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Words First: Are you the next spoken word star?

14 May 2021

BBC Radio 1Xtra, BBC Asian Network and BBC Contains Strong Language are again working together to find the best emerging spoken word talent in the UK. Whether you are influenced by poetry, lyricism, rap or hip hop – we want to hear from you! We are looking for people with a real passion for spoken word (in any form) who are keen to develop their skills.

The story of Words First 2019

A BBC 1Xtra, BBC Asian Network and BBC Contains Strong Language collaboration.

What is Words First?

Words First is a talent development scheme that will run throughout 2021. Selected artists will be given the chance to attend digital workshops in July and August 2021, where they will work with established artists and mentors to develop their work, and be given a platform to perform their own work at digital showcases.

I can’t wait to hear and see the talent we find through this year's Words First project. Whether it’s spoken word, rap or poetry - it will be amazing and I am honoured to be this year’s ambassador.
Lady Leshurr

Lady Leshurr, the British rapper, singer, songwriter, 1Xtra DJ, and producer, has been appointed as an ambassador for Words First 2021. She will provide guidance and mentoring for the finalists throughout the scheme.

Among others, British poet Malika Booker and Words First alumni Isaiah Hull will be working with the 12 selected artists in talent masterclasses.

There will be a Summer showcase performance at the Contains Strong Language Festival 2021 in Coventry, where shortlisted artists from the digital workshops will be invited to perform (further details on nature of performance i.e. remotely or in person to be confirmed in due course). The finale of the scheme will be broadcast on BBC Radio 1Xtra at the end of the year.

Additionally, throughout the scheme selected artists will be mentored and supported by the BBC and a fantastic network of regional poetry organisations including Young Identity, Apples & Snakes, Neu! Reekie!, New Writing North, and Nine Arches Press.

1Xtra previously ran the Words First scheme in 2015 - 2017 with support from George The Poet and Kojey Radical, and the finalists included Isaiah Hull, Amina Jama, Solomon O.B., Reuben Field, Liam McCormick and Asma Elbadawi. They all performed at The Roundhouse in 2016 and at the Contains Strong Language Festival in 2017, and Isaiah went on to perform at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2016.

Words First finalists in 2019 and 2020 were later commissioned by BBC Arts to create a series of films for BBC Learning and iPlayer. Last year’s finalists were asked to respond to the word protest and what it meant to them.

To take part this time, simply upload a short performance video. Entries open on 14 May 2021, and videos should be no more than 1 minute long. As this is a spoken word talent search, videos with a backing track or other music will not be accepted, so please perform on silence. Your video application must be submitted before entries close at 23:59, 11 June 2021.

Follow the links to the entry form and Terms and Conditions below, but please read the FAQs underneath before you enter.

Lady Leshurr, Words First 2021 ambassador
Lady Leshurr performing at Glastonbury in 2016
Malika Booker

Words First on film

Words First



How long will the workshop(s) take?
The workshops will take place over six weeks, starting from the week commencing 19th July, a week break taking place the week commencing 16th August and then concluding the week commencing 23rd August.

The available slots are: Monday at 13:00 – 15:30, Tuesday at 19:00 – 21:30, Wednesday at 10:00 – 12:30, Thursday at 11:00 – 13:30, and Friday at 13:00 – 15:30.

If selected, the poetry organisation hosting your allocated workshop sessions will be in touch, providing you with the relevant workshop details.

Who will be running the workshop(s)?
Workshops will be conducted by a variety of tutors where you will explore writing, performing, editing and developing an authentic voice. Each tutor shall have experience in performing and facilitating such workshops.

How much does the workshop cost?
The workshops are free of charge for selected participants to attend. You do, however, need a laptop or device which can connect to the internet. If you have a specific need, please provide us with details.


What if I’ve never performed in public before?
The workshops are for amateur spoken word artists of all levels, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been performing for years.

What do you mean by spoken word?
‘Spoken word’ is a tricky one to define but you can check out BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Spoken Word Explained for more information.

Ultimately, Words First is an open call for spoken word artists, rappers, MCs, poets and performers – so if you create work in any of these forms, we want to hear from you.

What quality does my video need to be?
You can record it on your mobile phone, a webcam or whatever you like – as long as it’s a clear recording and we’re able to hear and see you clearly.

How do I record and upload a video of myself?
You don’t have to use professional equipment to make your recording – the quality of video will not be judged. You could simply use a webcam on your laptop or on a computer at a local library, or use the video feature on your phone or a camera (or maybe ask a friend if you don’t have access to a camera that records).

If you need help on recording your video, there are lots of guides and tutorials on ‘how to record a video of yourself’ available on the internet. Once you've recorded your video, you can upload it here.

What if my video is over 1 minute long?
It’s fine to submit a video longer than 1 minute, but we will only watch the FIRST minute.

Who will be shortlisting applications?
You will be shortlisted by the Words First Partners, as well as team members at BBC Radio 1Xtra and the BBC editorial team. They aren’t looking for polished performances, just artists who can show their passion, originality and personality.

How will you be contacting the successful participants to join the workshops?
We’ll be in touch with each selected candidate by 9th July 2021. If we don’t hear from you straight away, we’ll send you an email - so be sure to include your contact details in your application.

You will only have 24 hours in which to get back to us – if we can’t get hold of you during this period we will offer that place to another participant, so be sure to get back to us if we leave you a message.

Due to the volume of entries, unsuccessful candidates will not be contacted. Please note the workshops are only open to people aged between 18 to 30 years old.


What will happen to the recording I make of my work that I submit as part of the application process?
Whilst you retain the copyright for your work, the BBC will have a license to publish, broadcast and release your video online, or on any other platforms.

Please read the Terms and Conditions for more information. Video submissions cannot be returned, so please remember to retain a copy.

Isaiah Hull at Contains Strong Language in 2018

Spoken Word Explained

Words First Partners

Words First