No screens. No words. Know your stuff.
This is the mantra of Hip Hop Karaoke, a local event that gives hip-hop fans a chance to memorize and perform their favourite tracks in front of a live audience.
Hip Hop Karaoke
Saturday, 9 p.m.
The Tallest Poppy, 103 Sherbrook St.
The format is simple: those who want to perform send a text to 204-808-0795 with their name and a song title ahead of the event. Then the prep work begins to ensure verses are tight and flow is on point without the help of lyrics on paper or on a screen.
"It’s OK if there are words and stuff, that’s cool, but we want people to take the time," says Hip Hop Karaoke co-founder and rapper Tyler Rogers, who performs under the name Charlie Fettah. "I think that’s what has helped this build so organically is that people are rehearsing and practising for this. And when they come, they’re excited."
"Inherently, hip hop is so tied to confidence and bravado. Not having something to stare at pushes you outside the traditional aspect of karaoke and more into the realm of hip hop," adds Eric Olek, creator of Winnipeg clothing line Friday Knights and another of the event’s four co-founders.
The next edition of Hip Hop Karaoke gets underway Saturday; it’s the sixth time it’s been held since it kicked off last June at Garry Street Coffee, a small space across from the Garrick Centre co-owned by Rogers, who offered the venue after Olek attended a similar event in Victoria, B.C. and expressed his desire to host one in Winnipeg.
The first four "parties," as Rogers and Olek like to call them, took place at the coffee shop. Guest counts increased each time, from 30 people at the inaugural event, to 40, to 60. When they moved to the Handsome Daughter on Sherbrook Street in December, more than 170 people walked through the door.
Now Hip Hop Karaoke has moved again, down the road to the Tallest Poppy.
"Now that people have come to it, we have a core group of people that sign up every time..." Rogers says. "We’ve found now that people have come and seen it a few times, they’re way more comfortable to jump up and get involved themselves. That barrier has kind of been broken."
"Crowd participation and engagement at these events is so much different than anything else in the city," Olek says. "When you go see a DJ, you’re dancing and talking to people in the crowd; when you go to Hip Hop Karaoke, you’re actively engaged with the stage, with the hosts, with whoever is performing, so you feel so connected to it, inside and outside of the event.
"It spreads this vibe and naturally builds that energy from the floor to the stage."
And while hopping up onstage and spitting some rhymes off the top of your head might seem like an intimidating task, Olek and Rogers are adamant the environment of Hip Hop Karaoke is one of support. If a performer gets stuck or forgets the words, the crowd will often help out and make it more of a sing-along, or organizers will roll back the track and give the person on the mic another shot.
You also don’t need to be a professional to take part in the fun.
"Almost none of the people who sign up have a music background. Some people have never even done karaoke. We’ve had the timid, nerdy guy just come and slay a Kanye West song; we had a guy who transcribed and studied local rap songs to do them at karaoke," Olek says with a laugh.
"I don’t want people to feel like there’s any pressure when they come to perform," Rogers adds. "Sometimes at karaoke people are very shy, but based on our experience, just bring a good attitude and come to have fun. There’s no judgment in the room."
"And at the end of the day, we got you," Olek says. "Whoever comes, we got you 120 per cent. If you don’t know the words, we got you. You’re nervous, we got you."
And if you’re really good, you may even walk out with a trophy at the end of the night. The organizers judge each performance and dole out awards — golden microphones on a stand with an engraved plate that reads "Hip Hop Karaoke Winnipeg Winner Yerrrrrrrrr " — to those who they feel did the best job.
"People rep it; when someone wins, it means something to them," Olek says. "As much as it is a novelty, they really practised, they stole the show. We’re not just looking to see if you know every word, but how was your energy? How did the crowd react to you? What did you give back to them?"
"It’s cool to see their confidence grow after. Walk up with your head down and shoulders down and after you’re standing tall, your chest is held high and you feel really good about it."
For December’s karaoke night, owing to increased interest, Olek and Rogers had to close sign-ups before the event, capping their list at 29 performers. They suggest any interested parties text the number above prior to Saturday for the best chance at snagging a performance slot. Otherwise, the best way to keep tabs on what the folks at Hip Hop Karaoke are planning is to follow @hhkwpg on Instagram.
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.