The stories behind the rhymes: Jai Harris breaks down some of her best poetry

Jai Harris by Lil Fresh Sam.jpg
Lil Fresh Sam

Jai Harris was a poet before she even knew it. Hmm...doesn't sound as good in the past tense, but in Harris's case, it really is true. She recalls going to a yard sale with her grandma when she was seven and buying a little book with a poem written on the inside. At the time, she didn't know what a poem was, but she emulated the style to write her own stories. For her, poetry comes naturally, and it shows on her new mixtape, Disconnected, Vol. 1, a collaboration with DJ Vudu Spellz, whose work on Ludacris's "Georgia" was nominated for a Grammy. And while Vudu Spellz's expert sampling provides much of the tape's soul, Jai Harris is the heart.

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In 2007, Harris was on the Slam Nuba team that placed fourth in the National Poetry Slam. She's a musician now, but the slam poet spirit is still very present in her music, something like you might an expect an updated Last Poets album to sound like. Harris's poetry is powerful simply because it's real. It deals with the things that are most important to her as a person instead of just as a rapper.

Jai Harris by Paul Winner2.jpg
Paul Winner

Harris shows plenty of anger in "Rollin' Stone," but here she gives depth to the story by creating an emotional attachment not to the father specifically, but to the loving father figure she has imagined through his pictures and archetypal images of caring, masculine role models. The girl in the poem wants the father to care about her, and if he can't be around, to at least be hurt by that fact.

But she kept in touch with this imaginary dreamed up figure she created
Through his pictures
And she was never even mad that he ditched her
She just wondered if he missed her

The song "was like my letter to my parents," she reveals. "Not only my dad because my mom -- she has a drug addiction. That poem, to me, was like, what would I say to them, you know, if they gave me the opportunity to tell them how I feel, how their absence or how their behavior has affected me?

"When I did actually meet [my father], he wasn't what I expected," she goes on. "He wasn't this man who was going to save me or this fairy tale. He definitely had a lot more flaws than I expected. And it was one of those things where it was like I was blessed to probably not have him in my life...That whole something to look foreword to got stripped from me, so at that point, I was kinda able to move on. I stopped dwelling on the past. I started being able to say, 'Fuck it.' But where do I go from there?"

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