December 4, 2020

Rhythm and poetry

Kayla Thompson finds inspiration in her experiences, female community issues

Kayla Thompson, junior anthropology major, raps in the Sunnen Lounge at Spiterature. This year marks the event’s fourth year, which allows students to express themselves through music, poetry and literature. CONTRIBUTED BY KAYLA THOMPSON

In her khaki shorts and tennis shoes, Kayla Thompson doesn’t resemble an outspoken artist. She stands on the Spiterature stage in Sunnen Lounge, seemingly shy with eyes to the floor as she introduces her piece. No typical swag of a rapper, no chains or shades, no big talk or posse to back her up.

Then she changes her stance, knees slightly bent and shoulders back. As Thompson begins to “spit,” she conveys comfort and confidence, taking the audience along with her as she enters her element. Each new verse impresses the crowd, leading them to respond with a murmur of intrigue, a spattering of praise.

“On my bars I spit harder then a dude with a lisp

These guys hooked on my line and I don’t even fish

‘Cause I’m blowing they mind by these jeans I don’t fit

Sorry doc it’s too late the girl is just too sick.”

As the last line hits the students lining the back wall, Thompson looks out with pride in her eyes.  The crowd offers their admiration with an enthusiastic round of applause.

For the past three years, Thompson has used Spiterature as a platform to showcase her rhymes — both rap lyrics and spoken word poetry. Thompson, a junior anthropology major, was the only female artist to perform a rap at the Association for African American Collegians’ annual event.

In fifth grade, Thompson performed her own words in front of an audience for the first time. The rap was about having natural hair when it was unpopular among black girls — a subject close to her heart.

“I starting making songs in kindergarten,” Thompson said. “And I would write them with my own made up words.”

As she grew older, Thompson transitioned to performing spoken word poetry. During her senior year of high school, Thompson showcased her spoken word poetry in front of her school. Her friends were surprised by her words.

“A lot of people had heard me rap in small groups but not written word,” Thompson said. “A lot of my friends were like ‘Did you write that?’”

Thompson’s biggest inspiration is Tasha Jones, a spoken word poet from Indiana and the youngest nominee for poet laureate of that state. Jones shares her passion for spoken word and for young women through the Hello Beautiful movement, which seeks to reverse negative body image and self-deprecating behavior in the classroom.

Thompson wants her words to have a positive impact like that one day, and said she admires the way Jones is able to combine poetry with the raw emotion of rap.

A decade after grade school, Thompson still writes about problems she sees in the female community such as low self-esteem and the disparity of wealth between male and female employees. Though her passion and talent for spoken performance is clear, Thompson now focuses on being a public speaker rather than a rapper.

“I don’t like the image of rap,” Thompson said. “I couldn’t see myself doing it. I realized that being a female rapper you’re expected to have a sexual presence. I’m like the total opposite of that. I want to compete with guys, not be a part of that look.”

Thompson’s writing often takes on the stereotypes society places on both women and the younger generations. She addresses professional adults on public speaking engagements, and said she hopes to show them that youth need their help instead of criticism.

Whether in the rap world or her personal life, Thompson refuses to embrace the image of “female” given to her by the media and decades-old concepts. In a poem she wrote entitled “Women are made for pots and pans” she explores the expectations of a daughter and a son. Thompson shares her wishes for a life of her own choosing, regardless of her sex, when she writes:

“Women are made for pots and pans

My mother said I have to train to be a good wife,

But I’d rather be outside

Learning to ride a bike

Like my brother gets to do,

But I’m inside, working to make my hands black too”

No matter where she ends up in the future, Thompson said she will never stop exploring cultural injustice or spreading her message through poetry and rap.

“It’s just something I do,” Thompson said. “It’s like a part of me. Even if I’m the owner of a business, I’ll still be out rapping. I feel like it’s always been in me to make a difference. It’s always in my words.”

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