Making soul-stirring statements with his dedication to creating what he calls “substantial art”, Harold Green, III is impacting his corner of the world and through the power of the internet, soon everywhere else too.
SoulCulture caught up with the Chicago native to talk about everything from spoken word artistry/emceeing, love, being a community advocate and why he doesn’t like funerals.
“I like to call myself a renaissance man,” says Green in his signature laid-back tone. “Just when you think you got it figured out or you think you know what type of work that I do, I’m in your face with something different”.
Starting out writing rhymes as a rapper around 12 years old, it wasn’t until one Christmas in his senior year of high school that Green’s artistic perspective would widen. Not having extra money to purchase gifts for his family, Green decided to write them all, mother, father and sister Mandilyn, a poem.
Immediately Mandilyn knew her brother had something special and encouraged him to keep writing, literally pushing him (he didn’t want “to go up there”) to perform his poetry at their family church.
The response was overwhelming. Becoming a favorite presenter among the wellspring of creative talent at Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, Illinois, the church became his platform. “It really boosted my confidence. Once I went away to college (Grambling State University in Louisiana), then I just skyrocketed”.
While in university Harold began to hone his craft. “I kind of built something up out there. I really created something that they still, till this day, carry on. My open mic nights, putting on my productions, it really brought [diverse] individuals together to enjoy spoken word.”
Forming a troupe of poets, rappers, singers, actors and dancers, Green staged his first production, Mental Momentum with notable success, but the attention was something Green shied away from.
“I like being regular,” Green says with a calm smile. “You could catch me anywhere at any given time looking any kind of way. I’d be real comfortable with people and that’s what I thought was important, that they saw me for me.” Named “The Visionary” on a university who-you-should-know list, Green returned the following year with an even bigger production,Harold Green Presents: The Black Hand Side. His troupe was promptly dubbed the latter and together with the Black Smack Band, The Black Hand Side was becoming a phenomenon.
“They started letting me put on my own productions during homecoming, I was traveling to other schools and all kinds of stuff,” Green explains humbly, as if even he can’t believe it. Going on to stage another play, The Sound that Love Makes, and becoming a BET College Tour Spoken Word winner, Harold Green “the renaissance man” had begun to take shape. And so did his trademark, his beard.
When asked what it symbolizes, Green says, “My strength.” He considers it his lion’s mane, feeling like a king in an urban jungle. For Green, university was about all sorts of growth. “It was really college that made me put a stamp on myself. Like, I’m an artist. I’m not just that little boy that’s in the church spittin’. People are paying me to do this. People are coming to see me. It was college that really put me in that lane.”
Returning to Chicago, Green immediately went to work. joining poetry ensemble, Verbal Balance (founded by spoken word artist M’Reld), and creating two new stage plays, God Wears Glasses and 143rd and Heaven, with friend and writing partner Malari “UGLY” Tilford. Verbal Balance became a young fresh staple in the already rich Chicago poetry scene, hosting weekly open mic nights and staging productions around the city.
“When we were in full bloom, you couldn’t really say spoken word in Chicago without mentioning Verbal Balance. It was just that type of party.” Always modest he adds, “We ain’t the end all, tell all, or the beginning of the end, but at our time, we were shining.”
Green and Tilford also founded Black Orchard, a hip hop alternative “fusion” band that was born from a conversation between the two in Green’s den. He and Tilford came up with the idea to do an album to showcase all their talents so as not to be pigeonholed as “just” spoken word artists. They did a live show which required a band, which Green says, turned into making music permanently.
“I love Black Orchard. As an artist you have things you are a part of, or you have a piece of work, that you’re just yourself a fan of. You’re a fan of everything you do to some extent, but this one of them things like if I wasn’t in this I’d still be in the audience.”
Though one of the front men, Green is reluctant to claim any sort of ownership of the group. “It’s not my anything. I just share a part in this music. I don’t have to BE ‘that guy’.”
Constantly developing new ideas, Green released two albums, The Green Room and Blue is for Strawberries, as well as a documentary called. HGTV. He also began work on several different mixtape series. “I like to express myself in so many different ways,” Green says with a laugh. This sentiment was never more apparent than with Green’s
Color Line, Vol. 2, a mixtape of music for which the poems were completely freestyled. “I freestyled the entire thing, Green revealed. “For you to be able to do that, I think it’s a craft.” When it was time to present his efforts, Green wanted to take it to another level. “This is such a visual thing. [The poetry] sounds so vivid. How am I gonna be innovative? Because I always wanna push myself. I feel like John Coltrane. [Coltrane] was never just okay with being great at one thing. He always wanted to mix it up.”
For this project, Green did just that. Gathering 12 directors, Green had them each create short films based on their interpretation of his poetry, and held The Color Line Arts and Film Festival in Chicago to celebrate the premiere. Alerted to Green’s rendition of “Window Seat” (a short called Word of Mouth directed by William Cochran), Erykah Badu watched the video and congratulated Green via Twitter.
Green’s signature series may very well be Flowers for the Living. Each February Green offers up a mixtape and 14 performance videos of his works [in honor of Valentine’s Day and his birthday (February 13th).] As for the name? It’s based on the phrase and idea of giving people flowers while they are alive to smell them.
“I don’t like funerals”, Green shares. “I don’t go to funerals. I just like to remember people how they were when it was good. I hate when people go all out for the dead. I’m always about making somebody smile or saying something that might brighten somebody’s day. If you know you’ve got that power to make somebody smile, why don’t you do it? People need to give people their flowers while they are living. It just came about from there.”
For Green it’s all about love. “Somebody could look at it, and be like dude is really emo, like ‘what is he on’? But I feel like people really look at it like, you can’t knock this. You know what I’m saying? This is some real [stuff]. As far as just a male being able to express love so eloquently,” he pauses briefly, “I’m shocked at the level of misogyny in hip-hop. No other genre is that infatuated with misogyny. I try to present a different face for individuals.”
Vol. 2 showcased the vastness of his extended “soul collective” network anchored by guest musicians and singers including, fittingly, Green’s significant other, Charisma Sweat. First performing together in The Black Hand Side, the two have collaborated on life, as the parents of 2-year-old son, Zaire who is the inspiration for the Flowers cover of Stevie’s “Isn’t [He] Lovely”. “It was just one of those beautiful things. I’m big on family”.
For Flowers for the Living, it was Raheem Devaughn who reached out to Green via Twitter this go round. He was impressed with Green’s rendition of “Mo Better,” calling it “very very very dope!”
Green’s love of family extends to his community at large where he teaches youth creative writing classes and works in a primary school with special needs students. Green has also been named IBCA Illinois Junior High Coach of the Year for the last two seasons as head basketball coach for 7th & 8th grade at Robert A. Black Magnet School.
Having been a sociology teaching assistant at university, education had become a part of him as Green conducts a study hall with his players, having them read a book each season and participate in a peer mentoring program. Green also channels his poetic talents into motivational speaking where he does presentations for at-risk youth and in correctional facilities.
He’s grateful for the opportunity to reach them. “I got to walk in the yard with lifers. Just to be amongst them. The energy was crazy. For them to tell me that what I’m doing inspires them, that’s just a very big thing to me. [Through all this] I began to see that this is good not just for art, but this is good to the community. As an artist who really likes to give back, that’s one of the biggest compliments; for people to recognize that without you having to come out and say it.”
Harold Green, III has an authenticity that captivates and a creative energy that doesn’t fit into any one box. He has a lot to give. “I think when you’re really slicing through [the surface] and really punching people with the darts [of honesty] in your words they have to feel you. They gotta respect what you’re saying. I just want to give people something real.
When people try to recruit you into negativity, I’ve seen how it can motivate you. They talk to you in a certain way. They talk to you very confidently and sternly like what they are giving you can change your life. So I felt like I could do that on the other side of the atmosphere. I’m to a point where I am okay because I know what I’m doing.
I know I’m putting out substantial art. If people catch on they catch on. If they don’t? I tried. But at the end of the day I know I’m being a motivation to somebody, ‘cause people tell me all the time. If you’re doing right, right will come. I think people are starting to get used to my brand of artistry.”
We’re just warming up.