KC Soundcheck: Unique and Marjai Neal
Unique Sixteen and Marjai Neal are poets, both born and raised in Kansas City. One uses poetry to fight injustice and the other discovered the arts through hardship.
The two Kansas City poets on this installment of Up to Date’s KC Soundcheck are showing listeners the way poetry can be used to heal and endure tough times.
Unique Hughley, who performs as Unique Sixteen, was born and raised in Kansas City. He’s performed at poetry slams, competitions, protests and concerts around Kansas City, and he makes music.
At first, Unique wasn't interested in poetry. The first time he tried to get in to Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, he auditioned as a rapper and didn't make it. He auditioned for a second time and performed poetry instead, which led to his acceptance.
Growing up in Kansas City, Unique said, he didn't have it easy. He was surrounded by drugs, and family members were incarcerated. Once he found poetry, though, it was a way to "free himself," he said.
"I think at the beginning of my life, I was born with this fear of jail bars, you know, and that's kind of like rapping and poetry, you're rapping bars," Unique said. "So the moment I got a chance to free myself from that, I did."
Marjai Neal is also a product of Kansas City, and her talent has granted her opportunities to be featured on the "Today" show and being introduced to Opera.
Neal experienced homelessness at a young age, and sometimes wondered where her next meal would come from. But Neal didn't let those circumstances keep her from reaching her goals. Neal grew up in a house full of women, and credits her mom and two sisters for setting an example of how to stay strong.
"Having to protect and love, guide each other, all while going to school or trying to make ends meet or figuring out where we're gonna lay our head was very scary," Neal said. "But it also brought us super closer together."
Neal always used writing as away to harness her array of emotions. But it wasn't until a senior approached her to join the poetry team in high school that Neal found her love for the art.
- Unique Hughley, poet and rapper
- Marjai Neal, poet