“Hunneds!” “Hunneds!!” “HUNNEDS!!!”
Victory chants, growing in volume and fervor as the maestro stood in defiance, holding up the now-unfolded, cartoonishly-large, fake C-notes. A half-dozen more, newly minted at the local Party City, strew at the base of the modest stage that doubled as a pulpit for the night’s sermon.
The congregation approved, seamlessly slipping out of attentive focus and into raucous celebration. On this temperate Friday evening, The Norwood—a Chelsea townhouse turned private social club—was transformed into what one could only closely describe as a libations-fueled, post-holiday dinner session held in the living room at Sue’s Rendezveous. A disco ball enhancing the textures of the show’s revolving cast of characters. At its center, in front of the imagined stacked television sets, MrJeffDess plays the starring role as your favorite cousin doing your favorite impersonation of your favorite uncle. All Ignorance being amnestied within the confines of rose-pink walls and pop-art.
And the maestro is fully aware of this tightrope of duality he effortlessly glides. Jeffery Dessources is 32, yet doesn’t look a day older than the college students he teaches during the day as a professor in Brooklyn. The Jamaica, Queens native–clad in a black t-shirt, vintage frames, and multicolored socks cushioning a pair of standard Chuck Taylors— would probably have an easier time slinking into one of his classes late than his most adept pupil.
Tonight, he and his collective, The House of Haiku, present “Turn Down for Naught," a live accompaniment for his recently released book of haikus, Deconstructing Ratchet. With a fervor, charm, and presence rivaling the infamous viral celebrities he calls his muses, Dess looks to inform a larger public of the intricacies of one of its most used, misused, and abused terms. Between the book and the live show, Dess & Co. manage to cover the nail-art tapestry that blankets our current pop-culture. In one sitting, you can obtain the oral histories of now ancient keywords such as “UOENO” and “Sharkeisha," to their more contemporary counterparts “THOT” and "Yeet!”. His greatest resource, however, lays in his ability to source his audience for material and opinions, whether offered in turn or during an impromptu break into Atlanta rapper Que’s current radio hit, “OG Bobby Johnson”.
Dess created The House Of Haiku shortly after being gifted a book of haikus by Richard Wright ( his favorite author) and then having a serendipitous encounter that same week with Sonia Sanchez. He started then progressing the spoken word platform he had already been performing to include versions of the sharper, more direct, short form. House of Haiku serves as an outlet to develop his themed, one-man shows, flanking his persona with a diverse cast of characters. The show stealer of tonight was Brittany Henderson, an innocent, unassuming friend whom he commissioned to invoke the spirit animal of uncut ratchetness, Juicy J, in the form of an inspired jazz and swing version of the genre-defining smash, “Bandz Make Her Dance."
The poet's comfort with dressing up indecency comes from an understanding of the different frames of the human lens. “Deconstruction is my favorite literary concept and I wanted to break this thing down. It’s very esoteric. In the beginning of the book, I ask 12 different people of all ages, races, and genders to define ‘Ratchet’, and they all have different views. It has a multifaceted effect on people. It’s not just ‘Love and Hip Hop’.”
Dess also understood that in order to reach his students, he had to perfect a language that would make “haiku reading this Friday Hight” sound like an exciting start to a young adult’s weekend in 2014. “The only way that you are going to truly transform is to hit them with something you want to hear and mention ratchet culture, but also fool them and have a conversation with them in a format that they can be influenced by into becoming agents of change.” Knowing the uphill battle to galvanize the youth of today, he is constantly perfecting his delivery and seeing what cues work with his exceedingly distracted audience.
“I used to get disappointed when I would talk to kids and walk away like, 'He wasn’t listening’ or ‘She was sleeping’. Then one wold walk up to me and ask for my number to build. I started to think of it like baseball: If you go 4 for 10 your entire career, you’re the greatest of all-time. You’re Ted Williams!”
Understanding the increasing power of the follow and other social media currency, Dess stays set on finding new methods to enhance The House Of Haiku as he gets back to writing and rewriting his show, as well as adding more components – including a pop-up art show.
“Terio is getting paid more than me to go speak to high school kids. The celebrity factor is where it is different. If we had [social media] 15 years ago, we would be turned up too. Everyone in the hood knew who the toughest kid on the block was. The best dancer. The one who pulled the most girls. The prettiest. Now everyone in the world knows.”
Still, even with the curious values of today's youth, he finds hope through humor.
“I had a kid that told me if he doesn’t get 25 likes on an Instagram post he takes the picture down. What!? I got 9 on my last one! (Laughs) … I’m just trying to get off the names and into double digits!”
Truly no cause for concern at all.