I’m standing at the side of the stage, my palms sweaty (something about spaghetti). DJ So Nice is warming up the crowd with a few of his trademark beats. It’s a hot night, and Mugshots, the bar behind the Ottawa Jail Hostel, is packed to capacity. All heads are turned to the stage. The audience waits. They came to see me.
Well, me and the other twelve-or-so performers at Ottawa’s first monthly Hip Hop Karaoke event. Before me, two people from Hip Hop Shakespeare, a show at this year’s Fringe Festival, bring the house down with some Lil’ Wayne. I’ve performed in front of an audience before, but never one this big, and never hip hop, so I’m feeling a little nervous. I’m standing directly underneath a trap door through which prisoners were once dropped to their deaths, a noose around their necks. It’s not exactly encouraging.
Despite the eeriness of the locale, the vibe in the room is nothing but positive. “Everyone here is a superstar,” MC and co-host DJ Atherton says to the crowd, priming them for a night of exuberant karaoke fun. And, as though he were a modern-day Nostradamus, his prediction comes true. Everyone who takes the stage that night, including myself, is treated to nothing but applause and shouts of glee. And Atherton’s joviality, always cracking jokes and keeping it loose, contributes a great deal to it.
“I think it’s just that way with anything I set foot in,” DJ Atherton says of his inability to be anything but positive. “I’m a happy-go-lucky guy, and I like it when people can feel relaxed because I feel like they can let loose a bit more.” And that’s something so crucial in any kind of karaoke, let alone one in which you need to memorize lines and lines of lyrics. So Nice, the other half of the brains behind the project, explains that events like this tend to naturally attract a good vibe: “You’re probably not going to have any Debby downers going to an event like this, or any karaoke event.”
That sense of ease and fun continues throughout the night, through some absolutely stellar performances. Maybe it’s just Atherton’s rose-coloured glasses talking, but everyone seems to be working their own special brand of magic. And then comes my turn.
I step onto the stage, microphone in hand. Atherton introduces me and then… nothing. Nice’s computer has seized.
Luckily, Atherton and I are able to cover the silence with some beatboxing (his contribution) and some awkward small talk (mine). Then the music kicks up and we’re off!
I’m performing Madvillain’s “All Caps,” something of an oddity in a night filled mostly with ’90s hip hop and classics – crowd favourites. But Atherton explains that, really, anything goes. “If we can find the instrumental, and it’s hip hop on some level, then you can do it.” They even have a someone performing a version of “Killing Me Softly,” something that, while not technically hip hop, still gets a warm response.
All in all, the night was a blast, and everyone seemed to have a great time. You can bet I’ll be performing again–if not this month, next. “It sells itself,” says So Nice. Too true—the venue was at capacity. In fact, So Nice tells me that they had people attempting to sign up for the night even before the website was up. Performing comes with an added incentive: you get in free. These two really know how to treat their talent.
Hip Hop Karaoke happens this Thursday, July 19th at Mugshots. You can sign up via their website or just show up and watch. Cover is $5 for non-performers.