Big Poppa E
I’ve never much cared for the term “slam poet.” I’m more comfortable with “slam performer” (or “slammer,” maybe) because dealing in words doesn’t make you a poet by definition. So-called slam poets tend to overuse words for effect and imbue them with the physicality of acting and crowd manipulation. Of course, poems are open to interpretation and as such offer different definitions for different people. But to me, good poems always provide the fresh taste of image, insight and emotion that focus largely on the commonalities of human experience—often marked by an almost unnamable presence left behind for the reader to absorb within his or her own understanding. Poems don’t just dictate the poet’s particular slant on the universe with points for delivery.
That said, Chico’s own R. Eirik Ott, otherwise known as Big Poppa E, is arguably one of the nation’s top slam performers—having entered and won countless competitions around the country. This two-CD collection (one CD consists of 22 live rants from different locations; the other is a collection of entertaining “Wussy Boy videos") is a representative platter of Big Poppa’s colorful, scathing tirades, fine-tuned throughout his now-veteran stage experience in front of rowdy audiences in a variety of venues.
Ott has mastered his own rapid timing and delivery (namely volume) for maximum impact. His often humorous, always explicit and brutally honest three- to four-minute rants constitute a sort of verbal diarrhea of self-therapy and punk social critique. When he drops some of the self-righteous pretense that so often reveals the slam poet’s “Me vs. the World” conceit, Ott can sound like a live comedian with potential. For example, “Record Store,” his furiously descriptive rant on part-time work at a chain record store during Christmas rush, is funny ("They’re all waving fistfuls of those fucking Titanic CDs. People buy that shit like it’s baby-boomer crack rock!!” he spits in a building torrent of disgust).
While Ott generally mines his anger from the cruelties of cultural constructs with swashbuckling verve, at other times his common punching material—gender roles, sexism, consumerism—is obscured in a haze of personal anecdotes and Bukowski-like ploys that come across as politically correct pep rallies.
But there are plenty of people willing to journey with the slam performer who bares his soul in the spotlight. Perhaps the renewed appeal of more oral traditions began out of dissatisfaction with the inaccessibility of modern poetry, or maybe it’s the generally sad rate of reading by younger generations—opinions vary.
The thing I like best about this spoken-word album is the fearlessness of Ott’s blunt attempts at self-examination. Tracks like “Poetry Widow,” which critiques his work through a disgruntled ex-girlfriend who came to view his performance poetry as “excuses” and him as a “snake oil salesman who rapes our relationship of meaning,” are rendered painfully dramatic on stage. Consumers should be forewarned: There’s some explicit, sexual stuff here (Ott’s faux-homo-rant about literally fingering a former male roommate is pretty graphic) in addition to the heartfelt material more content on penetrating the cracks of social mores.
His best-known work, “Wussy Boy Manifesto,” vibrantly details Ott’s prize persona/movement of sensitive white boys (personified by Ducky from the movie Pretty in Pink) who don’t fit common American molds. Ironically, Ott doesn’t seem like a wussy after you hear these recordings—he’s more like a tongue-twisting Napoleon of open-aired emotion, sexual libido and in-your-face self-consciousness—a suburban Woody Allen hopped up at the mall. Hyping the differences between people through performance poetry may not be my cup of tea, but at least Ott’s out there sweating for meaning. And he’s clearly committed to blasting his muse at the top of his lungs, as these recordings prove.