Early spring, I got the chance to attend the Verses and Flow event sponsored by Lexus. Two great things happened that evening. I got to watch crooner Robin Thicke perform his sexy ballads, and I was introduced to a Chicago spoken word artist and her inspirational poetry. Antoinette Houston, aka Young Flame is a young woman with a lot to say about life, love, and her history, and she's uninhibited when she's performing.
What sets Young Flame apart from a traditional spoken word artist who undulates their voice and uses boisterous gestures to animate their perspective, is that Young Flame takes complex topics, and breaks them down to their simplest form, making it stimulating and therapeutic. Her poem, I Don't Wanna Be in Love, I Just Wanna Be In Like reacts to the complicatedness of falling in and out of love, and made me realize things about myself that, well, I hadn't realized before. And another piece of hers, Fantasyis a romantic piece put to a smooth melody, where Young Flame almost sounds like she's flowin.
I got to chance to chat with Young Flame on a lovely afternoon about her inspirations, her roots, and her artistry:
UnRated: When I watched your performance the first thing I thought was "damn this girl is FIRE." Is that how you got your name?
Young Flame: I was doing a show at All Hype City and after I performed someone in the audience said, "hey, that was fire." The definition for me though is more than just a name. I was hoping to spark somebody. I wanna perform for people and have someone say, wow that drove me to do something, or drove me to say something.
UnRated: What I really enjoy about your art is that it's relatable to me as a young black woman. What are some compliments from some unexpected supporters that you can recall?
Young Flame: Recently I did this piece called Sista You Mad and it was for this conference at UIC and the whole preface to the poem was to be to Sisters not meaning black women, but sisters meaning Women. And at the conference you had Black women, Caucasian women, Asian women, etc. And this Asian woman came up to me and she was like 18 or 19 and said, "I really liked your piece. I can really relate to your piece." I wanted that but to hear it was like, wow.
UnRated: Is most of your content factual or a mixture of fact and fantasy/fiction?
Young Flame: It's real life. I think that's the best way to be. So everything I say has either happened to me or happened to someone around me. I speak it out there in hopes that someone will feel it and to relate as well.
UnRated: How did you land that great gig with the Lexus, Verses and Flow?
Young Flame: I had heard about the show on TVOne. So I found the Talent Agent on Linked-In. I sent her an email telling her about myself and my bio, and I sent her a link to my video for I Don't Wanna Be in Love, I Just Wanna Be In Like. Two weeks later she emailed me back saying, "wow your Facebook video was nice. I really appreciate you reaching out." One week later she sent me a message saying, "We're doing this event in Chicago, by any chance would you be in Chicago this particular weekend?" I happened to be in Chicago that weekend. I thought, wow, to represent my city for that particular platform, and for Lexus to be the host, I couldn't think of anything better.
UnRated: Is doing poetry therapeutic for you?
Young Flame: Yes. It started as my diary when I was 11 years old. I didn't know what poetry was at 11. It wasn't until I was about 14-15 when I was like "whatever this is, I'm liking what this is." It was my therapy to get out everything going on in my life.
UnRated: Who are some artists/ poets that have inspired you?
Young Flame: Definitely Jill Scott. I feel like she's a storyteller. Lauren Hill is a landmark. Also Erykah Badu. Not just because they are in the category of neo soul. They are African American women I look to keep inspiring me within my art.
UnRated: Since you are so talented at changing your tone to blend with background vocals and you can ride a beat so well, do you sometimes find yourself flowing?
Young Flame: I've done improv for 5-6 years and I would do what's called battle improv with one of my cast mates and he's a rapper. A lot of times to keep up with him, I would switch my flow up. I didn't want the audience to think, "guy against a girl, he's gonna demolish her." I wanted them to know I can throw the heat too.
UnRated: What is one piece that you perform that is the most emotional for you?
Young Flame: My first project was called "Boiling Point" and I called it that because I had a lot that I wanted to get out. And one of the signature pieces of Boiling Point was called Dear Mama. It was about me growing up with a mom struggling with substance abuse. She's 7 years clean and sober now, but with that piece, I wanted to write a letter to my mom and to any young person that has gone through something like that and not had a strong enough voice to get those feelings out. Whenever I perform that piece, whether it's for a small group, or whether it's for people my age, it's emotional because it's real.
UnRated: I see the entertainment, advertising, and music industries opening their doors to incorporate spoken word into a number projects. Where do you see the most opportunity for you to grow as an artist and make money?
Young Flame: The sky is the limit. After that [Versus and Flow] event, a woman in charge of entertainment for Boeing came up to me and said she liked the piece so much that she asked would I be interested in doing something for them. To me it's just an affirmation of, you never know whose watching. So I try and make my poetry something that is not just relatable, but have a feeling like it can fit in different elements, whether that's a school, comedy show, or business like Boeing.
UnRated: What musician would you love to collaborate with?
Young Flame: Jill Scott and Common. Common because as an artist. I feel like he represents Chicago well. He's a true lyricist. Both of them are strong performers that I would love to work with.
UnRated: Where are you from in Chicago?
Young Flame: I was born on the West Side, and I stayed there till I was 5 years old. Then my mom moved over to the South Side.
UnRated: How has where you grew up shaped your work?
Young Flame: Whenever I write or perform, it's all based on Chicago. The culture and the landscape is always gonna be true to me.
UnRated: Do you think there are many opportunities to grow in Chicago?
Young Flame: Absolutely, to me Chicago and New York are the top cities for art such as this. You got the LA's and the big markets for other things, but for hip-hop and for poetry, just the whole "real" element, I think that Chicago and New York are the main two markets.
UnRated: What advice would you give to a female artist residing in Chicago?
Young Flame: I would let her know not to try to fit a particular mold, to be what she wanted to be. Once you're that, everyone will flock to you because they are feeling what you're saying. Don't try to be gimmicky.
UnRated: What's on the horizon for you in 2012?
Young Flame: I just finished filming my EPK. That will give people an insight into who Young Flame is, what I'm doing, and where I'm trying to go. I record this weekend with a hip-hop artist from Chicago. He liked my piece I Just Wanna Be in Like so much that he's doing a piece called, In Like. He flipped it and he wants me to write a piece talking about what ever happened to old school love, why is everybody liking each other instead of truly being in love. I'm hoping that my performance on the TVOne Live event will give me a spot on their Season 2 of Verses and Flow. I just got signed with a talent agency that will give me more print work, modeling, and acting projects. I'm also working on my next project, Journey of a Thought which I'm very excited about.
UnRated: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Young Flame: I hope that my poetry is branded in such a way that I finally get to perform with Jill Scott or Common, or at least they know my name. And I see myself making an impact on both young people and people my age as well. If I can do that, I'm winning!
Visit www.young-flame.com to check out more of Young Flame's work!
Interview conducted by Sommer Thornton May 2012.