My favorite Will Bell rap/poem has to be his "You have been warned". It has great comedic moments and delivers a powerful message. Will is criticizing the stars of the rap industry who "ain't doing nothing but mic bruising". So in a sense this poem is about being “real”. Will is not just hating on the stars of the rap industry, he is also trying to present a picture of how horrific the ghetto is.
From the start Will begins his attack with "And I got more thug in me than three fourths of the whole rap industry so... I don't scare easy."
He follows with a great line "So when it comes to shit like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre... it ain't got nothing on 10 city blocks filled with guns, heron, and crack rock. That's probably why they ain't trying to film no horror movie in the ghetto." which, while being a somewhat funny line (he doesn’t deliver it in a somber tone but in a playful one - which sets the crowd roaring with laughter), also works towards accomplishing the presentation of a picture of the ghetto as being horrible.
"Cause where I'm from if you got a problem with a nigga you don't rap to him you put gun claps to him. You think I'm lying? Just look at our past. I love Tupac and Biggie but both of their mouths wrote checks that their ass couldn't cash"
Here Will references the murders of famous rappers Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G in the 90's. Both participated in a verbal feud (East Coast vs. West Coast) but in the end were both shot and killed. He is able to both tell a story about the ghetto - how the ghetto functions - with the line “where I’m from if you got a problem with a nigga you don’t rap to him you put gun claps to him” and also takes a stab at rappers who became disconnected with the ghetto after they’ve risen to stardom, and eventually pay a bloody price (“Tupac and Biggie but both of their mouths wrote checks that their ass couldn’t cash”).
The second Will Bell poem I want to present is “So I Run”. This is the most emotional of the three poems, and you can hear the emotion in Will’s voice as he presents this poem for Def Poetry on MTV.
In the poem, the narrator “travels backwards through time” to many iconic and sad moments in African American history. He runs from slave tunnels to Malcolm X’s assassination to Tupac’s murder, chased by a voice screaming “YOU BETTER RUN NIGGER!”. He runs and he runs and he only gets peace when he eventually dies. This line really reminded me of the "Keep that nigger boy running" line in Invisible Man so I wrote a second blog post that took some of my thoughts about that into more detail.
In terms of his presentation, we really hear Will's emotion as he sounds angry and on the verge of tears at the same time. Scared and frustrated at the same time.
It hits hard, it doesn't reward us with a happy ending, and it's presented in a way that allows us to feel the full emotional impact of the words.
The last poem that I want to talk about is Will's Diary of the Reformed. I ended up choosing this one as my poetry reading.
This poem talks about the useless violence in the ghetto. It specifically focuses on "black-on-black" crime and is -as Will describes it- a "black-on-black rhyme" (which, as a white guy, made it a little uncomfortable to say/rap to a room without a single black person).
The narrator begins getting a call from his cousin about "how he just got shot at". The narrator immediately takes action, gets ready, and sets off with his cousin to take revenge on the people that attacked the cousin. It is only moments before the narrator is about to take action that he has an epiphany moment and realizes the cyclical pointlessness of all the violence. It just creates more violence and ends up hurting everyone.
This was an even more powerful poem once I learned that Will Bell was killed in 2011 from such useless violence. He was shot outside his strip-mall located poetry club by two people who have yet to be identified.