Emcee, poet, educator, author, storyteller. Those five nouns quite appropriately describe Oakland’s own Ise Lyfe. A veteran of both the hip-hop and spoken word circuit, Lyfe is well on his way to attaining griot laureate status in the urban artist field. It’s no stretch to compare him to such other multitalented wordsmiths as Mos Def or Saul Williams; like Def and Williams, Lyfe has straddled the lines between rap music and poetry, furthering the African American oral tradition while carving out his own niche. In the process, he has distinguished himself as being a cut above average emcees as well as average poets.

Lyfe’s thoughtful, intelligent, yet frequently street-savvy musings have entertained local audiences for years, both in the context of live hip-hop performances and live spoken word shows. Besides releasing two well-received solo albums, Spreadtheword and Prince Cometh, in recent years he has moved into the hip-hop theater realm with his one-man shows Who’s Krazy, Is Everybody Stupid, and Pistols and Prayers; the latter, which premiered at the Berkeley Reperatory Theater, is also the title of his first book.

As its title suggests, “Pistols and Prayers’ tackles the dichotomy between gun violence and spirituality which has become as ubiquitous to urban culture and the black experience (specifically, the experience of young black males) as Air Jordans, commercial rap music, and gang injunctions.

In an excerpt from “Tupac,” Lyfe examines the ideology surrounding the murdered rap icon: “How can we honor Tupac and at the same time constantly contribute to the murder of Hip-Hop through the support of all this wack ass music and peddling of sick messaging onto children?,” he wonders.

Lyfe also compares ‘Pac to Jesus—not in the sense of being a saviour and religious figure—but in the sense of being a man whose message was co-opted and fed to the masses. It’s quite heady, intellectual stuff, yet for all Lyfe’s philosophical discoursing, he never veers too far away from his Oakland upbringing—or the streets on which he spent his formative years. Anyone who questions the intelligence or relevancy of the hip-hop generation, or who tends to apply stereotypical dismissals to young black men from Oakland, owes it to themselves to attend Thursday night’s performance by Lyfe at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, and connect not only with a young man who possesses great wisdom, but with the latest iteration of an oral tradition which started in Africa, continued in slavery, established a toehold in American culture during the Harlem Renaissance, reemerged during the 60s Black Arts and Black Power movements, went untelevised during the 70s, added accoutrements like electronic drums and turntable scratching during the 80s, blew up into mainstream consciousness then dipped back underground in the late 90s, and has taken on new forms in 2010.

Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Eazy E, Tupac, KRS-One. Their voices echo through Lyfe’s work, yet his words, thoughts, and stage presence are entirely his own.


“Inside the Mind of Ise Lyfe”

Thursday, July 29, doors 10 /show 10:30


Yoshis, SF

Adv tickets available at WWW.Yoshis.com