Speak Your Truth: Southside Arts and Activism

Joy Gabrielle, Hostess of Speak Your Truth Open Mic, speaking to attendees

February 2019 was an important month. It was Black History Month. It was a crucial month for food stamp recipients, due to Donald Trump’s negligence. It was mayoral and aldermanic election season and ended being the first time in Chicago History where a black woman secured the lead for Mayor. It was also the month that a vision I have been looking to fulfill came to fruition. February 16th, Southside Arts and Activism was formed and in motion.

As stated on SAA page, a team of like-minded individuals met at Kusanya Cafe. The little coffee shop is a hub where movers and shakers conduct their meetings with community stakeholders. The team is composed of 4 of the baristas that gave their spirit to Englewood while looking to connect with the community; Joy Gabrielle, Brittany Norment, Jeremy Jones, and Cordell Longstreath. In a matrix of conversations around the point of, “What can we do that isn’t being done?”, we all came to a conclusion.

SAA Founders

The Southside, arts and entertainment, advocacy and activism were connecting points. A writer, social media manager, political organizer, and streamer met at a coffee shop and decided to host events. We all had lived, worked, and played in other communities and wanted to create the same opportunities for networking that exists there. Connecting the Southside, as a circuit of opportunities, in every community for every community will be done in our lifetime.

Here and Here
are links to Brittany’s
and Joy’s Instagram Feed

When 8 PM hit, there were already people in the building for the open mic as well as shoppers at Dearborn Denim. Dearborn Denim & Apparel is a locally cut, design, hand sewn, and finished clothing store; next to The Silver Room and across the street from the Harper Theater, Dearborn Denim is in the heart of Hyde Park. Kaleb Sullivan, head of retail and brand development, saw an opportunity to bring something cool and different to his store and took part in the whole event. Kaleb and our main artist/collaborator, AyeJune,   greeted us at 7 with as much focus on the execution as possible. With 30+ rsvp’s we made sure to have ample seating, pizza for the early arrivers, and swag from our partners at City Bureau, R.A.G.E., and South Side Weekly.

AyeJune performed at the beginning of the set and near the end. She started off her set with a mic check/room check. She even said a few corny ice-breakers, of the hip hop variety. With her calm energy, being at home in her place of employment, June truly used the space to engage with the audience. Her singing and rapping skills were on showcase during her first set, performing her piece called “my baby”. Harmonizing her vocals and showing her octave range really smashed the mc persona she started with. One stand out bar during this ballad was the line, “she’s so far away, if only I can see her outer/out her space”, a clear sign that she had the whole package for an non R&B rapper/singer.

June followed up her performance as #14. As an opener and closer for Speak Your Truth the amount of range on display totally ruins my last assertion on her intention. The balance of being a rapper and singer, while being transient in hip hop and R & B, was tested as she showed her emceeing, dancing, as well as her lyrical strength. Performing two pieces, one inspired by the ‘scales of balance that Geminis and Libras seek’ and the other called “Think or Run”. The first piece was a three verse song that conveyed her mental, spiritual, and physical energy; The first verse she flexed her lyricism, the second verse she harmonized and seemed to freestyle while sliding across the room, while the final verse she let her vocal chords do all the talking. The second piece started off using the fundamentals of hip hop, call and response, and ended with a swag-rap with beast flow. June’s crowd control made her stand out and primed me to check out more of her work.

Uriel Preciado, better known as Atlas Quest,  was the second performer and didn’t hold back on the reality we live in. Emo rap, and swag rap, is often reduced to just drugs, materialism, and good beats; every generation demonizes the newest iteration of expression as non-serious at best. Atlas Quest started with a call and response, as an mc should, and introduced us to his song on love and heartbreak. With a refrain of “at the bottom of the bottle”, he used the sounds of emo/swag rap to give you the manic depressive impression of alcoholism and depression. He used shorter verses to call to the waviness of being drunk and harmonized regardless of his singing skills. By the end of his piece, it was clear that he wasn’t drinking to find love but to lose the memory of love.

The performer following Atlas Quest went by his name, Rashad Matthews. He came with the first spoken word piece of the night. One of his first statements was “God sent here to tell you about this”, which was a perfect segway into his piece on toxicity. One of the main goals of creating Southside Arts and Activism is seeing opportunities for creative and liberating acts to be facilitated on the south side. A Kennedy King Student, who I’ve oddly ran into two times since the event, came with the type of acumen one would expect from a decade old veteran in spoken word.

Rashad’s “Toxicity” piece centered on the realities of chasing success. “Stop reinstating toxic people that are in your life”, he starts while going through a seminar of behavior patterns that can be isolated and separated to reach your happiness. He introduces the cycle of reinstatement theory, which is essentially the neurological hard-wiring that allows one to match behaviours with memories. Such a big task of breaking down neuroscience, he works with some refrains like “toxicness and success don’t mix”, “you have to feed on a long handle spoon”, “if they not supporting they not important”. His piece was to illuminate that to find success one has to avoid the comforts of the past and see them as they are, toxic. His truth was that those that support successful behavior is those you will build success with, which he wrapped in a blunt and bold delivery.

Following this sobering act was Le’aire and their intoxicating crooning. The great part of this performance was the spontaneity and the talent. With music on Tidal, Soundcloud, and Spotify one could expect a level of professionalism and efficiency in their time on the mic. Le’aire graced the stage with a ballad on DUIs, where he blends the the addictive and drunken stages of love. “Drunken Driving Girl, Girl I’m off of you”, is essentially the message of precariousness one must keep in mind when in love. If you like harmony, melody, and class check out any of the links for more Le’Aire.

My favorite part of the night were the spoken word artist and the poets. Nothing separates the talent, but the type of work that these artists produce inspire the introvert to open up and share. With the night being mostly rappers and singers, each variant to those archetypes involved opening a different ear and using a different part of your brain. With Rashad offering spoken word, AyeJune and Atlas Quests giving us the bars, and Le’Aire spilling his heart out the next two performers made the night just as good.

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Kierra Wooden performing a Psi-Blast

Kierra Wooden is a model, poet, and author since her teenage years. She introduced 3 of her poems from her published poetry book titled “Flourish”. Seeing a young woman not only have a book on Amazon, but to have the bravery and eloquence to share her written word poetry in a spoken word format got me re-prioritizing my goals.

Kierra’s brought the manic energy one would expect coming from the mind of a writer. Her first poem had an “off-beat” flow, or syntax, that forced you to follow her words; she exclaimed “I am a reader”. The spoken word vs written word poets have a tendency to look over the nuance of our craft, yet Ms Wooden knows her words and knows her message. Her second poem was a memorial that spoke of historical lostness, words speaking on the dizzying effects of finding yourself in the realities of the world. Her last poem, titled “Baby Bird”, was the most poignant; Kierra closed with an ode to an exploited rape victim. 13 years old, a common age for victims of rape, losing their innocence will always be a shocking reality to face. Imagine being the youth… Kierra Wooden will be one of Chicago’s cornerstone of the writing and poetry community. Check out her book in the link above (no spoilers!!!).

Our next performer/poet came to speak on break ups. His name is Jason and he kept his time on the mic as simple as he could, especially following a young phenom in the same medium. His piece connected the physicality of love with a fighter, the emotional duress of love with the mind, and the mental connectivity of the heart; Jason spoke of the lover getting tired from trying. His cyclical refrain of “still wandering” resonated within the spoken word medium, as the fine line of intentional homophone usage walked the line of the wonders of love or the wandering heart. Speaking on the mesmerism of relationships, Jason expressed the type of vulnerability one expected at an event called “Speak Your Truth” by showing how memories will hang on to what makes you happy.

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Lahzeric on his way to Bikini Bottom

After two intense poetic forays into the messiness of existence, Lahzeric (Rapper-Singer-Producer-Director) brought a fresh energy at a time where it was most needed. Using his powers of optimism of joviality, Lahzeric gave us two of his productions and a vibrant performance. His first performance was an introduction to not only his sound, but his stage presence; reminiscent to the trap remixes of children shows (Mr Map, anyone?), Lahzeric makes a great loop out of the whistling tune in the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song while adding his own unique R & B aspects to it. Dancing, singing, and rapping were just some of the talents on display during a production that he edited and mixed. With so many talents on display one could overlook his lyrics that are meant to inspire happiness, yet his second performance of “Melanin Man” was a R & B ballad to beautiful black women.

Lahzeric’s reminded me of what Chris Brown was assumed to be. An ability to write his lyrics that hit the fine line of rapping and singing, dancing to his own musical production, while making crowd and stage control his main focus shows the full package. “A good time didn’t hurt nobody”, “Are there beautiful black women out there”, “Beauty, and a big booty, touch of class and she ain’t no goof. Don’t play about her family”; Lahzeric’s confidence is clearly based on his intention of making people feel happy. Check out his youtube and support this young man!

Next up was I am Chaunte. Keeping the joy in the room, this performance was very similar to the new age of rap you see coming from young soundcloud artists. Us old-heads can call it swag rap or simply the new wave, this artist allowed one to appreciate the primary motivation of this new iteration of hip hop. Coming with his own hype man, Chaunte brought a colorful swag and style that made him stick out in the crowd. His beat was almost indescribable, yet wavy is the best I can get, the song he performed had a cyclical refrain that separates modern rap from the old by having choruses that aren’t simply someone singing. Like Uzi Vert and so many of the modern hot rappers, Chaunte’s song was about the vibe he was creating especially when the refrains were isolated from the spurts of small verses. With lines like, “getting paid our separate ways, get a raise our separate ways”, and “I got goals, fuck it up, all I see is love”, the song clearly was an ode to the happiness of being on the same path as one’s lover. I look forward to hearing this song perfected, the sounds mastered, and the stage presence magnified. Chaunte ended his performance speaking on how this was the beginning of his musical path, or as he said “finding his wing”.

I am Chaunte

Seeing spoken word in the same spaces as more traditional musical performances is the special aspect of Southside Arts and Activism. With photographer Terry Williams capturing the moments of joy and creating our Instagram for SAA , seeing the truth spoken is as easy as clicking links. As the night went on and was charred in our memory the fire of the performances continued to heat up.

Poet and Lyricist, Faith Overall, brought a strong feminine energy to the night. As our 9th performer she mixed her spoken word with complex lyrical ability, while using lots of emotion and cadence changes to draw you into her world. “I am Woman”, was a theme that one can follow throughout her spoken word piece, as she poured her heart out while being poignant to connect with the crowd; “If sleep was an answer Dr Phil would be out of work”, Faith adds as she transitions from bars to lyrical soliloquies. Bringing sexiness without being a provocateur seems impossible in today’s climate, yet Faith uses poetry to celebrate womanhood. “Thick thighs saves lives” was one of her simple yet deep bars that celebrate womanhood in all forms, while “Salt free and refreshing I am Earth” connects nature with the essence of woman.

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The 10th performance of the night was by a poet/rapper going by Jah. Jah, not ja, is truly an acronym for “Just Aim High“; Jah is a modernized shortened version of Yahweh (Aka, the abrahamic god). He performed his song “Run it Up” for the audience, which introduced us all to his established career in the Chicago rap game. The goal for this event was to create more platforms to bring artists and activists together to network and build their own spaceship to success. With a catchy refrain, and the type of repetitive chorus that says more than the words express (“I’m the type to run it up, Your the type to run it down”) I was personally glad to meet an established artist who sounds similar to the music I hear at Adriana’s. When his verse kicks in the machine gun flow comes out and surprises with the angst of most trap-rappers; JAH’s performance was full of energy and harmony yet his flow matched his ongoing rise to stardom. As he stated during the performance, there is a video that was released and it is a very familiar scene of young adults chilling and prepping to have a good time. Shout out to CVOFilms for offering their talent!

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The next perfomer is one of the top female emcees in the city. Going by Ms Tee, I immediately recognized her from a friend of mine’s recent cypher compilation featuring all female rappers. Knowing she took part in the Synergy Cypher with Jovan Landry my expectation of lyrical dexterity was immediately peaked.

Ms Tee put on a showcase while displaying vulnerability and bravery. Her first song was an a capella ballad where she created her own flow/cadence and switched up rhyme schemes. With a refrain/chorus of “run, hide”, Tee used an old school delivery to describe structural depletion of growing up in the city. Lines like “98, Section 8, standing on the blocks for days” effectively describe the type of experiences that make diamonds out of the urban experience.

Her second song was simply lyrical flexing. I notice many rappers use poetic skills to sharpen their lyrical ability. Ms Tee used the second performance to practice mono-polysyllabic rhyme schemes and duo-polysyllabic rhyme schemes, which is something you see with rappers like Eminem, MF Doom, or Jean Grae. In my first paragraph there is a link to her cypher… please click it and support this amazing rapper and any of the other amazing female rappers combining empowerment and hip-hop.

Following this amazing performance a gentleman named Bryce. He performed a song called, “Dead Weight”, which had the sounds of gospel or soul with a melancholic delivery. The introduction displayed his singing ability, yet the lyrics were classic. One line, “Thoughts run on this track that’s no pun”, added a wittiness to the somber theme of the song; dead weight drew my mind back to Rashad’s performance speaking on the cycle of reinstatement theory, though he didn’t use the “enter through the chimney” approach that most spoken word artist utilize. Another line, “nothing ever is what it seems, sort of like dreams”, brought out the stasis one feels when dealing with the toxic behaviors we are conditioned to. The mellow delivery Bryce used allowed the mood to reinforce the theme of the song.

The last performance before AyeJune’s return and Joy Gabrielle’s cover of a medley of Americana was by Demetrius Harris. With an Instagram handle like Megaphone Da Servant , Demetrius was an avatar of the culmination of christian rap and woke rap. Using Kendrick Lamar’s “Roll In Peace” as the opening beat, Demetrius went hard on displaying his flow, mic control, and lyrical ability while breaking brains with his Jesus bars. He combined popular music’s familiarity with prophetic speech, exclaiming “God is my homie” while using biblical references to get his point across. His bars were positive, yet didn’t rely on the folksiness one hears from your typical christian rapper. Their were many moments where he challenges mainstream interpretation of the Bible with tried and true black liberation theological conclusions. Though there were many bars that were memorable, his allusions to Revalations made it clear of his intention; “Dark Skin, I’m Fiery”, showed his willingness to go there when it comes to our place on this plane. Check out his SoundCloud to hear what I am talking about, but I rank his skill top tier with the likes of some of the best battle rappers and underground rappers out (Think Daylyt).

Being the first event by SAA and the first Speak Your Truth Open Mic, I want to thank everyone involved. With a gratuitous host offering free red bull, an attentive audience, and a range of amazing artist we were able to pull off an event that was much needed on the southside. We will continue to create as many opportunities to turn the southside into a vibrant community for artists and activists, while also empowering those who choose to take part in it. Our next event will be at Flood’s Hall, May 5th, and will be a clothing swap. If any artist would like to reach out feel free to email me at grigorirasputinrussia@gmail.com. Love you all!

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