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Malik Yusef Jones

Spoken word artist Malik Yusef was born Malik Yusef Jones on April 4, 1971 in Chicago, Illinois. Yusef was raised on Chicago’s Southside in the neighborhood commonly referred to as the “Wild 100’s.” As a teenager, Yusef became a member of the Islamic street gang, the Blackstone Rangers. During this time, he also overcame his challenge with dyslexia.

Yusef began performing spoken word in open mic venues in the late 1980s. He had his first big break in 1997 when Ted Witcher, director of the film, Love Jones, recognized his poetry and hired him to coach the film’s lead actor, Larenz Tate. In 2002, Yusef along with jazz saxophonist Mike Phillips collaborated on the song “This Is Not A Game,” which was selected by Michael Jordan to appear on the CD that came with the purchase of limited edition Jordan 17 sneakers. That same year, he performed his poem entitled “I spit...” on the Grammy-winning second season of HBO’s Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam.” He released his debut album in the compilation of The Great Chicago Fire; A Cold Day in Hell in 2003. Yusef has performed at “The Art of Love Tour” featuring Raheem DeVaughn and Chrisette Michele; the “Real Thing Tour” featuring Jill Scott & Raheem DeVaughn; “Touch the Sky Tour” featuring Kanye West & Keyshia Cole; the Carl Thomas & Mary J. Blige Tour; and the Glow in the Dark Tour featuring Kanye West. In 2007, Yusef collaborated with Director Frey Hoffman for the film adaptation of his poem “Hollywood Jerome.” Kanye West and Yusef released the album Good Morning & Good Night in 2008.

Yusef received a Peabody Award nomination in 2000 and was the Truth Award “Spoken Word Artist of the Year” from 2001 to 2005. In 2006, Kanye West’s CD, Late Registration, which featured Yusef’s poetry on the song “Crack Music” was awarded a Grammy Award. That same year, Yusef won an Independent Film Project Award for Hollywood Jerome. He was also awarded the “Best Poet” by the Chicago Music Awards from 2002 to 2008.

Yusef is the father of three children and resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Yusef was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 17, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.090

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/17/2008

Last Name

Jones

Maker Category
Middle Name

Yusef

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Ronald Brown Academy

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Malik

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

JON21

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

St. Lucia

Favorite Quote

The Illusion Is Everyone Wants The Truth, But The Truth Is Everyone Wants The Illusion

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

4/4/1971

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Mangoes, Broccoli

Short Description

Spoken word artist Malik Yusef Jones (1971 - ) was a Peabody Award nominee, has worked and toured with music acts such as Kanye West, Mary J. Blige and Keyshia Cole, was the Truth Award "Spoken Word Artist of the Year" between 2001 and 2005, and has appeared on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam.

Employment

Love Jones

Favorite Color

Fuschia

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Malik Yusef Jones' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the Jones Brothers

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his great uncle, Hubbard Smith

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's activism

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the Mosque Maryam in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his relationship with his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his mother's abuse, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his mother's abuse, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls his father's involvement in SNCC

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers selling narcotics

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his parents' separation

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his learning disabilities

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls his mother's depression

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his father's home improvement skills

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his early experiences of religion

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls the Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the history of gangs in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers joining the Blackstone Rangers

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his route to Chicago Vocational High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls his early years as a Blackstone Ranger

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls the gang activity at Chicago Vocational High School

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his studies at Chicago Vocational High School

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his personality as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls leaving Chicago Vocational High School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the Blackstone Rangers' connection to the Moorish Science Temple

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the Blackstone Rangers' community service

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers Mayor Harold Washington's death

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers selling crack cocaine

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the drug trade in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first poem

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the drug trade in the white community

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his early poems

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls writing 'If Roses Came In Black,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls writing 'If Roses Came In Black,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones describes the poem he wrote for his son's mother

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his poem, 'The Ceremony'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first poetry reading

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first poetry slam

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls performing at the Spices Jazz Bar in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones talks about the Public Place of Amusement laws

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Malik Yusef Jones recall gaining prominence as a poet

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls the atmosphere at the Spices Jazz Bar

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls defending a white patron at the Spices Jazz Bar

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers Maria McCray

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the growth of his poetry career

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones recalls filming 'Love Jones'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the premiere of 'Love Jones'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers the positive response to 'Love Jones'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his relationship with women

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his start in the music industry

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Malik Yusef Jones remembers his first collaboration with Kanye West

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Malik Yusef Jones describes Kanye West

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Malik Yusef Jones talks about music and poetry

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Malik Yusef Jones talks about the negative influence of rap music

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his art's message

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Malik Yusef Jones reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Malik Yusef Jones describes his children

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Malik Yusef Jones describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

1$8

DATitle
Malik Yusef Jones recalls writing 'If Roses Came In Black,' pt. 1
Malik Yusef Jones remembers his start in the music industry
Transcript
You were talking about how you first--your first big poem (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, I was sitting at home and like I said, it was these commercials then it was another one after that, then ano- then like four commercials in a row with like these beautiful white women and I thought you know, well they women they beautiful. I mean the dopest here on the planet Earth. There's nothing better, the the greatest thing that Earth has to offer is a woman. That's Earth's masterpiece of all things that are on the planet. A female human is the masterpiece. Well I was just like well why ain't no pretty black women on TV you know what I'm saying? They always got us represented you know through the media at our worst. It's always a woman and not that I'm not I don't think that gold teeth are unattractive but she's just not at her best you know what I'm saying and they put them on TV at their best. Not disheveled. The right lighting, the right makeup, the right movement, the right music and they don't put our sisters on on there like that, that's fucked up. 'Cause [HistoryMaker] Maya Angelou is beautiful and she's, she doesn't have a commercial. And that's not right. [HistoryMaker] Diahann Carroll, even though she's older now, but there's beauty in the crone's stage and she doesn't have a commercial. So. I remember Alice Walker saying that writers are people who tell a story of some- of what has happened, what is happening, what will happen or more importantly what can happen. So I decided to give an anthem to black women, women of color but black women in particular. And I mean black when I say black I mean African, West Indian, African American, Haitian, black people you know. And I wrote a poem called 'If Roses Came in Black' [Malik Yusef Jones]. And that's still to this day one of my most requested poems and I wrote that in 1993.$$Can you give us a piece of it?$$I'm shy man.$$Okay.$$"If roses came in black that is exactly what you'd be. Reborn every spring throughout eternity and if a single black swan could swim in the lake and watching her take flight, your heart just might break and if the sun could shine a twilight and warm the earth at midnight, it would be in very special honor of you. I know you love beautiful thangs, I can kind of tell they love you too, if copper bells rang and church choirs sang each and every time your mouth would open but through all this extravagance please don't forget our romance and that's all that I've been hoping and when God allows, when God allows the flap of the bird's wings to open up those dark skies and that same black bird song she sang, opened my closed eyes and if a black butterfly could do her springtime dance and whosoever witness and be trapped in a forever trance with time I have to take my chance and if I will be captured at least it was worth one glance and if I could but only if I could I'll remind the entire earth of all types of chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. A nutritious part of my balanced diet, good for you and delicious too, no man in the world could deny it and if I could, yes love, only if I could I would forever feast on black cherries then make my mouth wet with the sweet nectar of the darker berries uncovering you like a whole string of black pearls of beauty natural and untampered, then I would stroke you like a black cat, elegant, deserving to be pampered and if an eclipse could occur for the whole world to see but the moon still shine bright mysteriously and if roses came in black, if roses came in black, if roses came in black, that is exactly what you'd be."$$Thank you, thank you.$$Thank you brother, so that was the poem I wrote. I just felt like I like you know how you like it's different in writing but I felt like even though I'm not a good artist, I felt like I was drawing a picture when I was doing it and just used the words to kind of do it.$How did things progress after the movie ['Love Jones'] came out and there's enthusiasm about it?$$Man it was so weird because first of all I found out Regie [Regie Gibson] set me up, but he did a good thing he didn't realize by having me tell everybody he helped me promote myself. He was trying to set me up for a gag basically like yeah, he knew because he was in on the editing and everything (laughter). He was in all the way. He was in (unclear) and they knew, he knew they had cut me out man. But because I promoted it so big man you know what I'm saying all by the will of God see what I'm saying anything bad she turning for good man and that's really what happened. So after that my respect level in the game was like an OG [original gangster] like even though I only been in the game like three years it was like an OG so then Common was like, "Man you should be on my next album." I'm like, "Bet." So I did a poem called 'I Used to Love H.E.R. Too' [ph.] didn't make the album but then the year after that did another piece called 'My City' [Malik Yusef Jones] and went and kicked it with him and he put in a tape of this girl named Erykah Badu and he said, "How you think she sound?" "Man she sound like Billie Holiday." He like, "For real?" I'm like, "Dude, she is the truth. Where she from?" He like, "Dallas [Texas]." I'm like, "Man you have her on the album." He like, "I'm thinking about it." I'm like, "No, you know you need to have her." He like, "Well maybe me, you and her can do a song together." It went from that from me, her and him doing a song to me and him doing a song 'cause she wasn't popular. Nobody knew who she was. She had been in nobody's album, no- none of her music was out at all and then he just let me do my own poem on his album called 'My City' and it came out September 1997 and they was like yeah we having the album release concert, Lauryn Hill, CeeLo [CeeLo Green] from the Goodie Mob, that's when he was still with the Mob, it was De La Soul, the Roots, Q-Tip. It was crazy and I remember listening to the radio like man they gonna have all them performing well I say I'm on the album how come they didn't say me? So we called his manager Derrick [ph.] and they was like yeah you can come perform, so you open up the show. So Mike Love and The Diz was like, "Malik Yusef [HistoryMaker Malik Yusef Jones] he on the album, got a hot poem on there." I came out performed it, Julio G in L.A. [Los Angeles, California] was playing the song, he thought it was Common, but it was me. And then that was another level people thought I was famous so the first time they thought I was super famous was when they saw me on the ABC world news the second time was 'Love Jones' they like man (laughter) I made myself be famous for them so crazy and then Common album and after that you know I'm--you know before that Biggie [Biggie Smalls; Notorious B.I.G.] had died, Pac [Tupac Shakur] had died September 13 Pac died and--$$What year was this?$$--that was '96 [1996].$$Ninety-six [1996] okay.$$Yeah so the year before that and that's when I had, I had a long talk with Barack Obama [HistoryMaker President Barack Obama] he was like why you gonna go out to L.A. or to Vegas [Las Vegas, Nevada], what you gonna do? You gonna go out there and do what? What you gonna do? You know Barack is real cut and dry dude when it come to men. He ain't--he nice to the sisters but to men he Barack ain't no punk with it. I had truth stick I know what a truth stick is. I been in Africa man. I lived in Africa. At the time nobody really knew who he was really he just community dude and Michelle [Michelle Obama] she was the ED [executive director] of a program I was doing called Public Allies so that's my bad, I love Michelle (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Public Allies I remember that yeah, yeah.$$It's AmeriCorps [AmeriCorps VISTA] program that Bill Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton] implemented yep and then, then my son's godfather passed, Biggie. In fact Chris [ph.], he died and hip hop start changing and it was like my chance to get into the game and bring my brand of, of literature I guess, my brand my style of thinking and give it to the masses and I, I didn't feel, Lauryn was, Lauryn said, "When you gonna do a poetry album?" I was like, "I wouldn't listen to a poetry album, like nobody would do that."