Been There, Smoked That

If you want street cred at a spoken-word event, it helps to be blunt.

On the last Wednesday in May, during the monthly convergence of the South Florida hip-hop scene at the Poor House (a night also known as "The Art of Moving Butts"), the Night Rider was given a title of distinction.

"This is my homegirl, Marya," said Darin, one of the event promoters, as he introduced me around. He'd remembered me from my days as a spoken-word poet and event organizer at Dada in Delray Beach. His introduction established me as an insider, even though it had been several years since I'd worked the spoken-word (and, by association, rap) circuit.

In a scene were people regularly call one another brotha and sistah, I'd always felt like a redheaded stepcousin. My poetry seldom rhymes predictably, and my golf-community upbringing prevents me from writing about thug life, since I aim to keep it real. So I was grateful for what cred Darin provided me.

Tony Gleeson

I sat at one of the outdoor tables waiting for the "Girls will B-girls" showcase of female rappers to begin, eavesdropping on conversations. These street linguists, dreamers, rhyming revolutionaries — these felt like my people, fellow DIY creative types who lived outside the conventions of society.

"There's a rap scene here in South Florida. We just need the superstars to back us up," DJ Stevie D. asserted to a table full of guys rocking skater fashion — Vans or Converse, long shorts, and T-shirts. "New York is playing our music — the South's music."

The dude behind me blazed up a blunt, casually smoking like he was kicking it in Amsterdam rather than Fort Lauderdale until the doorman intervened about ten minutes later: "Could you not smoke pot in front of the place?"

Hello! Especially if you don't have enough to share! Blunt Boy had smoked the thing down to a nub anyway, and before the smoke cleared, he had some vague THC-inspired observations of his own: "He knows some shit from listening to rappers and shit."

I wasn't sure who or what he was talking about, but he reminded me of the first rule of talking "street" — that is, employ a repetitive catch phrase, regardless of originality.

"As long as I remember to add 'and shit' to the end of everything I say, I'll fit right in," I remarked to Darin.

Soon, I was sitting with a young woman who demonstrated that keeping it real doesn't necessarily mean being tethered to reality. She called her whimsical, cartoon tattoos "food art": on her right calf, a "pure" cupcake that looked like an angel, blue and yellow wings fluttering from the pink-frosted confection. On her left, a "poisonous" cupcake with skull and crossbones behind it.

Before we could delve into the implications of her love-hate relationship with single-serving desserts, she was showing me more of her body art.

"Oh, and a mosquito. Well, it was supposed to be a dragonfly, but I was 15, and it was done by a crackhead," she said only half-serious about the artlessly rendered insect on her lower back. "It looks like my ass farted out a dragonfly. I wish my ass would just get huge and eat the thing."

Perhaps getting such a "tramp stamp" (as I've heard these tattoos called) would help women feel better about their ever-growing derrieres.

Darin's introductions also resulted in an association with the comic duo Jeff and Roy.

"Roy's just an Afro-punk with a dream," a tall Jeff joked about his shorter friend.

"I used to have a fake 'zine so I could get into shows for free," straight-man Roy claimed before explaining that The Inhaler Ways of Entry wasn't actually fake but a small-circulation enterprise that he pirated from undisclosed companies' photocopiers, before wheat-pasting them around west Broward.

"I used to think it was OK to steal from large corporations, but then I found Jesus and started paying for them," he testified, "for half of them, anyway."

"Born again half the thief you were before?" I snorted with a laugh, turning to face Jeff's broad smile.

"What about you?" I asked. "You born again?"

"Hey, I was born once," Jeff said, gesturing with his arms to showcase his considerable height. "I already put my momma through enough."

Soon, a wiry guy whose head looked like it was perfectly shaped for a yarmulke (I picked up such phrenologic expertise in Hebrew school) joined our clan. The fact that he was moving to New York to continue his career in stage-light design and that he could mimic a perfect Brooklyn accent didn't dispel the notion either. But his name did.

"His name is Christopher Robinson," one of the dynamic duo said.

"Like in Winnie the Pooh," the other said.

Mr. Robinson just smiled by way of affirmation.

Later, my new posse quizzed me on my musical tastes.

"You don't like Wu-Tang Clan?" Jeff asked incredulously.

"Not a fan of rap that goes 'nigga, nigga, nigga' or 'ass, ass, ass,'" I said, feeling like I'd just thrown down the hip-hop gauntlet.

"C'mon, Ol' Dirty Bastard changed his name to Big Baby Jesus! You still can't give 'em no love?" Jeff laughed.

Inside, the MC was announcing the night's entertainment: "The ladies're up here doing their thing on the microphone, not just up here shakin' their ass."

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