I went to G's Jamaican Cuisine on a recent Tuesday night because the hip-hop scene is divided in half. No, I didn't think an order of oxtails or jerk chicken would solve the problem or seal the division. (Though it would make an interesting movie to adhere two rappers together using a powerful glue made from goat curry, conjoined-twin style -- one a hip-hop kid, the other a gangsta rapper -- and make them run from the sheriff, becoming best friends in the process.) Rather, I went because I'd heard that G's, a storefront joint on Troost near 79th Street, hosted an open-mic night that had begun doing for the hard rap scene what Hip-Hop and Hotwings at the Peanut Downtown has been doing for the conscious hip-hop scene.
So, I went all Jen Chen and gathered a research assistant in Nadia Pflaum, a colleague of mine and a hip-hop aficionado. Also, there's no better protection for a white-as-hell music editor than an attractive female companion.
Walking into G's around 10:30, however, was like walking into some kind of trap. The problem was maybe six people total were there, and one of them was doing stand-up comedy. After paying the fucking outrageous $5 cover (no wonder no one was there -- geez, G's!), not only were we immediately identified as Pitch staffers because I'd called there earlier in the day to see if the open mic was on (fuck you, caller ID!), the guy on the mic immediately started talking to us.
He asked if we were a couple. I said no, we weren't. "Oh, y'all are just sleeping together, then?" I spread my hands and shrugged and said, "No, it's totally platonic." The host replied that he thought that only happened on TV. For a moment, the spotlight shifted off us, but, oh, it would return.
The place had a vaguely tropical bar along one wall, a Rastafarian-looking door man, and a big dining area with cheap tables, fluorescent lighting, and, in back, a carpeted stage flanked by huge PA speakers. Nothing fancy, but it wasn't a total dive, either.
Next, the host, whose name was Daz (NOTE: I'm guessing at the spelling of all the names in this entry) and who had confessed to having smoked a good deal of weed before the evening had begun, instructed us to take a seat at one of the tables near the stage. An older black couple — a full 40% of the audience — appeared to take us under their wing by inviting us to sit at their table. Their names were Forrest and Jaquita. At that point, I was still pretty eager to see what the night would offer.
Daz asked me and Nadia why we'd come to G's. I said it was to see some hip-hop. "Oh, you want some hip-hop," was the gist of his reply. After getting the audience to clap together on a beat, Daz launched into an "Acapulco" rap (his word for "acapella") that had some lyrics about being a gangsta and driving around with a gun and having a hard life or something. The lyrics were a little too serious for me at that point, but Daz's Acapulco style was pretty cool, and at least I got the chance to show that I can keep a beat. The rest of the night, Daz was actually pretty damn funny. I wasn't sure about the tattoo on his forearm, however: Mickey Mouse with horns and giant erection under the words "horny little devil."
Daz later would say that this night's been going for years without a single incident of violence. I'd heard a similar claim from a promoter and artist named F.L.O. (not to be confused with the popular Midtown dragqueen), who has put on 25 or so G-rap shows at various places including El Torreon and G's without a fight or shooting. Also, I should mention that Joe Good was my tipster on the night at G's because he's performed there before. I asked him to come out with me and Nadia, but he was recording. By his, Daz's and F.L.O.'s accounts, sometimes the mic night at G's actually draws a crowd.
A rapper named Precision came up next. He was rail thin with the typical big T-shirt, baggy shorts and sneakers. He set a precedent that would be followed by most of the other performers that night — I swear, they just started coming out of the woodworks — and that was rapping over already-recorded vocals. He was rapping over himself, basically, along with doubled or tripled backing vocal tracks. It sounded like there were four Precisions up there, three on tape and one in the flesh. Nadia pointed this out as being not quite up to professional standards.
Our tablemate, Forrest, was then invited to take the mic, which surprised me because the dude seemed pretty mellow. About 40 years old, wearing sweats and a ball cap, he looked like a Chiefs superfan on a day off. When he got going on the mic, though, things started getting really interesting.
He stood in front of the stage, about seven feet from me, and his comedy routine consisted of making fun of everyone in the room — mostly me. He asked me if I'd ever smoked a blunt. I said no. "You haven't?" came Nadia's voice over my shoulder in a sort of "you're still a virgin?" note of surprise.
"No, I just smoke joints," said I. "But I smoke a LOT of them," I lied.
"We call those white boys," said Forrest.
I think he then made a few half-joking comments about white-vs.-black pot consumption. I remember saying, "Yeah, that's what we do — get high and listen to Pink Floyd."
It was then that he pointed out that my ears had turned a bright shade of red. Shit. He had me, and I played even deeper into his hands by saying, "Come on! It's not fair! You people don't have to worry about that."
"Us people!?" shouted Forrest. "What do you mean, 'US PEOPLE'!?"
"You know, blunt smokers," I said tentatively, not sure whether I had really said something offensive, and probably only making it worse by inadvertently implying that all black people smoke blunts.
"Go on, say it," Forrest bellowed. "Niggers. Say it! Niggers. Say it..." he was moving closer to me, and before I new it, the mic was to my mouth.
"I love you," I said, weakly.
Forrest laughed. "He said, 'I love you.'" I don't know if anyone else laughed, but, however lamely, I had saved my own skin. At the end of his routine, Forrest credited Nadia and I with being black under our white trappings, adding that my head was too big for a white guy, anyway.
When Forrest returned to our table he became serious and silent, a complete 180, because evidently Jaquita had not enjoyed his routine. Perhaps he shouldn't have done that bit about what a drag it is being married (I forgot to mention that). A white guy making a comment about racial differences in a black club may be close to social suicide, but hell hath no fury like a woman pissed at a dopey husband. I know this from personal experience, too, and Forrest, all I can say, man, is I hope you're right with Jesus.
There was some more karaoke-style rap and at least one R&B number. The best act of the night consisted of two women half-singing-half-rapping and all-booty-shakin' without benefit of a backing vocal track. But honestly, there was nothing to justify either the $5 cover OR the $5 well rum and coke that came in an airline-sized cup.
That doesn't mean I won't go back, though. I'd take a roasting from a guy like Forrest any day of the week. It's always good to be reminded that having a master's degree in English just ain't 'hood.