The Ultimate Battle: Poets vs. Rappers
I originally met Avra (pictured next to the Negro), who's a poet, teacher and general renaissance woman. Avra met Regie Cabico, who's a big poet/comic and was in charge of Friday nights at The Poetry Project. Regie offered Avra the time and space, Avra mentioned it to me, and soon after the PvR concept was born. Afterwards I found out from Regie it was the first time a hip hop show was done at The Project. And so it's nice to know we were part of building that bridge from the Allen Ginsberg Beat era to the contemporary Hip Hop era.
I originally envisioned it as debate style competition. There would be two teams. And a moderator would pose questions to a team member. The member would respond through their artistic medium of choice (poetry or rapping), and of course the audience would decide the victor. Though we were planning for everyone to be winners.
The show itself went ok. The days before, as probably any show producer will have stories about, it seemed like everything we had worked to put in place was falling apart. In particular, I was having trouble booking emcees who were willing to do The Poetry Project for no $. Even with "proceeds going to benefit Urban Word Slam Team." I'd be like, "we're doing a show at The Poetry Project." And they'd be like, "the poetry what?!?" And I'd be like, "it's at St. Mark's Church." And they'd be like, "yo son, you doing shows in churches now. Damn, you slipping dog. I know you trying to broaden your range and ish, but nah son, I can't be rapping up in no churches for no dough."
And I couldn't argue a lot. It was new for me too. We were in a church, in a white room, with little in the way of ambient decorations. No bar. Just four white walls and chairs.
Eventually I found a couple guys at the last second. Eddie Caine and Giovonni Supreme. I had no history with them, but they turned out to be excellent performers and really saved me.
In addition to the booking issues, we had some performer lateness the day of the show. Eventually we had to reshuffle our whole set order, and we started at least a half hour late. And that's a half hour later than our intended start time, not the incorrect start time that was published in the Village Voice. So some people were there an hour or more waiting. Luckily it was held in a church, with a lot of poetry fans, so all they did was furrow their brows and look confused, instead of starting some real problems which may have popped off at a hip hop spot. In the end this actually turned out to be a nice positive, as I was concerned about turnout, but we ended up with a line outside the project and people squeezing into a packed room. Ch-Ching.
Anyways, to wrap this up, because everything was so late, and because I did a horrible job of managing the festivities as emcee, particularly in terms of getting myself and others off the stage in a quick fashion to make up for lost time, a lot of people had to leave before the main event. So many who came missed the actual battle. But the end result was the battle was great. And the performers were wonderful. The emcees rocked the crowd, the poets, all of whom I think had Def Poetry Jam experience, showed they didn't need a music track. Those that did stick around I think enjoyed the back-and-forth. The concept translated very well, and it was a fun show. It was my first time producing a show, so I chalk up the sloppy execution to inexperience. I do think we'll do it again, much bigger and better. If we get the right elements in place it could even become a series.
Here are some of the (linkable) performers:
Michael Cirelli/Urban Word
If you read this and you're a performing poet or emcee interested in the concept, give me a holla. theassimilatednegro [at] gmail [dot] com
PS - The show had an epilogue in that the performer Kelly Tsai was the one who helped put me in contact with my newly-discovered sister. Now that's a postscript for your arse.
PPS - Who's got a hot-ass Urban Arts blog now? Vote For TAN!