When we first heard Humble the Poet rap – the deep, scratchy-smooth voice, the liquid delivery – we detected echoes of Tupac. But then we listened to the lyrics:
When a man hangs himself over 3 benji debt
Cause it woulda taken 90 years just to pay it back
Not a gambler, He was trying to tap a well
And he missed it twice, We don’t miss his life
Humble the Poet, aka Kanwer Singh, is not your typical hip hop artist. He’s a 28-year-old Punjabi Sikh from Toronto. He has no interest in signing with a label (his 60-plus tracks can all be downloaded for free from his website). His manager’s his best friend. He doesn’t even do this full-time – he’s a 3rd grade teacher. But his talent is speaking for itself, to the tune of 22,000 Facebook fans and counting.
Nobody is more surprised by his success than Singh himself. “I was very hesitant to put my work out there for a long time,” he admits. “I had that American Idol fear – you know, that you think you’re better than you are.” Then, in May of 2008, he posted a haunting track called “Voice for the Voiceless” on YouTube, about victims of drug and gang violence among the immigrant Indian community, and the fuse was lit.
Though most of his fans are South Asian (“I think it’s validating to see me in the forefront,” he says), he’s making inroads into the mainstream as well. Already he’s been featured twice on allhiphop.com, one of the biggest hip hop websites in the world – which is no easy feat for a guy who looks like Singh. He recalls a recent blog post about him that read, “The beard caught me off guard… After I looked past that, I realized the guy actually has lyrics.”
The guy definitely has lyrics. Singh is a rare breed in the rap world these days: a poet with brain and heart, who’s more likely to rap about corporate exploitation than Cristal. If he gets famous as a result, so much the better – “I’m a typical guy,” he admits. But what he really wants is to make a difference. “I would love to change the world. I would love, you know, when they find the bullet-riddled body of the next Che Guevara… I would love for them to find my CD in his personal effects.”
Until then, you can get a taste of his music and poetry with free downloads at http://www.thepoetproject.com/downloads.html
Here’s a few of our favorites
Story by Republic of Brown contributor Laura Silverman
Like what you hear? Post to Facebook and send to your friends. Trust us, they’ll be head boppin with you in no time.