By Charlie R. Braxton
JA Guest Writer
Kevin Powell is one of this country’s most poignant literary voices, whose work has consistently illuminated the plight of Black people’s heroic struggle to maintain their humanity in a system hellbent on stripping them of their God-given right to be free and human in the world. As the son of a single parent growing up poor in Jersey City, New Jersey, during the Reagan/Bush era, Kevin knows the meaning of the word “struggle” intimately. And he conveys his intimate knowledge of struggle with artful words and incisive insight conveyed in poetic form on his Grammy nominated LP, “Grocery Shopping With My Mother.”
In many ways, Kevin Powell’s spoken word LP, “Grocery Shopping With My Mother,” can be seen as a companion piece to his latest volume of poetry of the same name, but one doesn’t have to have read the book to enjoy this LP. It works quite well as a stand alone record. “Grocery Shopping With My Mother” is a captivating collection that merges poetry, steeped in the rich tradition of African American literature, and music that crosses genres such as jazz, hip hop, and reggae. The amalgamation weaves it into an intimate and powerful aural experience.
The LP begins with the track, “We Dem People,” an inspirational poem that reminds America that the people it continues to marginalize – the Black, Brown, Asian, Native American, Straight, Gay, Bi, and Trans – are the everyday people that Sly Stone sang about, and they are essential to the make-up of the United States of America. The thing that makes this poem such a standout is the way the Gospel inspired Neo-soul music compliments Powell’s poetic rhythm without overpowering his voice.
On the poem, “For You,” Powell seamlessly weaves together themes of love, struggle, and resilience into one hell of a love poem. With emotions raw and tender, he says, “terrified because we are the children of families long abused and traumatized. We don’t want to be married to destruction. We want to be free to write love poems with our bathwater. We want to be free to burn in sage the past with our tears. This is what we dream as our words hug tight each other inside the belly of our imagination.” Here, Powell eschews sappy, cliches that often accompany love poems; instead, he opts to use real and honest words to delve into his and his partner’s own experiences with heartbreak, abuse, and racism while navigating the complexities of Black love.
The title track, “Grocery Shopping With My Mother,” is a poetic prayer to God asking him to keep his mother with him. Powell’s vivid storytelling and beautifully crafted verses transport the audience back in time, allowing them to feel every emotion and hear every sound as if they were right there in the supermarket aisle with him. This incredibly personal narrative about his mother offers a glimpse into the powerful bond they shared, making it relatable and nostalgic for anyone who has experienced a similar parental connection.
Spoken word is an art form that relies heavily on the poet’s ability to connect with their audience, and Kevin Powell does just that. His mastery of language, rhythm, and delivery makes each poem resonate deeply with the listener. There is a sincerity and vulnerability in his performance that is both captivating and inspiring, drawing you in and encouraging introspection.
One aspect that elevates “Grocery Shopping With My Mother” is the production quality. The seamless integration of subtle musical accompaniment enhances the overall experience, serving as a backdrop that enhances the emotions and themes of each poem without overpowering Powell’s words. This is due to Tyneshia Hill and Kevin Powell’s adroit use of various forms of Black music. The result is a cohesive piece of art that is both technically impressive and emotionally captivating.
“Grocery Shopping With My Mother,” is a deeply moving and introspective journey that leaves a lasting impression on the listener. Powell’s ability to transport his audience through time and space, his captivating storytelling, and his expert delivery make this album an absolute must-listen.