Sunday Poet: Sarah Jones

Image: not so long ago, Sarah Jones performed at the White House for Women’s History Month after receiving an invitation from First Lady Michelle Obama and here is a picture from that occasion.

Sarah Jones is a Tony Award winning playwright and performer and a cultural shape-shifter. Jones is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador, as the official spokesperson on violence against children – and she has been on Sesame Street, which I think is about one of the coolest things you can ever have on your resume.

Coming out of the spoken-word poetry scene, Jones had her first solo show, Surface Transit back in 1998 and followed that up with a highly successful commission piece where she wrote and performed Women Can’t Wait about the discriminatory laws against women. With further commissions Jones has produced Waking the American Dream (which later morphed into Bridge & Tunnel) about immigrant rights, and A Right to Care about ethnic and racial health disparities.

Jones is the first artist ever to successfully sue the Federal Communications Commission for censorship. The lawsuit was about reversing the censorship ruling against her hip-hop poem recording, “Your Revolution” – which had been deemed “indecent”! “Your Revolution” was inspired by Gil Scott-Heron’s legendary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and it is a most wonderful anti-misogyny statement in addition to being a call to arms for the political power of hip hop. It’s amaaaazing. Here’s Jones talking about hip hop:

Hip-hop started out as an innovative means for young kids in the South Bronx, working-class and poor black and Latino kids whose school budgets were being slashed and had no music programs, thank you Ronald Reagan, who made do with what they had. We have no instruments; we’ll take two turntables and a microphone and we’ll pick up on the tradition of some of the folks from the Black Arts movement, Gil Scott-Heron and everyone else, and do this rapping thing. Then there was break dancing, and there was this style of dress and there was the visual art of graffiti.

It was really about social justice and about protest as often as it was party music, and this was hip-hop at its inception. … The message was all about holding a certain class of people accountable for the treatment of others. It was protest art. It was also party music, don’t get me wrong — people partied. But it certainly was not the misogynist, materialistic, violent kind of what has become this sort of trash heap.

It happens that some folks figured out that it was really lucrative to market this culture to everyone and make as much money as possible — but not only that, there’s unfortunately an even more cynical agenda. I think they’re reminiscent of [racist propaganda film] Birth of a Nation, some of these images that we see … of the depraved, criminal black man, the pimp, dehumanizing women, calling them “hos” and “bitches.”

There’s even intraracial racism. I mean, there are so many layers of right-wing-oriented politics throughout the mainstream hip-hop establishment. Hip-hop is a culture and a way of identifying for a lot of young people and a way of expressing themselves that got terribly twisted around and co-opted, turned into this very lucrative and very politically convenient tool for the creation and perpetuation of obedient consumers who buy into a certain idea of who women and men are, who working-class people are, what criminality looks like. All of those things are contributed to by this weird, this really kind of sad incarnation.

Below is Sarah Jones with her spoken-word version of “Your Revolution” but the mix from DJ Vadim is pretty sublime, too.


Yeah yeah yeah yeah
This goes out to all the women and men
From New York to London
L.A. to Tokyo
Struggling to keep their self-respect
In this climate of misogyny
And money worship
And mass production of hip hop’s illegitimate child (hip hop)
And this especially goes out to Gillis Scott Herring
Friend, living legend, and proto-rapper who wrote
The revolution will not be televised
Much respect

Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Not happen between these thighs
Not happen between these thighs

The real revolution ain’t about booty size
The Versaces you buys
Or the Lexus you drives
And though we’ve lost Biggie Smalls
Baby, your notorious revolution
Will never allow you to lace no lyrical douche in my bush
Your revolution will not be you killing me softly with Fugees
Your revolution ain’t gonna knock me up without no ring
And produce little future emcees
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs

Your revolution will not find me in the backseat of a jeep
With LL hard as hell
You know, doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well
You know, doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well (nah come on now)

Your revolution will not be you smackin’ it up
Flippin’ it, or rubbin’ it down
Nor will it take you downtown or humpin’ around
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs

Your revolution will not have me singing
“Ain’t no nigga like the one I got”
And your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip, drip VD
And your revolution will not involve me feelin’ your nature rise
Or helping you fantasize
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
No no, not between these thighs

Oh, my Jamaican brother, your revolution will not make you feel
Bombastic and really fantastic
And have you groping in the dark for that rubber wrapped in plastic

You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of french
vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe
Or having Akinyele’s dream, (mm hmm)
A 6-foot blowjob machine (mm hmm)
You want to subjugate your queen? (uh-huh)
Think I’m a put it in my mouth just cuz you made a few bucks?
Please brother please

Your revolution will not be me tossing my weave
And making me believe I’m some caviar-eating ghetto mafia clown
Or me giving up my behind, just so I can get signed
And maybe having somebody else write my rhymes
I’m Sarah Jones, not Foxy Brown
You know I’m Sarah Jones, not Foxy Brown

Your revolution makes me wonder, where could we go
If we could drop the empty pursuit of props and ego
We’d revolt back to our Roots, use a little Common Sense
On a quest to make love De La Soul, no pretense

But your revolution will not be you flexing your little sex and status
To express what you feel
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not be you shaking and me (*yawn*) faking
Between these thighs
Because the real revolution
That’s right I said the real revolution
You know I’m talking about the revolution
When it comes, it’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
When it finally comes
When it finally comes
It’s gonna be real, yeah yeah

Categories: arts & entertainment, Culture, gender & feminism, Politics, social justice, Sociology

3 replies

  1. That has long been one of my favourite Def Poetry performances. I had no idea about all the other amazing things she is and does outside of Spoken Word Poetry. Thanks for that.

  2. Pedantic note and for the hearing-impaired: the version of “Your Revolution” she delivers in the YouTube clip is not the same as the text below. But it’s such a big issue you could probably do a dozen versions with different examples before having to think hard to come up with more.

  3. She’s so talented to make some poetry of her own. I remember my niece, she really wants to be like her. She collected poetry of hers and present in their school.

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