After only 2 poems, sweat has highlighted the dark skin of a man who calls himself, “Emmitt James.” Wearing casual jeans, a designer shirt, and a peculiar hairstyle, Emmitt takes a middle aisle with a setlist of 4 poems and 4 songs, written by himself. Midway through his set, an audience of over 200 embraces a Q& A about his art and personal life, during which the 2 puffs made out of Emmitt’s recently grown hair is questioned immensely. Emmitt’s response to unique questions is usually a laugh into the next performance piece. Whether or not this routine depends on the demographic of his audience is of less importance than the congregation of his biggest supporters and art lovers around the world.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Emmitt’s love for art lies at an intersection of school and home. As a graduate of UW-Stevens Point, Emmitt is willing to owe his gift exclusively to degrees obtained, but his artistic intelligence is an almost intrusive view into his home training. Milwaukee is home to many used, industrialized buildings, one of which is occupied by Still Waters Collective, an organization designed for youth to showcase their love for poetry. Thanking its founder, poetry griot, Dasha Kelly, is not a mere gesture into such buildings and organizations, but a reflection of Emmitt’s connection to his local community. Having been a member of Still Waters Collective since high school, Emmitt has been awarded the Voltage, teen poetry slam, championship, and 2 trips to a National poetry slam, Brave New Voices. Emmitt’s dedication to the poetry scene has awarded him opportunities to record and produce his art in Los Angeles, California.
Between squeezing whip cream on a hot chocolate and furthering his education in downtown California, Emmitt takes timeout to tour the United States, performing original poems and songs. Traveling with his band, a drummer, guitarist, and pianist, gives Emmitt the opportunity to introduce a musical experience to a poetry scene. Alongside Emmitt’s own band, which includes a female vocalist, Emmitt occasionally meets up with musicians who are friends and allows them to perform with him. “For every show, it’s been a band, but different people,” Emmitt explains. Because of the friendships within his band, Emmitt finds it “necessary” to perform on college campuses, as youth are more receptive of their presence. Not only does the college atmosphere honor Emmitt’s youthful subject matter, Emmitt enjoys having his art “related to.” Being relatable is what carries Emmitt James from Milwaukee, WI to Los Angeles, CA, enabling him to call his creations home, regardless of location, age, and race.
Emmitt’s performance style and creative process often takes a backseat to the topics in his work. As a 22 year old, black male – who cut across a life of crime, poverty, and promiscuity through art – location, age, race, and gender are heavily discussed in his poetry and music. Emmitt is not easily influenced by the surrounding politics, which adds to his quest for mentorship, authenticity, and growth. “I just want to make art and pay rent on time” is a lyric from one of Emmitt’s most popular songs, and men and women, black or white, can be found on college campuses, homes, and used, industrialized buildings listening to Emmitt James. When asked to explain this lyric, Emmitt’s response is not much different from that of a question about his hair, a laugh and sly grin into the next piece.
Go to emmittjames.com for new music, tour dates, and more! You can also follow Emmitt on Twitter (@lostboy_emmitt) for updates on his poetry and writing workshops.