Dr. 80, O-Swag, Baby J, Tiffany Davey, Craig Thorn and Deprisk, photo by Jasmine Thagard
Okay, okay — the word “karaoke” comes with a lotta baggage.
To those who avoid it, it calls to mind images of 2 a.m. in a booze-soaked hell hole, with drunken businessmen passed out at their tables as some greasy cheeseball croons Bon Jovi’s “I Will Love You Always” off-key while casting a sultry, beer-bespectacled gaze at a 50-something bar hag with lipstick on her teeth.
To fans faithful to the form, though, it brings out something a little different: the chance to be something you’ve always dreamed of being, if only for a moment.
Now, throw hip hop in the mix, and ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but a party.
Hip Hop Karaoke Montreal returns Thursday after a hiatus that could very well have become permanent, if not for the fact that its monthly run at the Belmont was so popular that the former organizers, despite having left town, had to make sure it didn’t end up in the hands of copy-cats who would fuck it up.
Enter Montrealers and HHK regulars Zack, aka Deprisk; Adrian, aka Dr.80; Jasmine, aka Baby J; and Olivia, aka O-Swag; along with recent TO-to-MTL transplants Tiffany Davey and Craig Thorn (aka Cee).
Each followed a different path to end up on “the new HHK team,” taking over affairs from event founders Morgan Steiker, Brittany Tyson and Pat O’Keefe. Though Steiker is helping them find their feet from his new digs in NYC, the team are relaxed and at ease with each other and appearing quite ready and capable of coming into their own rapidly.
“We approached Brittany, Morgan and Pat and asked if there was any way we could become involved,” Dr. 80 recounts.
He and Deprisk (a HHK rarity in that he is an actual hip hop artist who gets his cover-song freak on for “shits and giggles”) made quite a rep for themselves spitting intricate double-time rap jams by the likes of Outkast and Twista to the point they get stopped on the street sometimes — perhaps proving that the event slogan “Are you ready to become a legend?” isn’t just a clever tagline.
“[The organizers] said, ‘You know what? Yes, we want you on board,’” says 80. “So we waited and prayed, and next thing you know, we’re helping make this thing happen.”
Thorn and Davey, meanwhile, met while working at an Apple store in Toronto and became an item. In an ironic twist of fate, Thorn, originally from Australia, struck up a convo with a customer at work one day. When he mentioned his involvement in hip hop music, and that he and Davey were planning a move to Montreal, the lady took his info and mentioned her daughter had this hip hop night here that he might be interested in. Turns out she was Brittany Tyson’s mom.
“To be honest, as an MC, I was a bit skeptical [about HHK]. I thought, like, ‘Ah, it’s gonna be a whole lotta shit rappers jumping around on a stage and that not much would happen — a bunch of amateurs ruining my favourite songs,” Thorn admits.
“And it was completely the opposite of that. I couldn’t believe it. The crowd was hype as fuck; the performers were great. [There] is more preparation here than most rappers I know who are actually getting paid to do their own stuff!”
Davey, meanwhile, cops to another truth.
“I’m a big karaoke fan in general. I love karaoke — I’m a karaoke nerd!” she laughs. “In Toronto, we’re very hard. You have to go further. The crowd will just stare at you like, ‘Impress me!’” Davey says, referring to “traditional” karaoke spectators.
Baby J and O-Swag, friends and Concordia communications students (and the youngest on the team) came to HHK by way of the Just for Laughs festival and a shared love of rap music.
“[Two summers ago], I worked for Just for Laughs, and I ended up going out with a bunch of comedians who all decided they wanted to perform at HHK,” explains O-Swag. “Basically, I just walked in. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I realized I had witnessed the most beautiful thing ever conceived of.”
“[Comedian] Hannibal Buress got up and did Snoop, and I just wondered how I never knew this existed! So I went back to school, and I told Jas, and the rest is history. I had never heard of it, and now it’s my bitch!” The two got their act together and flipped the crowd out next time around with their rendition of Snoop and Dre’s ” Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.”
Despite basically being strangers to each other, the six organizers have an easy back-and-forth and each emphasises how well they have been getting along, working with a simple adage that if something works, great, and if not, move on.
They bring diverse skill sets, talents and backgrounds to the table, and the age range from 20 to 31 essentially covers the HHK demographic. They remind both potential performers and attendees that this is not a rap lifestyle event. As always, HHK is geared toward people who have that one rap song they sing in the shower and know all the words to.
As such, the event is a success with fans of good ol’ entertainment, plain and simple, as much as with hardcore rap fanatics. The spirit is light. No dick-grabbing, strutting or undue flossing is goin’ down on stage unless the act demands it.
And while rap controversy is far off the HHK radar, the organizers do remind us that certain hot-button terms might be suitably replaced where necessary. N- words from white folks, the “other F-bomb” and misogynistic lyrics are not banned, per se, but the team expects a certain level of respect from performers to create an atmosphere of fun without the room going silent from watching someone take things too far.
“I mean, I’m half-Jewish,” deadpans Deprisk, “but that doesn’t mean I can get up there and do ‘Kikes in Paris.’”
As the group gels and takes on the gig for the first time, its members are anxious within reason, but more excited to bring back a party they and hundreds of others have come to love.
“It’s not about the lifestyle,” they conclude. “It’s about the love.” ■
Hip Hop Karaoke Montreal happens at le Belmont (4483 St-Laurent) on Thursday, Nov. 15, 9 p.m., $10. Sign up here.