You could argue that it's a bit of a cheat to include Ben Zeph in this poll as he's far from just a spoken word artist. He's just as much a written poet, author, musician, and political activist of 30 years. To limit this to a piece about his career in the last decade would be plain silly.
Zephaniah made his name in his hometown of Handsworth, Birmingham writing and performing about issues that plagued the underprivileged and marginalised black and south asian youth. He gained an impassioned reputation for bringing poetry back to the masses by being available and comprehensible. By doing this he began a now booming line of spoken word artists and poets who speak about local, national, and global issues in a way that makes everyone listen.
He eventually came to ends with performing black issues to only black people and so broke out to speak to everyone by moving to London in his twenties. Here he wrote a collection of poems, Pen Rhythm, which not only sold well but when performed, it sent Dub/Reggae poetry through the veins of London. It brought the mainstream knocking at his door.
As his celebrity grew, so did his work. He appeared on television regularly in the eighties and nineties and went on a mission:
...to take poetry everywhere, he hated the dead image that academia and the establishment had given poetry and proclaimed that he was out to popularise poetry by reaching people who did not read books.
And it was everywhere.
To recognise his work, he has received an astounding sixteen Honorary Doctorates. Among his other accolades he publicly rejected an OBE and was considered for Professorship Emeritus of Poetry at Oxford and the small matter of Poet Laureateship.
Eventually, he not only became global as the issues he addresses did, but became one of Britain's greatest ever cultural exports. In the nineties, he performed on every continent by taking his band on the road. He came to the attention of the Marley family and The Wailers and performed with them after Bob Marley's death to create a Nelson Mandela tribute. Not stopping there, in the last ten years, he has performed with Aref Durvesh, Swayzak, and, of course, Sinead O'Connor, rerecording Empire in 2005. His album artwork has been designed by none other than fellow winner, Banksy.
He has inspired and continues to inspire generations of young people to take up writing and performing in order to tell the world what they believe in and what they are about.
If you like Benjamin Zephaniah, you might enjoy:
Image courtesy of Flickr/David Morris