On Tuesday night, The Mansion became well-versed in lyricism and poetry as slammers and hip-hop artists performed emotional and politically-charged pieces at Queen’s Native Student Association’s (QNSA) Inspiring a Generation poetry and hip-hop night.
Spearheaded by QNSA with help from The Vault Kingston, the event opened up dialogue on social issues that are often swept under the rug. Indigenous issues are at the heart of QNSA’s mission, but there were no limits on the topics for the night. The amplified forms of expression, slam poetry and hip-hop contrasted starkly with the delicate subject matter at stake.
On the second floor of The Mansion, there were five rows of seats, fanning out from the stage where a makeshift DJ booth had been set up. It was an intimate setting. I took a seat in the third row, behind a group of slam poets who were laughing and throwing back “schooners” — giant mugs of beer.
Chris Reid, who goes by stage name Falconer, introduced himself as the MC for the night and welcomed the first poet to the stage. Michelle Allan, ArtSci ’18, took the mic and delivered a heartbreaking spoken word called ‘Inheritance’ detailing her personal struggles growing up as a young woman conditioned into tolerance. The next performer, Evelyna Ekoko-Kay, ArtSci ’17, delivered two poems back to back, both of which were noticeably difficult for the poet to deliver, dealing with emotionally-charged subject matter like the sexual assault of Sally Hemings, a woman enslaved by Thomas Jefferson in the late 1700s.
I was surprised by how well their emotions bled through their words. I felt as though I was hearing the real-time thoughts in their heads, not so much words that were trimmed and rehearsed to perfection. While there were some slip-ups from a performance standpoint, the message was crystal clear: we’re here to talk about the things that need to be expressed, but plain words don’t do it justice.
Next, hip-hop artist Wen took the stage, immediately charming the audience with his disclaimer: “Here is a track I ripped off of YouTube,” and proceeded to spit some profound lyrics. His accompanying singer aka OG BEA was all smiles, as she sang ‘damn’ and ‘oh shit’ in the background. The combination was cathartic and entertaining, while her constant grin kept the mood light.
The real game changer was when they switched places on stage. OG BEA grabbed the main microphone and, tottering in her thigh-high boots, launched into an impressive verse complete with voice changes reminiscent of Nicki Minaj on Kanye’s ‘Monster’.
The audience was screaming at some of her lyrics, which she described as racially charged, and I, at times, would describe as legendary: “We never get old, bitch/Herbal tea for the soul, bitch”.
The next round of poetry included a piece by Indigenous artist Sara Cecile, ArtSci ’19. She spoke of the hardships she’s encountered as a half-Indigenous, half-white student, comparing herself to the Canadian flag — both red and white.
When I caught up with her after the show to ask why expression is so important, Cecile didn’t miss a beat. “It’s beneficial for yourself. It allows you to accept truths … it’s like talking to someone without the pressure,” she said.
The poems were interspersed with fresh musical acts throughout the night, which moved the energy from low to high at a comfortable pace. Jesse Shewfelt, ArtSci ’17, delivered a slam poem about his frustration with Facebook, which earned him a personal shoutout from Toronto artist Just John for being “dope”.
MC Falconer revealed halfway through the show that he’s recently released an EP, The Falconer, from which he would be performing. Of course, I thought, everyone here is an artist in disguise. Falconer delivered above my expectations when he performed three back-to-back tracks without so much as glancing down at written lyrics, rare among the lineup.
Another round of slam poetry from the first group saw a major upswing in tempo, as issues ranging from the Orlando shooting to ex-boyfriends had the audience appreciatively snapping away. A surprise performance by one of the QNSA’s Inspiring a Generation chairs, Darian Doblej, ArtSci ’18, brought up the intersectional discussion of queer and Indigenous issues.
For the grand finale, Just John, a Toronto-based hip-hop artist took the stage and pumped up the crowd by calling us ‘beautiful’ and ‘lit’ — a surefire way to get people going.
Custom leather jacket glistening under the spotlight, his performance felt almost too large for the miniscule stage space, as he jumped and danced, throwing the audience lines to spew right back. I couldn’t help but feel lucky to be there.
I consider myself to be somewhat of an art apologist. The stutters and the forgotten lyrics from the discernable rookies were all water under the bridge once the night was through, because a slam poetry and hip-hop night isn’t only an artist’s dream, but also the perfect vehicle to express the diverse points of view represented at Queen’s.
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