The spoken-word poet J. Ivy—a Chicagoan who won a Grammy Award in 2004 for his performance on Kanye West’s debut album, College Dropout—appears tonight at Room 43 on the South Side (1039-1043 East 43rd Street; $15 at the door; doors open at 8 pm). Earlier today, Chicago Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Fenner asked him a few questions.

What are you up to these days?

I’m working on a new album-slash-book called Life After Life. It’s a follow-up to my album and book out now [Here I Am], telling my story in a little more depth. I do poetry to music; I stay in my lane. I don’t get music and rap. I just lay the music on to what I do.

How has the slam poetry scene changed since the Louder than a Bomb days?

When I first started performing [he’s 36], it was not cool for a guy to be doing poetry. To see it come from that point to now, when you have thousands of young kids drawn to it—they just yearn for it. It’s electric, to see how they feel about it. With the youth coming up, watching how the poetry world is transforming: I see the venues getting bigger. I see stadiums.

You’re working a lot with kids these days, right?

Yes; I have a poetry workshop called the Right to Live Poetry Academy. I work with them on developing their creative juices and flow. I’ve also developed a series called Voice of the City (, which highlights different artists from Chicago and beyond, from poets and emcees to singers, painters, dancers. I started it here in Chicago but I’m looking to take it nationwide.

Are you collaborating with any musicians in particular on your new album?

You always want to get the sound that connects to now. So I’m working with a lot of up and coming young guys, like Michael London, who’s an incredible producer.

Where is the best place to go in Chicago right now for slam poetry?

There’s really no one central place; people throw shows at different spots. I’m appearing tonight at Room 43 on the South Side. You have Green Mill on the North Side. There’s a monthly event called Prose and Flows—they did it at the Shrine last time [2109 S. Wabash; info on Twitter @proseandflows]. For me, that’s part of the challenge of it: Trying to find that perfect room, that perfect match with the energy of what you’re doing.

For updates on J Ivy’s performance schedule, go to or follow him on Twitter @J_Ivy.

photo: evan iskovitz