As part of The Baltimore Sun's Fall Arts Guide, reporters and critics picked 10 up-and-comers whose names you should get to know. See the full list here.
Neptune the Poet, 23, poet
On a hot weekday in June, Neptune the Poet stood on a stage outside Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore, where hundreds had gathered to pay respects to Lor Scoota, the local rapper many students here called their favorite. She was there to recite her poem, "Black Boy Blues."
"Black boy, you do matter / Black boy, you are valuable / Black boy, you are king, you are resilient," Neptune said to the crowd, many of whom were exactly the intended audience for the work.
Weeks later, sitting outside Dovecote Café, Neptune admits she initially didn't want to perform because "when young people are killed, it just makes my skin crawl." She fought through her reluctance, knowing the opportunity to connect with children was too important to ignore.
"It was a very surreal moment," Neptune, born Alanna Dixon, said. "This poem could save someone's life, somebody who is listening to it right out here."
Graduating in May 2015 from Mount St. Mary's University with a degree in communications, the D.C. native moved to Baltimore five months later. Since then, the 23-year-old has thrown herself completely into the city's spoken-word scene. She performs often at open-mic nights, including one of her favorites, Big Guy's regular "Love and Hip-Hop" event at St. Mary's Restaurant in Charles Village.
Neptune delivers raw meditations on racial inequality and inner-city violence, but also self-worth and pride. Rap slang and curse words juxtapose with history lessons and references to black leaders like Nat Turner and Marcus Garvey. Some may flinch at certain word choices, but Neptune said her vernacular is essential to her truth.
"My role models range from Malcolm X and Janelle Monae, and these are people who are unapologetic in how they express themselves," she said. "For the people who don't receive it, they just don't receive it. But I always ask that people open their minds and their hearts to receive what I have to say."
Aaron Maybin, the former NFL player and local artist, was part of the committee that chose the poets to perform at the celebration for Lor Scoota. He described Neptune as a "master craftsman with words."
"She gives you rhythm and really in-depth syntax. She has a really firm grasp of language and dialect," Maybin said. "Neptune is versatile enough where she can do pretty much anything she wants."
Neptune doesn't yet aim to write a book, but she is working on music. (She raps, citing Ms. Lauryn Hill and Andre 3000 as major inspirations.) She is here, foremost, "to create," and Baltimore is the perfect backdrop to do so.
"There are some of the best artists I've ever seen here, and I feel like it's only going to get better," Neptune said. "We have to put in the work to make that happen, but I believe that it will."