OG Spliff (Clifford Owens) sat in his car with the door wide open and scrolled through his phone to find a good instrumental. Others milled about, smoking cigarettes and sipping cheap beer in the streetlight’s amber incandescence. The beat kicked in and some freestylers formed a circle in the parking lot of Monstercade in Winston-Salem to start an after-party cypher. Pedestrians strolled by and joined in on the action.
And this was after the actual show had ended.
We Out Here 4: The Winston-Salem Rap Round Robin sounds like a high-stakes competition. Spliff described it as more of a sparring match with his brothers.
Earlier that night inside the bar, Aaron Brookshire, one member of the fraternal duo Speak ‘N Eye, asked the crowd: “Is Winston in the house?” A few onlookers hollered back. Then he went over the rules and format for the night’s proceedings. There were three sound systems and two emcees for each stage; OG Spliff and Qvan Ledon (Daquan Edward Thompson) took the mainstage while Twinn Zeus (Dale Ruffin) and Grant Livesay manned the second positioned next to a long sofa. Samurai Yola (Tony Davis) and the aforementioned Speak ‘N Eye (Aaron and Joshua Brookshire) occupied the final setup that stood crammed in between some booths and a large arcade cabinet. The round robin began at the mainstage and worked its way around in a clockwise fashion. The audience turned their attention to each set like lazy, whirling dervishes who were set in motion by the constant stream of verse and rhythm.
Opener Jacob Leonard, of the group Dark Prophet Tongueless Monk, acted as a crescendo for the main event. His set started without an introduction and filled the small bar with slow, ambient reverberations. Audience members teetered back and forth while Monk built up the energy of his set with every track. Monk brought everything together with a finger-pad drum solo before closing with more delicate riffs from his guitar. Once he was done, he quickly moved all his gear off of the stage in preparation for the headliners.
The beats and flows varied quite a bit throughout the night. Everything from boom-bap breakbeats to the rattling high-hats and repetitive melodies of trap blasted through the setups.
The artists mused on various themes during their performances. Samurai Yola lamented lost love in a song when he said, “Wanna leave me/ go ahead and leave/ my bed too small/ that means better sleep.”
The assemblage nodded to the bluesy beat while Yola proceeded to mourn until his turn was over. Other acts in the round robin made boasts about themselves and their hometowns. Twinn Zeus told the crowd he’s “from NC, first in fly;/ check my veins, they’re pumping Cheerwine.”
The robin had gone around four times when Brookshire called for the crowd to vote on how many more rounds there should be.
“Five or six?” he asked and some called for seven or eight.
“Y’all live as f***,” Brookshire said. “We usually cut it short.”
“Y’all seen the new Avengers movie?” Spliff asked the crowd. He told them that he’d spoil the whole thing if they didn’t get hype for the final round. The audience obliged his request, jumping in place and rapping along with him. The event ended with a slower jam from the typically bombastic Speak ‘N Eye.
Yasmin Bendaas, an audience member who lives in Raleigh, said she came there to support Twinn Zeus, her coworker, and to experience something different to the typical scene in North Carolina nightlife.
“It was like a show out of my garage.” said Spliff in the parking lot after the event, commenting on the intimacy and DIY nature of the concert. “We’re building; we get in where we fit in.” he said. “We’re finding our home.”
OG Spliff, Samurai Yola and others will perform at the Blind Tiger in Greensboro on May 30.