raised in there is called James Weldon Johnson, the writer of the African American national anthem. On the other hand, if you go to West Harlem, what is traditionally called Black Harlem, reflecting the African American influence in that area, if you go to the Black Research Study Center there, you will be going to the Schomburg Center, named after whom, a Puerto Rican man. For us, it is simple, unify or die killing each other for crumbs, off America's plate of gluttony.

We are one people with one aim, freedom of the entire planet.

Answers provided by Brother Rayzer.

Check out the list of amazing artists that really use their art for freedom who are featured in this dual CD.

* The Welfare Poets with Alkebulan (Hip Hop - NYC)

* Tato Torres Y Yerba Buena (Bomba y Plena and other Puerto Rican roots, NYC)

* Roy Brown (Folk – Puerto Rico), Zon Del Barrio (Bomba, Plena and Salsa - NYC)

* Bryan Vargas Y Ya Esta (Latin, Nu-Jazz and Afro-beat - NYC)

* Division X (Hip Hop - NYC), M-Team (Hip Hop – Pittsburgh and NYC)

* Intifada (Hip Hop – Puerto Rico), X-Vandals (Hip Hop - NYC)

* Ricanstruction (Hardcore/Punk/Hip Hop - NYC)

* Quique Cruz (Hip Hop - California)

* Cultura Profetica (Reggae - NYC)

* Maria-Isa (Hip Hop – Minnesota)

* Siete Nueve (Hip Hop – Puerto Rico)

* Lourdez Perez (Decima – Puerto Rico)

* Babalu Machete (Hip Hop – Puerto Rico)

* Velcro with Ikol Santiago (Hip Hop – Puerto Rico)

* Ilu Aye (Afro-Puerto Rican/Cuban and Dominican Roots – NYC)

* Alma Moyo (Bomba y Plena – NYC)

* Rebel Diaz with Divine of The Dey (Hip Hop – Chicago and NYC)

* El David (Hip Hop - NJ)

* Dr. Loco (Joe Ramon and Chilo – Hip Hop NYC)

* La Bruja (Hip Hop/Reggaeton NYC) and Lady M y MC Natra (Hip Hop - Vieques)

* Zon Del Barrio (Bomba y Plena – NYC)

For more information about The Welfare Poets, you can go to and

For more information about the Puerto Rican Freedom Project, you can go to and

© Copyright 2008 Blacktino e-News Network


"Welfare Poets: Power to the huerfanos!"

13 July 2005

Rhymes For Treason
The Welfare Poets


In the mid-1990s, Hector Luis Rivera and Ray Ramirez —
musicians, poets and political activists just graduated
from Cornell University in New York City — renamed their
“political, poetic” band the Welfare Poets: “We talked
about it and decided to [redefine] the negative meaning of welfare to fight for the welfare of huerfanos [orphans] of the world — those that suffer under capitalism.”

Since 1990, when Rivera and Ramirez formed what became the
Welfare Poets, the band has evolved and expanded into a
collective of activists, educators and artists who put their great music and powerful lyrics at the service of struggles against US imperialism and war, against racism and police brutality, in support of campaigns to release political prisoners in the US, in support of community struggles around housing, environmental justice, and most centrally, for the independence of their homeland, Puerto Rico, and the removal of US military bases from the US-colonized island.

The Welfare Poets cite musical-political inspiration from Bob Marley and the early-1970s African-American agitprop jazz-funk lyricists the Last Poets. They also draw political inspiration from, among many others, Malcolm X and Puerto Rican liberation
fighter Don Pedro Albizu Campos (both of whose portraits adorn
the covers of Rhymes for Treason). As Ramirez told an interviewer for View in Color (available in full on the group’s website), the Welfare Poets follow the advice of the African saying “The job of the poet is to expose the king in his nakedness”. Rivera added: “It is time to decide [whether to] contribute to the liberation of the peoples, alleviating ... oppression, or be complicit in it. Because in the richest country in the world, like in South Bronx, there’s an unbelievable amount of babies being born dead and dying” because of racism and
poverty. “We got to make it together. Like music, everyone has a part to play. Each instrument has a part to play to make it nice ... [Our music] is not just for entertainment ... We got to talk about what’s happening here, otherwise we will be anesthetized.”

It is that mission that has led the Welfare Poets to play at many protests and demonstrations, including the massive 500,000- strong February 15, 2003, New York rally against the US attack
on Iraq. Of course, they have also been stalwarts at protests
against the US Navy’s occupation of Vieques island in Puerto Rico. Ramirez and Rivera know the source of the problem and its solution. “America is not a democracy, this is fascism”, Ramirez told View in Color. “And democracy can only be reached at the heart of socialism ... [The US has] only one party, the party is money, and they have a party all the time. [Capitalism’s] values, like individualism, are in contradiction to brotherhood and sisterhood, and understanding. These are the values that are keys to democracy.”

“Democracy is about participation”, Rivera chimes in. “Like you see in Cuba ... everyone participates.” Rivera attended the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana in 1997. “You have to ask why is there a [US] blockade against Cuba? ... What has Cuba done to the United States? ... The blockade is there because Cuba is right, it is just... Just see Cuba’s record helping people around the world. Like the struggles in Angola, South Africa, Namibia. Cuban people without any idea of their individual self go to support these other people. There’s a spirit of humanity. I think Che personified that best. His destiny was not to stay in Cuba, not to stay in Argentina ... not think about himself, but to think about what needed to continue [to be done]everywhere around the world. That’s the spirit of selflessness, that’s socialism.

“[I visited Cuba] to learn from people ... who have [made a]
revolution and are keeping it alive, and creating a different
society from this Babylon ninety miles away ... Cuba’s not
perfect, but it’s a change from this place. This place is the richest
country [in the world] but it’s not doing the things Cuba’s doing. That says it right there ... [It is] astonishing to me that [the US] has money coming out of its asshole and it refuses to take care of its poorest. “Then think about Cuba, which has absolutely nothing. It has a full blockade going on, people can’t get fucking anything. Yet they are still willing to take care of their poorest. Can you
imagine what would happen in this country if things ever got
tight? You think we’re evil to our weakest and poorest members
now? We’d be marching ‘em into camps.”

The Welfare Poets’just-released second album, Rhymes for Treason, showcases their magnificent fusion of hip hop and hornlaced Puerto Rican and other African-derived Latin and Caribbean rhythms, with scorching, challenging political lyrics.

“Inspiration”, “Subliminal” and “Rhyme for Reason”, the three opening tracks, appeal to young hip hop artists to return to the
roots of the art form, when hip hop was the oppressed
communities’ voice of resistance, exposing racism, police brutality and the hypocrisy of rulers.

The relentless “Subliminal”
hits out at the capitalist co-option of hip hop. The laid-back “Rhyme for Reason” urges “modern-day griots” to wake up and speak out against the post-9/11 attacks on civil liberties under the guise of “anti-terrorism” laws.

“Drop the Bomb”, “Bomba Sin Plena” and “Se Acabo” are salsas
that focus on aspects of the long front-line struggle against “US environmental and military terrorism” in Puerto Rico.

“Drop the Bomb” is a historical look at the struggle that forced the US in 2003 — after six decades of mass mobilizations and mass civil
disobedience — to announce the withdrawal of US Navy bases
from Vieques. “Bomba Sin Plena” points out that political prisoners remain in US federal prisons, jailed for their participation in the Vieques

“Se Acabo” highlights the case of Maria de Lourdes,
vice-president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, locked up for taking part in civil disobedience actions.

“Sak Pase”, a cha cha mixed with hip hop, explores the
revolutionary history of Haiti, where the first free black state in the Western hemisphere was established in the 1790s. It is a stirring call to “liberte a Ayiti [Emancipate Haiti]” from the brutal
US-backed forces that staged a coup in February 2004 against
President Aristide and his Lavalas party. The song links Haiti’s past revolutionary struggles with those of today.

“The Media” slams the lies of the capitalist media, linking its misrepresentation of peoples’ struggles around the world and support for US war policies to the fact that it is dominated by huge multinational corporations. The title of the rootsy, percussive “No War” is self-explanatory.

“Resistance” is a battle
cry for unity in the militant struggle against capitalism and its crimes. The main disappointment of Rhymes for Treason is its failure to
provide full lyrics for the politics-packed songs, in particular the lack of translations of its Spanish-language tracks. The Welfare Poets have an excellent website at <>, which contains free MP3s to
download, from Rhymes for Treason and their first album,
Project Blues. There are also interviews, some lyrics and much
information to explore.
From Green Left Weekly, July 13, 2005.

- Green Left Weekly (Australia)

"The Welfare Poets - Using Culture as a Tool of Resistance"

The Welfare Poets have brought the passion of change back to the forefront of consciousness. You may not agree with the political views of these artists but their talent, intelligence and guts cannot be denied! I’m excited to remember that we all have voices. The question is... do we use them?
Who and what are "The Welfare Poets"?

The Welfare Poets is a socio-political Hip Hop fusion band out of New York City. We
have been around since the early 1990s and came out with our first album, Project
Blues in the summer of 2000. We make music for those who fight for justice everywhere, using our culture as a tool of resistance.

Over their 15 year existence, the Welfare Poets have been not only cultural activist,
but they have been directly involved in efforts for social justice, most notably against
police brutality, political prisoners, the colonial status of Puerto Rico and the U.S.
Naval occupation of the island, environmental justice in New York City and elsewhere and the death penalty.

How did you first get involved in music and poetry?
The collective started while a few of us were up at Cornell University (Ray Ramirez/Rayzer and Hector Rivera/Hec-1). We were influenced by the things we
were learning up at college at that time regarding the world and the
national/international fight for self-determination. Cornell surprisingly always had a
history of student organizing and up rises. Students of color in the 60's took over key
buildings in protest of the curriculum and Cornell's hallow promise of diversity. These
actions led to the creation of institutions where critical thought would be embraced –
these institutions are still around today. Our poetry/rhyming was an outlet for all of this new information.
Musically, Hip Hop was the rhythm of our childhood. You can add the creations of
the Last Poets and Pedro Pietri. Bob Marley can never be overstated. Also the music
of our parent with regards to R&B, Soul, Salsa and things like that defined our
understanding of what we wanted to create. Initially it was just Hector and myself
with 1 conga (afro-Cuban percussion). Since then, it has grown to a full band, but at
the root is just the voice and drum.

What would you say to readers that might want to follow in your footsteps?
Just focus on your goals and do it. Do not let anything stop you. Also make sure you
control your art and just continue to do it to change the world, regardless of

Have you achieved your goals? Where do you see yourselves in 5, 10, 15 years?

We have so many goals for the group, and so far we have only scratched the surface on what we have set out to do. A critical goal for us is to handle the business
side of things better – a lot of this is related to assembling a strong team of
more-knowledgeable people regarding the things we do not know or do not have the
time to deal with. We are doing this.

We also want to expand the reach of our music to fully extend outside of the US. We
feel that there is so much more of an appreciation for our music (and music like ours) in other places like Latin America and Europe. Although we have played in the Caribbean in the past, we recently made our first trip to South America in the summer of 2005 for a performance at the World Youth Festival in Caracas, Venezuela. You can see footage of our performance on YouTube (search – the Welfare Poets). We are planning a return trip to Venezuela to shoot a video for a
song on an upcoming album regarding our time in Caracas and the meaning of
Venezuela's revolution to us (you can check our secondary myspace page for a
preview of this song – We will also be heading to Europe in September for the 1st time, hitting a few countries.
In a nutshell, we just hope to continue to put out good music and have it distributed.

This last part is most important and we're looking at some companies now. We just
want to be as consistent and pertinent as possible and have our music reach the people it needs to, attacking the issues and filling in the huge gaps that the news leaves out. We are also planning for the future creatively. There is no retirement for me though I will be rhyming way after I leave this Earth. If I am here at age 90, I will still be rapping. If a rocker can rock to their 70's imagine what a rapper can do.

But adding to this, we have
been embracing the youth, as always, cultivating the future
of the world and the Welfare Poets, and our newest member, a former student of mine, is a 21-year-old Puerto Rican emcee/producer out of Harlem.

The brother, the Legendary Mic is an amazing talent and truly a legend in the making.
At this point, we are finishing up my album (The Welfare Poets: warn Them – see
“So Alive” on our main page for a preview at as well as the next band album.

We released our second album, Rhymes For Treason in 2005, and recently put out a Hip Hop compilation against the death penalty called Cruel and Unusual Punishment (dropped Feb. 2007). It is a fundraiser we put together to combat and abolish the death penalty, and in doing so brought together
some of the most brilliant Hip Hop artists to make it happen.

You can learn more about that album and how we got involved with the project by logging on to
There is so much happening now.

We are also working on a new fundraiser/compilation to assist the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners – some locked up for over 20 years and a few other music videos (check out our first video at – Sak Pase: a commentary on the US backed overthrow of President Aristede of Haiti in 2004). There is no stopping us. So remember the name. Remember the message. Remember the website and myspace. The Welfare Poets “Uninformed is the worst way to be unarmed”
Rayzer Sharp
Band Leader and Co-founder of the Welfare Poets -

"Introducing The Welfare Poets"

Could you explain the origin of the group and the name "The Welfare Poets"?

The group first came together back in 1990 – not so much of a group then but a duo. Myself, along with Hec-1 met up at Cornell a little before then. Here you had 2 Puerto Ricans from NYC up in Ithaca, NY surrounded by wilderness. Cornell also has a history of student protest, beginning with an armed student takeover in the 1960's to force the school to create an Africana Studies Department -- the 2nd oldest in the nation. So up in Cornell, in an environment where there were student organizations fighting against apartheid and other human rights, we were also there organizing ourselves and helping to organize others. We were involved in a number of student organizations, in particular one called Simba Wachanga – a support group we created for men of color at Cornell. Through all of this, through all of our classes, in particular at the Africana Center which opened our eyes to the real politics of the United States and the missing history of our peoples, the Welfare Poets were formed. We began writng in a newspaper that came out of Simba Wachanga, mostly poetry, and these papers got to other schools. Some time in the Spring of 1990, Union College contacted me for a performance at their school. Union was up near Albany, about an hour from Ithaca. They said they read some of my poetry in the student newspaper and wanted to pay me to come and perform a few pieces. That is where it all really started. I think before that, we performed on campus a few times, but this was our first performance where we were in demand and were getting some compensation. That meant a lot to 2 Puerto Rican college students, hustling to survice so far away from home.

The name the Welfare Poets came from Hec . We felt it was suitable as we were writing for the welfare of our people and all the have-nots of the planet. Me personally, my mom received welfare for us when I was growing up, and yet still we were there at Cornell, now able to intellectualize our poverty. That is the most dangerous shit for the system, giving the destitute the ability to free themselves mentally. So again we write and fight for the welfare of our people in a situation where we do not fare too well, saying farewell to oppression and with this in mind, we have attempted to make music that both consistent and timeless.

The Welfare Poets definitely transcend musical genres. Do you feel that the group is unique in this respect? Does this give you a bbigger/more diverse fan base?

For us – it is all a part of the same pot. We play gumbo music. It is all Hip Hop influenced or music that influences Hip Hop – but the root is always there. We also play the music of our parents which we were socialized to look down on and later had to reclaim. We play the music of the oppressed. It is the rhythm of resistance. No matter the genre we are playing or what we fuse Hip Hop with, we want to show that it is all part of the collective voice called humanity. So in anwering your question, we hope that this makes our fan base bigger and more diverse. We have a lot of fans who are way past there 30's and 40's, and I think this is not only because of the genres we play outside of Hip Hop. More so, I think that many of them appreciate what we are trying to do with music in general. I also feel that many who profess to not love Hip Hop, speaking about those who are post 40, never really have the opportunity to expereince true Hip Hop because they're bombarded by all of that commercial shit, making it hard for anyone to say they're a fan.

Honestly, if all I knew about Hip Hop was what was playing on the radio, I doubt it could have kept me this long. I am a child of Hip Hop. It was literally born on my block so it is so much a part of
who I am.. The first street jams up in Harlem – I was there for those – almost a baby, but that made a indelible mark on my soul.

How did you first meet Hasan Shakur (R.I.P.)? How did that relationship develop?

Wow – about 3 years ago (a little more), brother Hasan Shakur (Derrick Frazier) along with 3 other brothers trapped on death row in the state of Texas, contacted our website through a 3rd party and asked if we could assist them with their cases – the other brothers were Tony Egbuna Ford, Kenneth Foster and Randy Arroyo. They said they heard about our band and music and asked if we could come attend a rally in Ausitn to speak and perform on their behalf and other brothers and sisters on death row across the country. That really blew me away, knowing that they heard about our group, music and political work on death row all the way in Texas when it is hard to even get recognition from people across the street. So, of course in understading how the death penalty was (and still is) in this country, we definitely were down to step up against the system.. In the past, we had of course supported Mumia and his campaign for freedom in any way possible (still do), so we were willing to do whatever we could for these brothers. So we told them right away we would come. I think a few months earlier, we received this award from a foundation to help us continue the work that we do (a Union Square Award) which made the trip to Texas on their behalf a lot easier to deal with financially. After learning about their specific cases, we were definitley more amped to step up, not only against the death penalty, but specifically for Hasan and the other brothers.

Hasan was givien his first execution date on April 27th 2006. We hustled hard to assist in getting him a stay, and he was granted one in the last few days. Unfortunately, he was unjustly executed on the 31st of August in 2006. I was there for that and met with him the days leading up to the 31st. He was truly a soldier who was beyond innocent. His execution was also a political assassination due to his activist work behind bars. He held a high position in the Black Panther prison chapter up to the day he was taken from us and created a newsletter and a non-for-profit organization which are both still active today. Over the years we corresponded many times and rarely do you find someone who is on the move for liberation like he was. You can find out more information about Hasan Shakur by going to his site at You can also find information on the other three brothers, Tony Egbuna Ford, Kenneth Foster and Randy Arroyo by going to our website at

Talk about how Cruel and Unusual Punishment was born, and how the artists came together for this project.

We wanted to create a way to spread the anti-death penalty movement and at the same time give the crucial attention to the cases of the brothers who we were assisting on death row, so about 2 years ago, The Welfare Poets put out a mass email asking for submissions from Hip Hop artists everywhere for the project. Many brilliant emcees from all over the world responded, and we then had the task of putting it together with no funds. It was crazy and definitley an ill ride that had many highs and lows – the biggest low of course came when Hasan Shakur was executed. After that, I was sparked with an unbelievable fire to get the album completed. From the beginning, I linked with Dre and the Shield for assistance, at the same time reaching out to other organizations doing work against the death penalty like the Campain to End the Death Penalty and the Free Mumia Coalition.

How do you see the issue of the death penalty in relation to other social issues? How do you see it as part of our world in a more general sense?

The death penalty to many is a complicated issue in this country, and I think that is because we are so misinformed as a society . It is a side effect of this disease called “American democracy”, an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Most executions take place where – in the bible belt, holding up the pants of former slaver states It is ridiculous, and Texas is simply another country. This is Bushland so they definitely hang as many brothers as they can. Today's exections are just yesterday's lynchings – both were law of the land. It is the non-white and poor who get lynched as we sit back and say nothing.

In relation to the world, the death penalty on an international level shows the lack of humanity in your so-called system of justice. It is like America is in the dark ages with respect to the majority of the world. Now I understand religion at times comes into this discussion which makes it that much more more complicated (for instance – in Islamic countries), but in the united states, the way its carried out, its intentions are haeinously clear. The history of this country, especially the south (but the entire country) is soaked in the blood of racism and slavery. This cannot be denied and the impact can never be overstated.

How does Cruel and Unusual Punishment contribute to the fight against the death penalty?

We hope to bring into this fight the community most affected by the death penalty, people of color. In this country and in the world, there is a movement to abolish the death penalty, yet it is sad to say that this movement, both in and outside the US is virtually missing people of color. In this country, over half of the people on death row are people of color, so where are we in the fight? Where is the Hop Hop nation? Many artists over the years have spoken out or did songs for Mumia, so that has been there, but we wanted to do something on a bigger level and we hope this album aids to this effort of expanding the base of the fight.

Additionally, working to help the brothers we are attempting to help, one of the main problems we kept running into was the lack of funds. In this country, due process is a highly priced commodity, meaning the majority of us cannot afford this luxury leaving countless virtually defensless against a system designed to murder them.

What is the relationship between music, activism and education for the Welfare Poets? Does this differ from the portrayals by the media/society at large?

For us – these are all intertwined. When you break down who The Welfare Poets are and what we're about, it is our music, our activism and education. For us we we formed by and attempt to live up to the African adage which says 'the job of the poet is to expose the king in his nakedness.' So what we do is never for the sake of art itself. This is not art for the big break. This is art for no other reason but freedom. This is why I'm banging my head doing research, in order to have something critical to say. We have written about and been active in many struggles over our existence like freeing political prisoners, police brutality, halting the US occupation of Vieques PR, environmental racism, the death penalty and more. What we do is the exact opposite to what the media/society at large is socialized to expect and want from an artist – this is our struggle.

How have the Welfare Poets evolved as a group? How have you stayed the same?

From the beginning when there were only 2 of us, to a point where there were over 10, I think everything evolves, so we definitely have grown. We actually have just entered a new phase. This 15 year road for us has been a beautiful but difficult one. There were easier paths and short cuts, but we remained determined to keep it steady. It has especially been a struggle surviving as an independent band. We have no major corporation supporting us, so everything has been homegrown. In doing so, this puts a lot more pressure on those doing the day to day grinding. Having a band also makes it harder for us to get out there. It is a financial commitment to get all of us across the country and the world, but luckily many have seen us worth this commitment.

So we have entered a phase where we have to give venues options for hiring us. If a venue can pay for the band, we will bring the band, but if they cannot and if they can only afford me with a CD, then I will be there CD in hand. We have had to do this to make the struggle make sense. Adding to this, because of the content of our music many organzations feel that it is a must we be at this fundraiser or or support that cause for free, like we are not all trapped in this capitalist society. There are many times when I have to explan to people that we are not rich and that they themeselves work to get paid. People mistake getting things for free as socialism or true democracy. So this has been an important lesson for the band and people wanting the band to learn. Of course, we always have to do free performances (depending on the cause), but we also have put a limit on them in order to simply survive. We are not talking about beamers and things like that – it is an issue of having a roof over our heads and being able to maintain that.

The way we have stayed the same is by being just as uncompromising now with our covictions then we were day one. This will never change. I will be an old man barking at the US if the country exists then.

The Welfare Poets have traveled a lot. How are the responses to workshops and shows different or similar in different places? Where is your favorite place to perform?

For me, my favorite place I ever performed was in Caracas, Venezuela at the 2005 World Youth Festival. We were at the 1st International Hip Hop Summit, representing Hip Hop from the U.S. with Dead Prez and Immortal Technique. It was one of the best experieinces of my life to see a country undergoing revolutionary change and to perform there. Check footage of this performance on our myspace page at

The response to our music all over has been the same. I think people everywhere appreciates good live music. I also think they are fascinated by live Hip Hop. Two of our other most memorable performances took place at Harvard University and Rikers Island – most would think were polar opposites. They both happened around the same time in 1999 and both reactions were also the same. Both audiences went wild with excitement and appreciation, and this said a lot to me then about the power of words and music.

Can you share an experience with young people that was particularly rewarding?

Teaching is an amazing thing. I have worked with a bunch of artist-in-the-school programs over the past 10 years, facilitating workshops for thousands of inner-city students on Hip Hop and other formsof creative writing. It is something I will do for the rest of my life. Over this time, I think I've published over 50 student anthologies and put out 5 student Cds (of their poetry/rhyme). This has been one of the most rewarding things for me. Our group has completed 3 albums in our existence and is something that I am truly proud of, so to see this familiar pride in students when we give them a copy of a published book or CD makes all the hard work worth it.

One of my students five years (he was 15 then), is now the newest member of the Welfare Poets, the Legendary Mic. Not only is he a producer, but he is also a brilliant emcee. He is the future of the
Welfare Poets, a former student – so this development over the past year or so has been most rewarding.

As a NYC teacher, do you bring up issues like the death penalty in class? If so, how? How do the students react? How does the administration react?

For me, I definitely do not work for the board of education but rather through it. I am considered an educational consultant and facilitate workshops for both students and parents, and run staff developments for teachers. This means I do not go by any curriculum but my own and always take the students as far as I can.

With regard to student reaction, as a teacher, my hope is to create an enviroment where they can feel safe to explore and share their own writing. I also want them to talk, dialogue and become more critical about the world. I am always honest with them. I let them know the way I feel about things and how they see the world. One student asked me about the war in Iraq (this was a few years ago). I responded that even if Iraqi tanks were rolling down the streets of my block, I would not run to arms in defense of this country because I would see them like the cops, another occupying army.

What is the role/responsibility of a public school teacher? What is the role/responsibility of an emcee?

For me, this role is the same, to do all you can to move your listeners and students to a better place. I have many convictions, but my purpose as a teacher is not to force them on others – this is the same as with my rhyming. I just want you to be aware of all the information that it out there and have you come to your own conclusion.

What would you like to see more of in hip hop/music in general? What would you like to see less of?

There should be more balance. There should more artists out there who are sharing a wider range of what Hip Hop is and could be. It is unfortunate that they (we) do not get the same opportunity to be
heard and judged based on what we're offering. Here, in this country, we might have the freedom of speech, and this is questionable, but it is the freedom to be heard that is absolutely denied. We can talk and sing all we want, but if no one is able to hear us in comparison to other less socially political artists, what then. So we grind and do what we can. We attack the internet and hit the streets, performing at every rally possible. But in the end, we still struggle to be heard.

How did you develop your rhyme skills, and how can every child become a poet?

For me, my rhyme skills started to develop by falling in love with Hip Hop. You cannot expect to be an emcees or at least a good one if you do not love Hip Hop. So I fell in love with the words of Rakim and others. I was mesmerize by his flow and content. It really started with him. Although I never met the God, he is my first true Hip Hop teacher.

So one thing I tell the youth to do is immerse themselves into the culture. I tell them to learn about the history of Hip Hop in order to understand where it is now and shape its futrure. I also tell them to get the lrycis to thier favorite emcees. Growing up, I would write them down and make them my own for a while. That is a powerful thing to do. They also have to hear Hip Hop from all over and to read. This is nover understates -- they must read, and read a lot. Read anything and everything at first, and then read specifically. Reading opens up your mind to new ideas you can write about. You cannot rhyme about anything if you do not have anything interesting to say, you will only be repeating the styles and phrases of your favorite rhymers – so read.

How do you foresee the oppressive state of affairs in ten years? Where do you see the resistance movement in ten years? Where do you see hip hop in ten years?

In 10 years – I hope we as a people would have moved further along. The world is filled with so much repression and inhumanity. If we as a people do not take the reigns of power from the mad men and women in control here in the United States, then wars will escalate and the suffering will continue to grow.

Hip Hop can help change the world. In Cuba, back in the late 90s, a few members of the group were able to go down for a festival there. Speaking about the trip years later, those who went realized the power and potential of Hip Hop, which is now essentially world youth culture (although this is not even the best definition because it outreaches the limits of youth culture). If Hip Hop overall was more revolutionary, the impact on the world could be everlasting. So this is our intention.

With regard to the resistance movement, we will begin to see the formation of more and more alliance around the world crossing many before-borders. This makes most sense. The movement of resistance is slowly developing into a global movement of resistance, as the oppressed people of the world are connecting all the dots which point to the same colonizers. This is why the oppressors spend so much time with the media and controlling perception – weapons of disinformation.

With our music, we are moving forward planning for the future always. I will be rhyming, teaching and organizing until we are free or I die. If I have to, I will be in my 80's rhyming and teaching like Dr. Clarke. I do not stop. I do not retire. There is no break and nothing will distract that. We also hope to do our business more effeciently, creating the reality of having our art support ourselves. This road we have taken has turned out to be most difficult and at the same time most rewarding. When anything ever good has happened to us over the years, we have really appreciated it . But I am more than determined. We have created an instituion in Hip Hop and in music, as real as any ever created -- The Welfare Poets. We will continue to move the people and ourselves towards freedom. Our track records speaks for itself. Many can talk revolution and reate brilliant rhymes, but most will not do the day to day grinding it takes to make it happen for everyone. Many will not sacrifice what we have been willing to sacrifice, and still in the end, it has all been worth it.

Rayzer Sharp
The Welfare Poets
March 2007 - Shield Magazine


May of 2000 - Project Blues

May of 2005 - Rhymes For Treason

May 2007 - Cruel and Unusual Punishment - a Hip Hop compilation of over 20 artists to raise awareness to end the death penalty and necessary funds to help this effort

September 2009 - Warn Them (first full Hip Hop album - no band - all Rhymes by Rayzer Sharp and The Legendary Mic, all beats produced by the Legendary MIC

October 2009 - The Puerto Rican Freedom Album - a dual CD/musical compilation featuring over 30 artists and various styles of music from Puerto Ricans, from the island to the states. The album's goal is to raise awareness about The Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, and to raise funds for them and their families.



THE WELFARE POETS have been in existence since the early 90's, when two Cornell students from the inner-city of NY (Harlem and the Bronx) came together to write poetry/rhymes of protest and upliftment, accompanied by congas (percussions). A band was created from this union with the purpose of using culture as a tool of resistance, and in the
summer of 2000, the group released their first independent album "Project Blues." The group plays Hip Hop with a fusion of various styles from the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica.

Over their 15 plus years of existence, the Welfare Poets have been not only cultural activist, but they have been directly involved in efforts for social justice, most notably against police brutality, political prisoners, the colonial status of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Naval occupation of the island, environmental justice in New York City and elsewhere and the death penalty. Through teaching residencies and workshops, through activism around community struggles and through sharp-edged performances of music that incorporates Hip Hop, Bomba y Plena, Latin Jazz and other rhythms, the Welfare Poets bring information and inspiration to those facing oppression and those fighting for liberation.

Past Appearances
Some of the Colleges and Universities: Baruch College; Boricua College; Brown University; Buffalo State University; Central Connecticut State; Columbia University; Cornell University, BMCC, City College Hunter, Queens College; Dartmouth University; Dyouville College; Eastern Connecticut State University, Goucher College; Harvard University, Haverford College, Hostos, Ithaca College, Johnson and Wales; LaGuardia Community College; Marymount Manhattan College; Middlebury College; Mountclair State; Mt. Holyoke; New York University; New Jersey Institute of Technology; Northern Illinois University; Oberlin College; Pratt
University; Princeton University; Roosevelt University; Rutgers University; Smith College; Stevenson College; Stonybrook University; SUNY Albany; SUNY Binghamton SUNY Buffalo, SUNY New Paltz; SUNY Old Westbury; SUNY Purchase; Swathmore; Syracuse University; Union College; UC Berkeley; University of Maryland; U Mass. at Amherst; UNLV; University of St. Thomas -- Houston, Texas; Vassar; Wesleyan University and Yale University.

Some of the Caf�s/Clubs/Restaurants/Theaters/Halls: The Beal Bodtch Cafe; The Bourboun Street Blues Cafe (Amsterdam, Netherlands); Bowery Poetry Club; Bronx Academy of Art and Dance; Brooklyn Moon Cafe, Caf� Creole; Caf� Largo; Cafe Zapata (Berlin); Club Cielo; CVGB Gallery; Como Cocoa Caf�; Cooper Union Great Hall; The Cotton Club; The Culture Project Theater (45 Bleecker); Flushing Town Hall; The Flying Sauvage (Berlin); Frank�s Place; Jamm � Speaker's Coner (London); Joloff's Caf�; The Living Project (Iowa); Lot 51; The Harold Washington Cultural Center (Chicago, Ill.), The Newsroom Bar, The Nia Bar (London); Nuyorican Poets Caf�, The Nuyorican Caf� (Puerto Rico); Plan B Bar (London); The Rainbow Pub (Birmingham, England); Rockwells Bar, Sista�s Place; The Puffin Room; Sounds of Brazil (SOBs); Strictly Roots Caf�; The Temple Bar (Cali) and Taller Puertoriqueno (Philadelphia).