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This Mic's Open for Business

Before he got down to the rhyme-spitting, J. Hexx had a little request for the audience. "I need your energy so I can get into character and take you to a far-out place," he said, proudly displaying a T-shirt that read "Weapon of Mass Destruction." Moving about in a semicircular motion, the Coral Springs-based MC gradually worked himself into a frenzy. The crowd followed, cackling and giving Hexx the bird (at his own request). But then, just like that, the set was over; it was time for the next performer — that is, after Hexx felt the love from his fans.

"Say, 'Fuck you, J. Hexx!'" he demanded of the crowd, which gladly obeyed. "Now go home and watch cannibal films while eating ham sandwiches!"

But they didn't go anywhere. Sure, it was getting near midnight on a Monday, but there was still another name or two left on the sign-up sheet.

Yeah, I said sign-up sheet, as in open-mic night sign-up sheet. Where'd you think I was, at some club in South Beach? Let me guess: You're not down with the open-mic thing. You think it's for nervous hippies, drunks who know only parts of songs, and chicks who write poems about their vaginas. But that's OK. You see, ol' Fats used to think the same thing — I had been to plenty of nights where that was exactly the case. I've sat through many an uncomfortable poem-reading. I endured many a humorless screed about female sex organs. And, yes, I wasted many an hour being the drunkard who started songs he couldn't finish. (I had the first half of "Mother's Little Helper" down pat.) But when I learned about the new open-mic night at Java D'Lites — a swank new coffeehouse in Coral Springs — I just had, I dunno, a feeling (that Pompano intuition). I'd heard only good things about its host, Renda the Writer, and the other open-mic night he does every Wednesday at the Funky Buddha Lounge in Boca Raton. Plus, Java D'Lites is almost a straight shot down Atlantic Boulevard — so why the hell not?

"Two years ago, I moved here from New York," Renda told the audience, explaining the origins of his poem The Peddler. With a blue "Kick back and relax" T-shirt and loose-fitting blue jeans, the 27-year-old Boca Raton resident is more Big Lebowski than pretentious poet. He continued: "I totaled my car, so I bought a bike and rode it everywhere. I spent so much time on my bike that I had to learn how to write poetry on it."

I can only speculate how he got into that car wreck.

After Renda finished The Peddler — a smart, hip-hop-styled tale riddled with wordplay — he introduced the night's 15 or so performers. I didn't see a single hand-scrawled sheet of paper hanging from the mic stand. Then again, for freestylin' MCs Emperor Shiloh and Mikey Mo, memorizing rhymes wasn't the challenge — they had to make 'em up on the fly. "The fear of messing up will make you do so good, I swear," Shiloh said, somewhat humbly, after laying down a smooth, error-free song.

Mikey Mo, on the other hand, was a little more risqué, pushing himself to the point of exhaustion (lots of deep breathing followed his set). Mo was like a verbal machine gun, spitting out syllables like so many rounds of ammo. The best part: Mo matched his oral gymnastics with a rambunctious physicality. There's nothing Fats admires more than an unrepentant spaz. Too bad Mo merely whetted my appetite for theatrics; the next performer, Thomas, was (I'm venturing to guess) not a seasoned professional. Though he wasn't alone on stage — if you count his acoustic guitar and laptop computer — Thomas obviously had the heebie-jeebies.

"This is a new song, so I'm not sure if I should play it," he said, partly as a warning, though more as a plea for support. It worked.

"Do it!" the crowd shouted back in unison.

So he did, and the crowd dug it. Much more to Fats' liking was Micky Vintage, who lived up to his name with old-school jams ("That's All Right, Mama," "Let' s Get It On") and a humorous blues-rock original he prefaced with a quick anecdote. "Here's a blues song about working at the Hemp Factory," Vintage said, while vocalist Cat Shell joined him. "Yes, I had long hair and looked like a dirty hippie. But there was one girl there who didn't shave in certain areas. This song's about her."

The audience had a good chuckle. Fats had a good chuckle. And that's when it hit me — I had just spent four hours at an open-mic and could easily have spent four more. I wasn't bored. I wasn't tired. I was — what's the word? — inspired. That's not something you hear often, is it? But that's what happens when you have people interested in building a community, which is what Renda's all about. "I'm really aiming to make it so that artists of all genres have places where they can go every week to practice, to collaborate with new people, to network and build their fanbase, and just to have fun," he said.

That last bit is key. And that's why I'm going to bring my guitar next time I hit up Java D'Lites. I'll finish that Stones song, damn it. And when I'm done, I'm heading straight back to Pompano to watch Silence of the Lambs and chow down on a ham sandwich.

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Jason Budjinski

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