In 2007, D.C. area based spoken word poet/not-a-rapper/musician Bomani Armah (“poet with a hip-hop style, not a rapper,”) was a familiar face in the DMV’s underground entertainment scene. He’d been well received by audiences and media alike — The Washington Post called him “one of the more entertaining voices in a local spoken word scene that’s overflowing with talent.” Armah’s growing popularity quickly skyrocketed thanks to one of the earliest examples of social media creating massive buzz around an area artist — the release of his song “Read A Book.”
The satirical song was first released on My Space, and those familiar with Armah’s tongue-in-cheek style of lyricism were amused at the song’s insistence that listeners “read a book, read a book, read a muthafuckin’ book” (along with recommending drinking water, using deoderant, brushing your teeth, raising your kids, and buying some land.) Armed with a sample of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a thinly-veiled imitation of Li’l Jon (“ooookkkkaaayyyy!!!”), and a crunk music sound, “Read A Book” took off. It quickly became an even bigger phenomenon when the animated music video was released.
The video was first aired nationally on BET’s “106 and Park” in June, and soon Armah found his work being criticized by everyone from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times. Reverend Jesse Jackson’s PUSH Coalition even took time out to criticize Armah, saying “…the video is plenteously scornful and insulting, but not of crassness. The video insults reading, personal hygiene, family values and frugality. ‘Read a Book’ heaps scorn on positive values and (un)intentionally celebrates ignorance. The narrator is obviously illiterate, unkempt and disrespectful. ”
Anyway, Armah did parlay the controversy into some media appearances, including CNN…
…while “Read A Book” has gone viral — to date has gotten over four million views on You Tube. Today you can find Bomani still doing his independent artist thing in the D.C. area as a poet, producer, musician and recording aritst, and his activities include homeschooling his twin sons and serving as Director of Poetry Events for Busboys and Poets.