Been There, Smoked That

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

Red Dawn took the stage in a black halter-top and open-sided black jeans that exposed her leg from hip to ankle through little x's. She began the ubiquitous hip-hop arm bob — you know, like exaggerated musical conduction by someone who can count only to two.

"Yo, yo, mic check. This is for my bitches... even though all I see out there is dudes! Yo, turn that shit up," she called out before launching into her debut live performance of a rap that boasted, among other things, that no one knows about her habit of "smoking the hydro." Maybe I'd have appreciated her perspective if I had been smoking the hydro too, but Blunt Boy had bogarted the only stash I knew of, and now the point was moot.

After Red Dawn's debut, the DJ started spinning, and a few B-boys began busting moves in front of the stage. Soon, the next lady MC improved upon my theory about upping my street cred.

Tony Gleeson

With lines like "I come with the real shit" and "You want that street shit. I'm down wid it." I learned that I could simply substitute shit more liberally for other nouns and shit. Shit, I'm a writer. Why didn't I think of this shit?

When Soulflower and Fresh Air Fund were doing their things, I was outside drinking beer, which, I was told later, was my biggest mistake of the night. As far as mistakes go, I can honestly say I wasn't sweating this one.

"Do you even like hip-hop?" Christopher Robinson asked me when we were driven inside once a light rain became a torrential downpour.

I assured him I did — I was just tired, I told him, though he wasn't buying it. So I shared my beef, which was that as a wordsmith, I wanted to hear the words, but the sound system was busting out beats it wasn't equipped to handle, so I couldn't understand much of the lyrics.

The performances ended in a free-for-all cipher as the band Hashbrown provided the rhythmic accompaniment. When the MC's call "Who's next to flex?" produced no more freestyle rhymers, the crowd should have dispersed, but the masses huddled while a flash flood began to roll down the sidewalk and through the streets and the rain started dripping through the holes in the ceiling.

While the Poor House lived up to its name, I stayed for one more beer and seized upon the gentle percussion of the rain and the poetry within the silence to say something to Mr. Robinson that had been bothering me all night: "You know, the Winnie the Pooh character's name is Christopher Robin."

And though I was no Tigger, I did have to bounce — it was 3 a.m., and I had to work in the morning. So I rolled up my jeans and pushed my notepad up my T-shirt, prepared to be steeped in an altogether different kind of hydro.

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