If you spent any time on the poetry scene in Jacksonville in the early 2000's, chances are you heard someone perform a piece by the name of Amplifier. Most likely you heard several people, on many occasions, perform some version of the piece - oftentimes in groups. No matter how varied, the one commonality between each performance was the echoed hook:
"MY HEART'S MY AMPLIFIER - I DON'T NEED NO MIC"
What you probably didn't know was who the creator of the original piece was (or you thought you did, but you were wrong - it wasn't that guy/girl). The piece sparked a wildfire - it was extremely relatable amongst poets and poetry enthusiasts alike, tinged with raw emotion, and encouraged crowd participation. Before we knew it, new verses and monologues were being added and versions started popping up (both verified and unverified) throughout the spoken word diaspora. It was also hard to ignore since the piece is performed without a microphone and begins with a poet taking the stage and projecting, theatre style, with a force meant to make you shut up and listen.
Perhaps it's fitting, then, that the originator of Amplifier is none other than Jacksonville born and bred spoken word and hip-hop artist, KnightKrawler. Seemingly modest, he transforms himself on stage through his words and expression. It's this quiet talent, consistency, and passion that has earned him the designation of international artist, published author, and motivational speaker.
Amplifier has now a dozen years to its name and the momentum has yet to cease. KnightKrawler is steadily broadening his platform and using it to give back by helping the next generation of poets to build their confidence and understand how to navigate the spoken word landscape. Today we sit down with Krawler to learn more about where he's been and where he's going to take his Amplifier next.
Happy to have you with us today! Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Hey whassup ya’ll? My name's KnightKrawler. I’m an international spoken word/hip-hop artist, published author, and motivational speaker born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. My hobbies are watching anime and movies, (anyone who follows me on social media pretty much knows this [laughs]) playing video games, (yep imma kind of a super nerd,) and working out, (P90x and Insanity stuff.) And of course, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE writing! Whether it’s a song, rhyme, or poem. To me it’s all the same. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to be able to share a little about myself as well as upcoming events.
How long have you been writing poetry and what got you started on that path?
When I started? It’s been quite a few moons ago, [laughs]. I know I don’t look it but yeah, it’s been a journey. Funny thing is when I first started… it was strictly studio work. Then, when I made the transition to performing onstage it opened up an entirely new lane because you are now a speaker too. So, I took the studio and stage experience(s) and combined them into hybrid crafts that work pretty great together. One is my sword…the other is my shield so to speak. Kinda like a Knight.
One of, if not your most well known pieces of work is Amplifier which has been in existence for 12 years now and has been repurposed and recited by many local and national poets. Tell us about your most iconic poem - what inspired it? Did you intend for it to be a collaborative piece? Did you expect it to spread as rapidly as it did? Was there ever any controversy surrounding its use by other poets?
To get into Amplifier you have to first start with “The List.” Back when I first started there was a habit for the hosts of venues to get the performers to sign up on a list to know who was going next…which makes perfect sense. The problems arose when the hosts started skipping people because they wanted their own personal favorites to perform. So, let’s say you got there at 8pm when the event started but since you were NOT one of the personal favorites of the
hosts, it could still be until 10:30pm before you got a chance to perform…even though you signed your name at Number 1 on the list.
Here’s the flipside. You had fans who specifically came to see you, (had to find babysitters, gas they car up to travel to the venue, pay to get in, can’t stay out late due to an early morning at work…etc,) but they MADE TIME to come see you…however due to “Host Politics,” they never got a chance to. Those people would then stop coming and stop supporting you for something that was clearly out of your control.
I used to see it all the time. And so... [laughs] I wrote a poem about it called, “The List.” It explained all the behind-the-scenes that the audience members were not aware of. It quickly became both a poet and fan favorite, (the performers loved it and the audience finally got to understand why they didn’t get a chance to see and hear people that they specifically came for.) The only people, of course, who didn’t like it were the hosts who were doing it to people, [laughs].
A couple years afterwards, I created the Amplifier concept, hook, and it’s first verse. I took it a little deeper. Not only do poets not respect the fact that we get skipped because of the hosts personal feelings about us…we have CONTINUED writing, CONTINUED spitting, CONTINUED believing in ourselves to the point that…you know what…WE DON’T NEED NO MIC!
As far as controversy…I’d say very, very little. Some poets just weren’t able to understand, (or just pretended like they didn’t) that purposely generating money on someone else’s concept without permission is a big no-no… in any industry. So, it was a learning experience for some.
For example you could have a poet in Washington D.C. who had no idea where the concept and hook came from or who made it, yet decided to “slam,” with the piece or travel with the piece with intention to make money because they received the go ahead from someone who did not have the authority to tell them it was ok to do so.
Well not only does this poet not have permission, they also do not know the history behind its concept whatsoever so won’t be able to represent properly. To them it’s just something catchy that, “magically fell out of the sky and into their rhyme book.” [laughs]
I think as word began to travel, however, and people started to do homework instead of just getting, “caught up in the hype,” they realized the truth. Like I said it was a necessary learning experience for those few who participated in guilt by omission. The “Amplifier,” needless to say, is quite an interesting piece because it formed a direct connection with both the performers and the audience and its crazy dope to me how to this day it continues to inspire. It’s the oldest spoken word piece of its kind and I can’t wait until 2022 because there WILL be a 15 Year Anniversary of the poem that said, “Hey, spoken word world…this is Duval…and we got something to say…”
You're the author of two published books - "Endless Night" and "The Rules of Poetry", the first - a collection of 50 of your own works, the second - a sort of "how-to" for emerging poets. Tell us about the inspiration behind "The Rules of Poetry.
“The Rules of Poetry”, serves as a guide to inspire, teach, and educate emerging artists about the benefits and vices of speaking in front of a live audience and also how to deliver their message with integrity. Not “rules,” per se, but my personal tips and techniques I’ve learned over the years and the book also covers the three steps that every spoken word artist must undergo in order to successfully prepare a piece for the crowd. I believe fear is a major component as to why a person does not get up there and speak…maybe fear of judgement or ridicule…so that’s why I wrote this book. It also serves as a reference for workshops and seminars I teach both here in Jacksonville and when I travel. The book is also available online in physical and digital formats.
How do you connect your art to education and community outreach?
I connect my art to the community by hosting my own private and public events geared towards spoken word workshops, seminars, and live shows as well as sharing my knowledge of the importance of copyrights, trademarks, owning your own publishing, etc. Sometimes we get so caught up in the hype, (especially the younger generation,) that we forget to realize there is a business side to this and it is extremely important to protect your intellectual property. So, in my opinion, I think it’s a good idea to offer these types of programs and insight to those who are serious about their craft early on so they can see the bigger picture. Because if you don’t know how much what you have is worth…I guarantee you someone will put a price tag on it for you…and 9 times out of 10 it will NOT be in your favor.
There seems to be a general consensus that the arts environment is changing in Jacksonville. How do you view the evolution of the arts since you first became active within the art scene in this city?
I absolutely love it! You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to see this. [laughs] Different venues promoting everything. Artists from various backgrounds and genres collaborating with each other for the sake of the art itself. It’s been a LOOONG time coming. I would honestly say compared to when I started - a total night and day difference. You had your artists who just stayed to themselves or argued back and forth with one another, and then you had the people who had the, “If I don’t see you on tv or hear you on the radio then you’re not talented,” mentality, more often than not. All that has changed. Still, Jacksonville is an extremely difficult market to tap into. Difficult, however not impossible. Through hard work, persistence, and determination I’ve seen quite a few people I’ve personally known for at least 20 years or so continue to represent, do their thing, and make sure they are teaching the future generation how to do the same - that’s love!
What are the greatest challenges you face as an arts professional living and working in Northeast Florida?
One of the greatest challenges believe it or not is the fact that because it’s your hometown sometimes your craft may not be taken as seriously as if you were from somewhere else. This city has always fallen victim to having a lesser appreciation for their local scene than you would imagine it should. I remember when I first started spoken word it wasn’t even considered an artform outside of the poetry venues but now you will see it posted on flyers just like “live bands,’ “DJ’s,” club events etc. That is due to all the hard work and perseverance of myself and many other spoken word artists throughout the city. It’s a tough market to break into due to the fact a lot of people have a certain idea of what spoken word should sound like…until they actually hear it…then you would be surprised how many are like, “Hey I like that. When did Jacksonville have something like this going on?” One thing I do stress is this though…no matter what amount of success and accolades you receive in your hometown…travelling is essential as an artist. It gives you a chance to see and experience things that help you grow as an artist and you would also be surprised the difference of how you are received elsewhere in comparison to a city where everyone, “knows you.” But most importantly make sure you GO BACK to your city to help inspire and show the younger generation that they can do the same thing too!
What have you learned about yourself through your giving and your work?
Sounds crazy but I’ve learned how to always go back no matter the odds. It was a good night? Cool. Go home and write. Go back. Oh, it was a not so good night…ok, cool. Go home and write. Go back. Practice makes better. It will NEVER be perfect but it can ALWAYS be better. I had one student I spoke to recently while in Pennsylvania and they said, “I write but I’m afraid to perform because I’m afraid I might, ‘mess up.’” I just laughed and said, “Oh you’re afraid you, ‘might mess up,’ huh? Nah man, NEWSFLASH, you WILL mess up sooner or later, there ain’t no, ‘might,’ MULTIPLE TIMES too. The question is…what do you do after that? Do you stay down…or do you get back up, go home, write, then go back?” No matter what happens…you always go back.
What's next for you? When can we expect your next book?
Just continuing to do my thing [laughs]. I have an event I’m super excited about in Minnesota late this month that I’ll be speaking about more when I’m up there; when I return, I’m throwing an event in celebration of National Poetry Month early April at The Justice Pub in Downtown, Jacksonville; and soon after, a 5 Year Anniversary Celebration at the Jacksonville Jazz Fest this May. My third book, “The Power of Your True Self,” I plan on releasing before the fall of this year and I have a hip-hop/spoken word album slated for release by late 2019 with singles already available on iTunes and other digital platforms.
How do you define success in what you do?
Success to me is being able to tap into your positive outlet and helping others do the same. If you happened to be that misfit growing up who really didn’t have someone who encouraged you or believed in your dreams and yet you still found a way to tap in and nurture that positive outlet to where you can share it with others…then guess what…now you have a duty. “Be the one you wished was there to clap for you…” That to me is more success than anyone could ever hope for.
We'd like to thank KnightKrawler for his participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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