The Fifth Element Send Forth the Word

The Fifth Element Send Forth the Word


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



David Ross and Femi Lawal make up the explosive duo of 5th Element. They perform

under the names Native Son and Dri Fish respectively. Both are rail thin,

highly intelligent and socially committed young men.



Books by Amin Sharif

 I AM NEW ORLEANS & OTHER POEMS By Marcus B. Christian  /  The Story of Joseph: The Egyptian Elements in the Old Testament

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The Fifth Element: Send Forth the Word!

By Amin Sharif


On an unusually warm evening in November, I sit along with my road partner Keith (Bilal) Shortridge in the living room of a renovated row house in the Patterson Park area of Baltimore. I watch a small child as he scrambles down the stairway between floors; the boy’s smile is as infectious and warm as the evening. The child is the son of one of the young men we have come to see. I see the child as a good omen for the interview I am about to do with two of Baltimore’s prominent Spoken Word artists known collectively as Fifth Element. Bilal and I have know 5th Element casually for years, they performed at a benefit that we worked on to raise money for a scholarship fund to memorialize our dear friend Yvonne Terry’s son untimely demise and the ChickenBones website. It was then that we were introduced to Fifth Element’s enormous talent. They were the unqualified best group that performed that day.

Soon, the word on the street was that 5th Element was one of the best young talents to come out of Baltimore. Articles on the group appeared in the City Paper and more recently in the Urbanite extolling both their talent and their commitment to the new urban art form known as Spoken Word. On a day trip to New York by train, I was asked about a group called the 5th L that came out of Baltimore by a college student. It was only after a few more moments of conversation that I realized my fellow passenger was talking about the Fifth Element.

It was shortly after the article on the group appeared in the Urbanite that Bilal and I decided that we should interview 5th Element as part of a new project -Fourth World (internet) Radio—that we are currently working on. Bilal found the phone number of David Ross and gave him a call. And so, we found ourselves sitting across from them on this warm November evening. The interview we did with 5th Element was both engaging and fun. In fact, the talk we had was more like the affable exchanges between different generations of Black men about everything from basketball to politics that went on back in the day than anything approaching a formal interview.

David Ross and Femi Lawal make up the explosive duo of 5th Element. They perform under the names Native Son and Dri Fish respectively. Both are rail thin, highly intelligent and socially committed young men. David was born in Baltimore. Femi is from Nigeria. Before they were a group, David performed in churches. Femi was introduced to the art of Spoken Word through his association with other young artists. Eventually, they formed a poetic posse and 5th Element emerged.

Although I have characterized 5th Element as practitioners of Spoken Word, David and Femi see their work as a hybrid of streetwise Hip Hop and socially engaging poetic drama. What is clear in the interview is that 5th Element is evolving—remaking themselves as they mature and respond to a shifting artistic landscape—while at the same time staying true to their urban roots. As the interview proceeded, we touched on such subjects as the difference between the current generation of artists and those that came before them. What is the difference between what 5th Element does and other Spoken Word artists?  And who are the leading figures in the Hip Hop/Spoken Word movement today?

Perhaps one of the most interesting encounters we had concerned the difference between the poets of the Black Arts Movement and those of the Hip Hop/Spoken Word generation. The response of David and Femi to the subject was insightful and respectful. What was clear was that while viewing Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks and company as their artistic godparents, the Hip Hop and Spoken Word artists are not bound by any specific political or social agenda. This does not mean that they are not socially and politically astute. But, it does mean that groups like the 5th Element feel free to address social and political issues on their own term. Clearly, this new generation of artists has no interest in being a reflection of the past. Instead, they wish to be a prism through which the light of their unique artistic expressions can be interpreted.

Fifth Element has recorded several CDs and I often recommend them to the young and old alike. All their poems are well crafted and entertaining something that is extremely important for David and Femi. When listened to in the order of their release, one can easily trace the evolving complexity of 5th Element’s work. Each CD stands firmly on the shoulders of its predecessor and from each successive elevation, 5th Element crafts their newest poem and dramatic presentations. Perhaps, the only thing lacking in these CDs is 5th Element’s engrossing stage presence. They are truly something to behold when they step behind the mike. And you will hear for yourself the depth and commitment of 5th Element when we air their interview this winter. But, we at Fourth World Radio did not wish to wait until then to send forth the word on these young brothers.  For we not only like 5th Element, we love them and what they do. In the meantime, you can pick up their latest effort Reset and give a listen to one of the best Hip Hop/Spoken Word groups out there.

Amin Sharif is Project Manager for Fourth World Radio!


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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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posted 3 February 2009



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