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.

Samurai Yola (Tony Davis) rocks the crowd at Monstercade. (photo by Cason Ragland)

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.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

🗲 Join The Society 🗲