“They’re gonna get these BARZ,” impenetrable words spoken by the incomparable, award winning spoken word artist, community activist, visual artist and entrepreneur, Jermaine “mainMAN” Monroe. Besides being a dope poet, mainMAN also known as Main, hosted a No.1 Hip-Hop Radio Talk Show “Radio Unfriendly.” Crowned the Spoken Word Artist of the Year in 2019 and was the NC Poetry Society Gilbert-Chappell Fellowship Recipient, he was the embodiment of creative expression. In addition, the ill emcee was an extraordinary visual artist, entrepreneur, and self-described sneakerhead owning more than 250 pairs. Main always found ways to gave back to the community whether it was through his youth mentoring program M.A.D.E. (Make A Difference Everyday) or in partnership with various community organizations. However, it was his unconditional love and deep generosity which left an irreplaceable imprint on everyone he encountered, as he lived by his own creed, “give them their flowers while they can still smell them.”
Jermaine LeJuan Jackson Monroe was born on August 20, 1971, in Moore County, North Carolina, to Deborah Jackson Spencer (an accountant) and Mitch Cadel (a professional storyteller). Raised by his mother and stepfather, Lonnie Monroe (an Airforce Serviceman) Main and his younger sister Kendra Monroe (Deandre) grew up on a military base.
Main was extremely active at an early age. As his mother explained “he was always doing stuff, always up to something.” At the age of three, he showed a great interest in drawing. As a child, he would draw pictures that closely resembled the comics he enjoyed reading. In grade school, his parents enrolled him in art classes.
During this period, his entrepreneurial wings began to take flight. In grade school Main would sell candy to his classmates, earning him some extra money. He also owned a wrist watch that played virtual video games in which he would charge students a quarter to play.
As a youth, he was multi-industrious. From busing tables at the military officer’s club, to running a paper route, lawncare business, and working at a grocery store, he stayed very active in earning his own money. To top things off, he was technology savvy. Main’s ability to do anything would eventually lead to the nickname “Renaissance Man.”
Yet, it was his hysterical sense of humor that earned him the repetition of being a jokester. Oftentimes he would prank family members and friends. He once played an April Fool’s joke on his parents by having a police officer pretend he was being arrested. As the story goes, during his adolescence he owned a lemon car, which was known to perpetually break down. During these unpredictable moments, he would often receive an escorted ride home from a community police officer. On this particular day while being escorted home, he devised a prank with the officer, who willingly played along. While Main stood at the front door of his home in handcuffs, appearing to be under arrest and distraught, both his parents watched him in total shock and dismay. However, moments later bursts of laughter filled the air after hearing him say “April Fool’s Day.”
At the age of seventeen, Main graduated from Wheatland High School in California and immediately joined the United States Army where he served in the Gulf War. After four years of military service, he pursued his love of art and zest for business. He attended Sandhill’s Community College where he earned an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and graduated in 1996. He later attended the Art Institute of Charlotte where he studied Graphic Design and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in 2003.
He went on to start several businesses, as well as, business ventures, including mainATTRACTIONs a Multimedia Marketing Firm, mainTAINment a production company, mainFrame his own clothing line and mainGAMES, a variety of trivia-styled games in which he played host Main Winkleberry.
It was 2017 when Main took the world of spoken word poetry by storm. From competing and winning in numerous poetry slams, to performing all over the country as a poet feature, he honed his craft at local open mics and performance shows. Hailed as a dope poet and a giant amongst his peers, Main’s larger than life personality, authenticity, quick humor, and intellect coupled with his extraordinary ability to tell stories, never ceased to leave crowds wanting more.
That same year, he became the Greensboro Grand Slam Poetry Champion for winning the Wordplay Poetry Slam held in Greensboro NC. Later in December, he joined forces with W.O.R.D. Society, a vibrant collaboration of spoken word artists & performers who performed throughout the region, but most notably at “Word Of Mouth Wednesday’s” a poetry event in Winston Salem, NC. This dynamic league of artists coined the phrase “3 fingers up” sealed with the “w” hand sign. Main was an integral part of the team, as with many other organizations he was aligned with.
His tribe of talented artists continued to expand, particularly when he joined the Bull City Slam Team in 2018. Competing in Jambalaya Soul Slam’s Afrofuturism Poetry Slam, he won first place and was celebrated as the embodiment of Afrofuturism. His style and charisma with words were unmatched.
In 2019, Main won the Spoken Word Artist of the Year Bloc Award. The following year, he became the recipient of the 2020 NC Poetry Society Gilbert-Chappell Fellowship. Despite his growing success, numerous accolades, and rigorous schedule, he always made time to pay it forward by serving the youth. Main’s advocacy for helping others gave birth to his youth mentoring program called “M.A.D.E.” (Make A Difference Everyday). He ran youth workshops impacting the lives of students within the local community. He also partnered with other youth focused organizations such as “Kids Poetry Basketball,” a sports-literacy program that teaches literacy through poetry & basketball as well as “The Poetry Project,” an organization that teaches poetry to help build better communities. He participated as a workshop facilitator and an active judge for high school and college poetry slam competitions.
As a visual artist, Main created and sold a plethora of original paintings and prints. Some of his paintings are included in a local art exhibition “SOULiloquies,” curated by Terrence Walker a fellow W.O.R.D. Society member, founder of Heavy Energy University and the co-founder of S.O.U.L. Society NC. This interactive art exhibit, which debuted in 2021, celebrates Black Legends and has garnered a lot of attention on black history and black culture. One of Main’s prominent paintings featured in the exhibit is “Mother Nurturer.”
Main’s love for Hip-Hop served as a catalyst for his work as a music producer and
writer. His fiancé, Tyamica Mabry revealed, “He has a whole catalog of music he hasn’t shared with the world.” So when it came to hosting “Radio Unfriendly,” the highly successful Hip-Hop Radio Talk Show, naturally he was in his element. With an audience of approximately 13K, his listeners tuned in weekly to vibe to the music and to hear in-depth conversations about news, culture, Hip-Hop history, and trivia. “Ya unfriendly neighborhood mainMAN” held interviews with some of the greatest lyricists, rhymers, and recording artists in the Carolinas, discussing all things unfriendly. “Radio Unfriendly” was telecasted on both WHUP 104.7 FM and WAVE 87.9 FM, and was accessible on all major podcast platforms from Apple to Spotify. The successful show ran for three seasons and was nominated by “YES! Weekly” for “2020 Podcast of the Year.” It was also featured in “Indy Week” as one of the best podcasts.
On August 18, 2021, things took an unexpected turn. Main had passed away from complications due to COVID-19, just two days shy of his 50th birthday. Multiple ceremonies and memorial celebrations were held in his honor. His memory continues to live on through his creative works and through his grand luminescence in which he shined on everyone he encountered.
AWARDS & HONORS:
- 2017 Greensboro Grand Slam Poetry Champion Wordplay
- 2018 Afrofuturism Poetry Slam Winner
- 2019 Bloc Award: Spoken Word Artist of the Year
- 2020 NC Poetry Society Gilbert-Chappell Fellowship Recipient
- 2020 Podcast of the Year Nomination
- Detour Grand Slam Champion
- Bliss Talk Award
- Rap Gods Board Game Character
- M.A.D.E. (Make A Difference Everyday) Program, owner/organizer
- W.O.R.D. Society
- Bull City Slam Team
- Kids Poetry Basketball
- The Poetry Project
ADDITIONAL LIST OF HOBBIES & SKILLS
- Building things with wood (contractor work)
- Sneaker design, refurbishment, & resells
- Web design
- Graphic design: Flyers, logos, cd covers, etc…
- Video editing
- Created and sold Earrings
- Designed and sold T-shirts
- Actor/Model featured in the following films/projects:
- Herb Train
- Sacred Path
- Caking Up
- 2021 “Recreate” Black History Calendar (Bill Withers)
- Writer: books, novels, children’s books, script writer, song writer
“I play Chess not Checkers.”
“Give people their flowers while they can smell them.”
“Any day I’m 10 toes down is a good day for me.”
“They’re gonna get these barz.”
“I still have my high school basketball sneakers and I still wear them.”
“I didn’t like what I was hearing on the radio so I created my own show.”
“I like long walks on short beaches.”
“I’m a sneakerhead.”
“I don’t do Instaham and social medias, I prefer in person conversations.“
“I’m a hugger.”
“I don’t have friends, I have family.”
“I’m just regular. Other people just aren’t doing enough.”
“I wear my sneakers. Shoes are meant to be worn. Houses are made to be lived in. We can’t take none of this stuff with us.”
Photograph: Jermaine “mainMain” Monroe
Edited by Jasmine Mallory
Special thanks to Deborah Jackson Spencer “Momma Main” for sharing Main with the world and for taking a moment to interview with me. Also to his Queen, fiancé Tyamica Mabry for contributing as well.