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Day before Sound features guest artists from the underground hip-hop world—Red Clay’s Baron and R&B duo Indigo Brown—but there’s another, likely unexpected contributor, a musician whose family lineage links ReadNex straight to a protest music legend: Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who appears on the intriguingly titled “America Bolivariana: The Reflection of Self-Revolution.” “The ReadNex [members] are totally fearless when it comes to music,” says Rodriguez-Seeger, the grandson of Pete Seeger. “They sat in with my band at the Clearwater Festival once, and Decora and Jarabe rhymed in English and Spanish over the music. I’d never done anything like that before, and it was really incredible. We definitely did the most exciting version of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ I’ve ever played.”
Bringing the noise—and the message—from sea to shining sea has opened not only the ears, eyes, and minds of their audiences, but also those of the MCs and DJ themselves. In 2008 the unit embarked on its Frontlines Tour, a mammoth, self-funded expedition (another anachronism for a genre whose mainstream stars won’t hit the road unless it’s in a corporate-sponsored sleeper bus) that took the group to 40 cities and towns across the US. “We visited these tiny places like Whitesburg, Kentucky [pop. 1500], where they really hadn’t had hip-hop before. And they were crazy for it. After the show we ended up jamming at someone’s house. H20 was spinning while people were playing mandolins and fiddles—some were even drinking moonshine,” says Latin Translator, today sipping ginger ale, like his bandmates. “Wherever we go on tour, besides doing the performance we try to also hold one of our workshops and also talk to the people to learn about the issues they’re facing locally,” explains Decora. “So in places like Kentucky and Virginia we got to know more about the lives of the coal miners and their families, about how black lung is still a huge problem. And about oxycoton addiction in rural areas, how mountaintop-removal mining has been destroying the environment there. We try to take what we discover and pass it along at the next places we go to: ‘Learn, Educate, Repeat’ is one of our main mantras.”
To that end, the group’s self-devised, interactive “Next to Be Read” and “Hip-Hop and Poetry Saved My Life” school workshops have been major hits with students and educators. Both are customizable symposiums that, according to the group’s website, include such activities as “lyrical adaptation of school work; hip-hop-oriented phonetic and kinesthetic learning; using poetic devices for writing English essays; and using hip-hop and poetry as a platform to understand academic subjects and convey sensitive topics in schools.” “Hip-Hop and Poetry Saved My Life” is the more immersive program, with students spending 10 days with members of ReadNex. “[The latter workshop] is more than us doing musical and spoken-word performances and leading the students through activities,” says Freeflowin. “It encompasses a lot of personal stories in which we talk about how hip-hop and poetry impacted each of us specifically, and about how we use them in our daily lives.”
With all of the band’s thankless self-sacrificing and constant toiling in the good fight, however, how long does she think the group can keep going? “Forever,” she says. “This is what we do. We’re married to each other.”
But, still, if there ever did come a day when the members of ReadNex Poetry Squad decided to go their separate ways, what would each of them do?