When it comes to describing the many titles of Kevin Powell, it is very easy to forget one...or even two.
The bestselling author, who seems to have a superman-esque demeanor can switch between being an author, or political activist, or keynote speaker, or even a reality-TV star without needing to step in or out of a phone booth. But rest assure there is one title, he'll gladly remind you to never forget and that's Hip-hop head.
While celebrating the release of his 12th and most meaningful book, "The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood" at Duke's Southern Table in Newark, NJ, the former Vibe Senior Writer and contestant of MTV's first season of The Real World: New York took some time out to talk to The Lab about his book and what it took the make it happen.
The Lab Boutique: Tell us a little about the Book
Kevin Powell: Oh my god, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written in my life but it’s also the most important thing. I’ve written about my life in different parts through the years, with my poetry and blogs. And articles I’ve written for various publications. You know Esquire, Vibe, Rolling Stones but to put it all in one place… (Breaks to dap up and greet supporters) like I just sat down and spit my heart into the book because I wanted to write something that really captured what a lot of us have been through in what we call the hip-hop era. So it’s talks literally about me from age 3 to where I am now in my 40’s. I wrote the book for everybody and I’m loving the fact that young people are getting into it and I’m hoping people see their own stories in it, they see themselves in it and learn not to make the same mistakes I made no matter what your circumstances are. I grew up with a single mother, mad poor and I didn’t know my father. He abandoned us when I was 8-years-old and it left a huge hole in my heart, which I talk about extensively in the book and I realize you can get through these things. You got to get back up no matter how many times you fall down. That’s really what the book is about.
TLB: Now I heard you say this was the hardest book that you’ve written, did you stick to the same template from the previous 11 books or did you switch it up for this one?
KP: I took a lot of different styles. My own poetry starts each chapter of the book. I was a fiction writer in high school when I was a young writer and the first half of the book is about my life from 3 to 18. I actually wrote it as if I was writing a novel. The second half of the book is filled with autobiographical essays and filled with even the journalistic style that I use to use which we called Hip-Hop Journalism. So I mixed and matched it as a hip-hop head for life. I wanted to kind of mess around with different styles while I was writing this book.
TLB: Did you use your hip-hop Journalistic abilities you’ve gained over the years in hip-hop while writing this book?
KP: OH YEAH! There’s a huge section about hip-hop history. Dating back to the 70s throughout the 80s. I’ve documented a lot of stuff because I thought it was important. I think any of us who’ve lived long enough to tell our stories of how we’ve come to hip-hop…. like I was a graffiti artist, I was a b-boy coming up. Way before Vibe Magazine and everything I’ve done with Tupac, I was active in this culture. Me and Ras (Ras Baraka) weren’t just active in the hip-hop, we were hip-hop heads. So we were working with a lot of the hip-hop artist of the day so this has always been apart of our lives. I was always around hip-hop and its energy so there was no way I could write without acknowledging hip-hop or even the way we speak. I wanted to make sure that was in the book.
TLB: I definitely understand.
TLB: Hip-hop as a culture has really taken off in other areas. Killer Mike just sat down with Bernie Sanders the other day….
KP: Yeah, he endorsed him.
TLB: How does hip-hop taking off in that capacity make you feel?
KP: It’s not new. Hip-hop has been the most dominate youth culture in the planet for the last 40-years. You literally have 4 generations of hip-hop heads. Last year I had a convo with Cool Herc, one of the founding fathers of hip-hop. He literally came from Jamaica in 1967 and came straight to the Bronx and helped the build the foundation for it as a DJ. He just turned 60, then you have you have people like myself and Ras (Ras Baraka) who are in our late 30s early 40s. Then we have heads who are in their late 20s and early 30s. Then you have the shorty’s behind us. That’s 4 generations of hip-hop heads, so the culture is everywhere. I’ve been everywhere and everywhere I’ve been, its hip-hop. So I’m not surprised we’re influencing presidential campaigns. Look at 2008 with Obama’s campaign. It was done in the streets and through hip-hop and just take a look at all the cats that supported Baraka Obama. His whole campaign was street marketing and that’s hip-hop. So whats hip-hop? It’s winning on our own terms and turning something out of nothing. The difference between my generations and yours is we had Diddy and he was the only one saying I want to be the CEO of the company. Your generation now, everyone wants to be the CEO. Look at what y’all doing with The Lab (The Lab Boutique), y’all generation is making it clear, y’all the CEOs and we’re running this. We’re going to be the boss. If I thought like this twenty years ago, I would’ve owned Vibe Magazine.
TLB: How hard was it choosing the picture you chose for the cover?
KP: You know this is the picture that is the most prominent in my mother’s house. It was the first photo-shoot that I ever had, like an official one but when I was thinking about the cover, I thought to myself this picture has always stuck with me and I knew I wanted a childhood picture. My graphic designer made an interesting point. She said the book had some deep subject matter so she said lets make it serious and have people focus on your eyes and that’s how we came to deciding on this picture for the cover and I love it especially the design she did.
TLB: Let’s transition back to hip-hop a little bit, did it bother you that Tupac being held off of Billboards Top-10 Greatest Rappers of all-time list affected some many people?
KP: If you talk about impact…. you know I will just say it. My next book after this book will be a biography of Tupac Shakur and I’m going to take about 2 or 3 years to write this thing and its going to be extensive. I want it to be the definitive biography ever written about him and because I did most his interviews with him when he was alive. I got a lot of stuff with him and I have access to a lot of people. Pac wasn’t the greatest rapper in the world, Biggie was a superior rapper and I was very clear about that in terms of basic skills but Pac had great moments and he had the charisma. I was traveling and I stopped in Ireland and a young Irish journalist was talking to me and he said Pac is the biggest rapper in Ireland and I said that’s crazy. I’ve been places and white cats, black cats, Latino cats, they knew I’m coming and they’ll sit in the front row with their Pac shirts on. And there’s no rapper in hip-hop history who’s had the greatest global and iconic effect that Pac and for that reason alone he should be in the Top-10. He is the James Dean of hip-hop era. At the time I didn’t understand what I was saying but he has really become this transcending figure who will never really die and people act like he’s still alive and people still talk about him in that way.
To purchase the book, Check out Amazon.com
Also, check out pictures below for the recap of Kevin Powell's book signing in Newark