In Chicago’s Wicker Park community, a tall grey building blends into the weekend nightlife perfectly, home to a restaurant and lounge called Jerry’s. You might miss if it wasn’t for its signature neon rooster resting atop the lounge’s orange logo. Jerry’s hosts many entertainment nights, their most popular being Original Rap Karaoke.
Entering the building is like entering a friend’s beautiful home while their parents are away. Elegant furniture aglow from warm lighting accompanies blaring rap music, with rooms engulfed by laughing friends with drinks hand. Taking a seat in front of the stage, the mood was becoming more and more relaxed, until Rap Karaoke’s DJ Freddie Grayer, 35, performed his routine. He spins his personal music mix, changing the lighting from a dimly lit yellow to fluorescent red. Eyes immediately perked up, as a table of women smiled in approval, one saying, “I like this.”
— Tyler Eiland (@EilandTyler) April 26, 2016
The night began as two women jumped on stage with enough energy to capture the attention of the entire room. The first woman, 25-year-old Angelenah Davanport, greeted the crowd with a big smile and strong voice. Her co-host, Cristalle Bowen, 35, preferably known as Psalm One, has been the reigning host since the very beginning and greeted the crowd as well. Known as the Rapperchicks, Davanport paraded around the stage with her floor-length boa dragging behind her while Bowen wasn’t hard to miss either. Sporting a pink afro, she advised the audience to get some liquid courage in their system before performing.
“Listen, I want to get this party started but I can’t do that until you guys sign up,” Bowen said. “I want at least 10 of you guys. So if you’re one of the first 10 to sign up, we’ll give you a ticket for a free drink.” Within seconds, their sign-up table was flooded as people quickly entered their song choice.
Original Rap Karaoke began in 2012, according to its website. The first and third Saturdays of the month are devoted to popular music event at Jerry’s. Party-goers can choose from hundreds of house music, rap classics and R&B tunes. Theme nights are among the rap karaoke events, with songs featuring certain artists for party-goers to perform.
“We wanted someplace fun where our people could enjoy ourselves and our culture freely,” said Bowen, as Davanport nodded in agreement.
After the required 10 sign-ups are sent over the website via tablet and phone, the first patron is called. On this night, some were initially nervous until Davanport, Bowen and DJ Grayer offered playful banter to relax the performers. The three hosts even sang a few songs to help calm the nerves of those hesitant guests. It wasn’t until a tall reserved man wowed the crowd as he sang Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” that the night became a party without a frown in sight.
At the beginning of each performance, the three hosts give a detailed speech about being very careful with using certain words and not saying them so freely.
“Angel and I say it all the time, ‘this is a safe place,’ Bowen told ChicagoTalks during one of the intermissions. “That’s why we always stress the importance of respecting the ‘N’ word. It can get ugly if the wrong person goes there.”
“This is a safe place, and this is my house,” Davanport added. “We have fun in my house; I don’t let it be anything but that.”
Grayer, though, has a different take.
“But if you’re gonna say it, say it with your chest, and only say it if it’s part of the lyrics,” he said. ” You are safe here, but once you go out there and say it, you’re on your own.”
If you go:
- Original Rap Karaoke
- Jerry’s in Wicker Park, 1938 W. Division
- 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., first and third Saturdays of the month.
Video courtesy twitter.com/chirapkaraoke
— Original Rap Karaoke (@ChiRapKaraoke) July 3, 2016