Miss Cleo Looks Forward with Convicted for My Beliefs

Over the past five years, Miss Cleo (born Yourée Dell Harris) has gotten used to ridicule. The former TV psychic has been the butt of a million jokes stemming from her days as spokesperson for the Psychic Readers Network — where she was known as much for her questionable Jamaican lilt as for the three words that may well wind up on her tombstone: "Call me now!" Famously parodied on Chappelle's Show, among many other places, she's now channeled the past half-decade's pain and humiliation into spoken-word material, some of which appears on her recently released CD Convicted for My Beliefs.

The album's eight tracks find Miss Cleo in a far different mood than you might expect. She's left the tarot cards and psychic-speak behind in favor of straight-to-the-gut protest poetry as fierce and passionate as anything released by June Jordan or Nikki Giovanni. At times, Convicted lacks polish and literary charm, but Cleo compensates for that with the kind of biting commentary one might expect in a time of war. The subject matter is modern, encompassing the Don Imus scandal and the NYPD shooting of Sean Bell. But the cadences and palpable fearlessness are more reminiscent of the Last Poets than of today's slam-to-entertain, HBO-type poetry. No tunes, just 44 a cappella minutes of Miss Cleo.

"Sometimes, music can take away from the lyrics on an album," she says. "People are tapping their feet to the beat and not listening to the message." But after hearing Convicted, you can't help but wonder why more artists and writers aren't out on the front lines like she is. "I'm not sure when complacency became the standard, but I will not leave this Earth like that," she says. "I'm tired of being ­complacent."

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Jonathan Cunningham