Theo Wilson is the ultimate Denver artivist. In his guise as Lucifury, he was a founding member of the Slam Nuba poetry slam, and his artistic reach includes everything from acting and songwriting to inspirational talks on the TEDx stage. More than a performer, Wilson is a member of the community, an activist and a teacher who gives back to his neighbors, organizing forums in barbershops and working with the anti-bullying nonprofit Rachel’s Challenge. Here are Wilson’s well-rounded answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Theo Wilson: Without a doubt, Wangari Maathai from Kenya’s Greenbelt movement. It felt weird being a black kid caring about the rainforest where I grew up, so far removed from the problem. Yet it kept me awake at night. At school, they told me that the lungs of the planet were going away. Well, my gramma died of lung cancer, and I loved her very much, and this felt the same way as the thought of losing her.
I first heard of Wangari on NPR one day, and she was literally giving the lungs back to the planet. The very thought that mankind could go from “stain” to “steward” of the planet, accelerating the healing of the world, was borderline intoxicating.
I would want to know how she persisted through the hard times. She literally changed the world, physically. They planted over 30 million trees, and their evaporation changed the weather in Kenya. Her legacy is a blueprint for creating a literally more alive planet. And she did it in Africa, with nothing but people who looked like me caring about the rainforest. My desire to help the planet wasn’t so culturally out of place after all.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
I’m in love with Lupita N’Yongo because she’s what God looks like. But Naomi Campbell is dark and beautiful, too. What made Lupita stand out was her articulation of what it felt like to suffer under Eurocentric beauty norms. The idea that this goddess could even begin to feel ugly because the universe painted her the same color as itself was mind-boggling. I sat at my laptop, transfixed. British accents on black women are hawt, anyway, but the mind behind this beauty hit all my sapiosexual buttons. After drooling and crying profusely at fate for not making me famous enough to be in her circle, I deepened my compassion for Black women in general. Guys go through stuff similar to this, but women’s value as a whole rises and falls on the male gaze too often.
Black women, in particular, have endured a special kind of psychological torture, and to see her rise above it was delicious. Her meteoric rise to prominence took a lot of women’s self-esteem with it. I pray a happy twist of fate has her read these words one day. What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
The death of “trap music” wouldn’t find me at its funeral, or with a single misty eye. As a poet and a lyricist in general, I have been waiting for over a decade for lyrically dense and creative rap music to resurge and whet the popular appetite for more. Having grown up on the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac and Eminem, I need people to be disgusted by trap music to feel normal again in this respect. I’m kidding, but not really.
It’s one thing to think that music is just music and will stay in the realm of entertainment. Once you realize the neurological impact of words, mantras and rhythm on the human mind, especially the developing human mind, you see it for the poison that it is. Any rapper who doesn’t think their music affects children should get into disguise, go to any inner-city middle-school playground and just listen. Observe who these kids are trying to be. See how they make any mentors and teachers who want to help these kids the collateral damage of their words. Trap music doesn’t affect kids with a strong parental counterbalance. But how many kids in the ’hood are without that element?
What's your day job?
I work in the wonderful world of finance. Develops the other part of my brain, the one that deals with boredom. Trying not to adapt effectively.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
After working in finance, I realized that money is a technology that fails most of its users. If your cell-phone company left as many people out of service as this financial system, it would be terminated. Therefore, I’d use this huge sum of money in the current money system to create a brand-new system of trade and resource exchange that makes money, as we know it, obsolete. A system that honors the planet and expedites its recovery.
Scarcity and poverty is artificial. It’s as man-made as slavery or prison. However, since the banking elite control the production of currency, we clamor like ducks in the park for the scraps; we’ll even kill for it. Our technology has out-evolved war. Ironically, it came from war. We just don’t need to take from other people anymore. In fact, we need them.
We’ve already engineered solutions to virtually every problem on Earth, but our collective agreement that money equals wealth has thwarted us with artificial barriers to progress. There is no wealth but human creativity and skills. Name a big-ticket item, a private jet, a mansion, even your own skyscraper, and notice that a human designed and built it. The two billion people living on two dollars a day is a catastrophe that history will wonder why we didn’t address sooner. Truthfully, with the icecaps are melting so quickly and so many of the global poor living on coastlines, there’s really no bigger emergency to address. All else is vanity. Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
The weed-industry boom makes me wanna puke sometimes. This “accidentally elitist” lockout of the little guy in marijuana is just painful. Observe how the industry is predominantly white. It’s because the War on Drugs targeted black and brown folk. What convenient amnesia we have. The crime policies of the ’90s colored the face of the weed industry of the 2010s. It’s just gross to me that nobody even considers this.
The weed we can smoke over the counter is five times as potent as the weed these guys are locked up for. All the black people who knew how to grow bud are serving life sentences for something that is now legal, and nobody from the weed industry seems to give a shit about it. I remember all this damn activism to legalize weed. Where are these guys for retroactive repeals of drug-crime sentences? They’re sitting on a stack of cash a mile high, pun intended.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
The corporate radio monopoly on the FM channels must be broken. Either that, or these stations must be scrapped, especially in hip-hop. Local artists need major rotation in prime-time air space. The fact that this is not done for our best local artists, especially rap artists, is borderline oppressive. It’s disgusting and reprehensible how we already know the formula for breaking a major artist in a city: Get them on the radio and accumulate a fan base. We’ve been knowing this since Frank Sinatra was a kid. What do these corporate conglomerates do? Play the fear game and hope that some other place will prove the artists are valuable, and then they hop on the bandwagon. No risk and reward, all profit and repetition.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I like Cici, aka Cicely O’kain. She’s a singer and a phenomenal performer. She recently sang the national anthem for the Denver Broncos' pre-season opener, and shut it down. She can also write a song and is quite easy on the eyes. Her range, vocal agility and overall stage presence make for a show worthy of any diva you would have paid top dollar for in the past. You name them — Whitney, Celine, Mariah — nothing they can do is out of her capability…except sell out Madison Square. That’s because the world doesn’t know her…yet. What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I’m being courted by a few speaking agencies because of a few viral Facebook videos. Poetry taught me the art of delivering content in a compelling way, so I began to make a vlog on Facebook. In a year, I had 2.5 million views combined. Content is what a lot of people struggle with. I’ve been gifted to generate it effortlessly. They saw this, and became interested in me beyond poetry, but also as a lecturer. If I join them, I will be in the company of some powerful individuals.
That, and songwriting. Turns out, if you can play the piano and write poetry, the inevitable will happen. They will start to commingle, and then before you know it, a song-baby! A colleague of mine at Rachel’s Challenge by the name of Kristi Krings won the John Lennon songwriting contest. She urged me to apply, and I was a finalist on my first try. Going for the top prize this year. The rest of my plans will unfold due to these outcomes.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
It’s a toss-up between singer-songwriter John Shockness, aka Kid Astronavt (spelled that way on purpose), and the Latin groove band Los Mocochetes. Kid Astronavt can actually sing: no gimmicks, no studio magic — he just has a legit, pure soul voice with a hell of a range, and he can play the guitar. Astronavt’s voice is record-quality sound in real time, with perfect pitch and not missing a note.
Los Mocochetes are an absolute riot. All of them are excellent musicians and powerful stage performers. They have a new-school mariachi feel, but they incorporate hip-hop and perform like rockers. These guys book tours on sight, no questions asked. They do a lot of work out of Youth on Record. Their front man, Joshua R. Abeyta, is actually a music teacher and vocal instructor at “I Can Jam” studios, so he knows what he’s doing. Look for these guys to pop soon.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.