amarahandwrites

A Hand's Writing

Words from a hand are words from the heart.

Shy Girls Like Trap Music

Photo cred: Trap Karaoke. Wish I had the video footage, though.

Photo cred: Trap Karaoke. Wish I had the video footage, though.

I felt it. Deep in my bones, I felt the urge to flake on my own Friday night plans. But I had my excuses, and they’re good ones: the Chipotle-induced “itis” had settled in, as did some wine that took me to the moon and back, and those factors combined left me sleepy as fuck and withdrawn from the world. I sat on the bedroom floor, wondering: what’s the worst that could happen if I decided not to to go?

My friend had to remind me that this was my moment, to live it up and try something new. He laid out some logic: this would be my first night out in the city, and I am supposed to be making the most of this entire situation. Taking golden opportunities by the horns as I ride this bucking bull into the sunset. After his convincing arguments, I then reminded myself that the price of admission to Trap Karaoke was thirty dollars, plus some small additional fees. Not only that, but I beat the clock and a bunch of willing participants to the sign-up link. I was slated to perform in front of hundreds of people. Jesus, be a Prozac.

The night before, I waited at my laptop, constantly refreshing the event’s Instagram page. iPhone in hand doing the very same. 5:59 pm. My hands started to quake once I saw the sign-up link. My whole body soon followed as I filled out the brief registration form. Nerves were on threat level orange. Once it’s all said and confirmed, I celebrated quietly with a fist pump. I’m super excited, but I don’t let it show too much. The calm washes over me as I retreat to my room and recite my lines. Bar by bar. Rhyme by rhyme. The calm comes with confidence.

There were supposed to be three musketeers attending the Trap. One, who refused to join me on stage and was assigned to camera duty, fell ill at the evil clutches of Mother Nature, who was literally cramping her style. When anyone texts a group to say “I’m not feeling well” only a few hours before a plan’s go-time, it’s likely that message was drafted long before it was actually sent. There’s always one block on the ground level that can make a perfect plan tumble. You know the one Jenga piece at the bottom that you knew wouldn’t falter if you “just tapped it.” Plans were shaky. My second-in-command, my right-hand since undergrad, was running late trying to find a suitable outfit. Tardy to the party. I was beginning to think everything was crumbling before my eyes.

See, this is why a.) I don’t go anywhere or b.) I don’t like asking people for shit.

But not Porché. She didn’t drive over four hours to be flaked on this weekend. That was not an option. We agreed to meet at the Underground separately.

****

By the time I arrived downtown, the sun had already set on Central Avenue. My phone is pressed to my ear to avoid the hootin’ and hollerin’ from the homeless on the church steps across the street.

Slowly but surely, I’m learning this city by myself. Learning how I fit in it. Wandering uncertainly as I do quite often. If I have to subject myself to social outings, much of the time I prefer to go solo. Think about it: I can come and leave whenever I please; I don’t have to worry about someone arguing over the auxiliary cord and rolling their eyes at my need to listen to John Mayer or Grover Washington Jr., en route to a rap show. Life is simpler when I’m by myself.

****

There are no signs blatantly leading me to where I belong.

I have no idea where the fuck I am going.

A man with a four-pronged cane walked in my direction. It’s customary for me to avoid eye contact. But something compelled me to look up, give a friendly head nod and a quiet hello as we crossed paths. We are all wanderers; the only difference is our ultimate destination.

When he stopped me on the sidewalk, I didn’t feel startled or afraid or defensive. His voice was low, humbled. His speech was cultivated. His story was tragically familiar.

“I don’t make this a proclivity of mine to ask, but…”

Man, you had me at “proclivity.”

With no roof to call his home, a divorce-in-progress and tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, Michael was seeking help to check into a nearby shelter.

“You can Google it if you need to,” he reassured me, referring to the name of the shelter. He needed to come up with enough money for a three-night stay in order to secure a safe place to sleep. I reached into my pocket and found the change from Chipotle. About seven dollars. I put the folded bills in his hand and told him to stay safe. I didn’t know what else I could possibly offer. Seven dollars and prayers for his protection still don’t seem like enough. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked for more of his story. What was life like before this dark night? Was he a liberal arts major? Everyone has a story worth hearing. Sometimes having someone just listen to you will suffice.

Back to the mission. I went on to try and find the Trap. I expected to find a gang of folks standing in line or walking toward a building sprinkled with security personnel. The street appeared quiet. But I heard beats blasting from someplace nearby. After making a lap up the block, Michael noticed how lost I looked and asked if I was looking for The Masquerade. It didn’t hit me that was the name of the venue where I needed to be. He told me to cross the overpass in the parking deck and follow the steps on down until I reach my destination.

Moments later, a girl with a group of friends spotted me and asked if I was headed to Trap Karaoke. She was concerned Michael had lied and misled her. But we felt the bass bumping beneath us. Once we saw a couple more people heading over the bridge and down the steps, we figured we were in the right direction.

Moral of the story: When looking for an event, always follow the bass and black folk.

****

Before I knew it, we were all Underground, in line for the time of our lives. I made my way into Heaven — Hell was across the way, although it seemed hot as hell in Heaven. It was packed with souls and sound.

This wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been to two T.K. events in D.C., and this was my first in the A — the true home of trap music. I was so excited to be surrounded by that kind of unbridled energy. When I walked in, the crowd was rapping in unison: “See I don’t know what y’all been told/But I gotta get-get me a big bank roll/Yes a fat bag of sticky and some bad ass hoes/So when I step on the scene suckers already know.”

I wandered the venue like Wordsworth's lonely cloud, making my way through the jam-packed crowd of homies, lovers and friends. I found a spot to stand beside another squad. One girl who saw me sweating hard between bars of a Boosie song snatched the photography and video disclaimer from the wall, ripped it, and passed me the other half to fan myself. She’s a real MVP.

It’s 9:30 pm. I asked the girl beside me how many people performed so far, hoping I hadn’t missed my chance. She said that since she’s been there only about three acts have been called up. The host came on stage between sets to report the score of the Cleveland/Golden State game, and encourage Georgians to participate in the state congressional election. Because not only are we rowdy rap and basketball lovers, we are enlightened, conscious-minded, black-ass millennials. Do not underestimate us; never sleep on the multitude of my generation.

Next thing I knew, the performance list was displayed on the 40” screen. Someone named Nicole was being summoned to the stage. She had handwritten lyrics to Jay-Z’s “Niggas in Paris” verse as a cheat sheet. My name immediately followed hers.

I tried inching my way closer to the front of the crowd. After her rendition, the host called my name. A foreign energy jolted through my body. I start waving my hands, phone and clutch included, like I’m drowning. My voice was still femininely quaint and extra polite, but a bit louder than I normally would allow.

“Ayo! Excuse me, please! That’s me!!!”

Three dred-headed giants in front of me turned around, looked down, and frantically guided me to the entrance. I only had twenty seconds to reach the stage.

(Do you know how hard it is to get by a group of black people in a tight, hot ass club? We stand the fuck out of our ground in a club or concert. We will not be moved.)

I made my way through the maze of attendees and reached the steps. Porché called me as I was walking up to take the stage. As I made my way on stage, the host heard me tell her, “Nigga, I’m on stage now! Gotta go!” Low, the host, chuckled; he could tell this is going to be something else.

I told the him my song choice with special provisions — Pusha T and Pharrell’s verses of Future’s “Move That Dope,” the Virginia verses. He told me it would be difficult for the DJ to cue up verses in the middle of a track. Then he tried to suggest I perform something else, like Big Tymers “Still Fly,” or “Panda” by Desiigner to keep the crowd hype.

“Panda,” my nigga. Really?

I’m not up here for the crowd. I am doing this for me.

Then, out of nowhere, two girls from Detroit volunteered to be my back up dancers. Didn’t even know I needed those. I had every intention of being on that stage by myself. But if there’s one thing I learned that day, and in the short time I’ve spent in Georgia so far, it’s this: you’re never truly alone, even if you want to be.

My backup twerkers were also trying to convince me to pick another song from the set list. They didn’t realize this was nonnegotiable. I came prepared to present on one thing, I’m not changing topics for you, professor.

Low started to introduce me to the audience. I told them all that I’m a 757 bred, Norfolk State Spartan and English adjunct. I see and hear the support scattered among the people. Two up two down hand signs were bouncing amongst the crowd. I felt the homey love.

The DJ found his mark. And we were off! “Young nigga move that dope/Young nigga move that dope…”

I took a deep breath during the hook. Then I felt everything come up: “King Push”!

I start spitting Pusha’s bars verbatim. “Young enough to still sell dope, but old enough that I knows better/When they sayin’ it’s 42 for that white powder, I knows better.” Ad-libs and all. “Who don’t wanna sell dope forever and flood the Rolley ’til the bezel break? WOOO!” I don’t miss a beat. “Fish scales in the two doors that I fishtail/ fiberglass, Ferrari leather in designer shit that I misspell/YAHHH!” I try not to pay too much attention to the crowd, oh, but I can hear them. They are in an uproar. “Pablo, Versace way before Migos.” I show my audience some love, “All you niggas my hijos.” And the end line comes naturally to me: “Made it through to the other side/Now nothing’s big as my ego. Push!” And in that moment, I feel it. At that moment, my ego swelled to a brand new level. The song spins out. I catch my breath.

Did I really just do that?

The host walked over to me. He looked just as shocked as I was. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me that he’s “never seen a woman come up here and spit a Pusha T verse.” Especially the way I just did, so effortlessly. I was speechless. I couldn’t do anything but smile wide.

The crowd’s cheers transformed from overall astonishment to overzealous agreement.

Oh, hold up. Wait a minute. They thought I was finished. But I still had one more verse to hit — perhaps my favorite verse of the song. I wasn’t leaving that stage without performing both verses. Also nonnegotiable. I didn’t think they would honor my insistent request. But they did. The DJ found the starting line. And I was off.

“Me, I try to leave the best for later…” I spit fast but deliberately. Enunciating, hoping I don’t trip over any of the tongue-twisters of “The old Skateboard P, that’s your favorite.” It was one of those verses that always held me up because of its increased pace in the middle: “I know guerrillas with the triggers that’s on the banana clips and packing with the biggest missiles.” But the words poured out effortlessly.

“Ain’t no standard I’ma set one though…” I felt absolutely untouchable. Unfuckwittable, if you will. “All this war we need to let that go/That boom business, I’ma get that ho.” I almost dropped the mic after that final line. Not sure why I didn’t.

Damn. I should’ve mic dropped.

After Pharrell’s verse, the DJ cuts the beat. Over the cheering crowd, I heard the host start to say to me, “Yo, I don’t know.. what it is you really do. I don’t care to know. All I do know is that if you put that energy into what it is you do, you are unstoppable.”

Suddenly, an epiphany hit me on stage. A major key finally fit the mental lock.

His words hit me. I needed them. Okay, not just the words. Maybe it’s the speaker of those words, and the fact that he really doesn’t know me or my story from Eve or Lilith, but he said was absolutely applicable, and exactly what I needed to hear that night. I needed that entire moment to happen for a long time now. To feel the anxiety and say “fuck it!” and create a life-changing memory. I shook off a lifelong fear of social anxiety, stage fright, and a general disdain for public speaking on the Trap Karaoke stage. Okay, maybe not entirely, but I shed off a lot of pounds of worry in that one performance.

The host and I hugged, and I thanked the DJ profusely for getting me right with the track’s timing.

I felt electrified. Leaving the stage, people showed so much love. Daps and hugs, and a lot of “YAAAASSSS” from total strangers in a strange place. When I finally found Porché in the crowd, she told me that she was right friggin’ there! She heard the song from outside while getting her I.D. checked. The bouncer was playing the typical “this-don’t-look-like-you” game. She heard the audience cheer for me from outside the closed club doors. Maybe twenty minutes after we found each other, she received a text from our MIA musketeer, with a screenshot from the Trap’s IG page. Three trophy emojis under a black and white picture of me. I look embarrassingly happy, sweaty and squinty. My face is scrunched up into a wide toothy smile that resembles a post-show James Brown. In retrospect, I should’ve put on some lipstick.

But the comments kept coming. The number of likes increased. The Trap’s Twitter page called me a legend. Another Karaoke-goer acknowledged that I had “no fuck ups.” Throughout the night, people would recognize my Virginia-lover teeshirt and tell me how well I did. The rest of the night really reaffirmed my love for black people, man. Getting along. Singing along. Dancing like nobody’s watching. Showing love to strangers like they’re your fam.

****

I’m not a fiend for the spotlight. It actually embarrasses me. I’d rather not have my insecurities shone upon so intensely. But that night, I sought its pointed brilliance to bring out a part of me that’s been reluctant for years. Hiding from outside influences because those can be the most harmful to my own esteem. Although I thought about flaking at first, I knew that coming here with strong intentions and goals would leave me with a feeling unlike anything I’ve felt in my adult life. I can take on anyone, the world… hell, you, your momma, and your cousin, too. I can battle the dreadful writer’s block head-on. I can capture an audience that identifies with my special brand of quirky-dope energy and vice versa. I can get in front of a hoard of college freshmen and teach them the ways of writing without feeling shaken to my core. Calm comes with confidence. I walked out of Heaven with a fresh sense of self, a brand new boldness that influences myself and my people.

Coming here was the right answer. 💡

(Edited, Jan. 2018. Originally written and shared on Medium, June 2017.)