Step Up to the Mic at Hip-Hop Karaoke, Where Judgment Gets Left at the Door

A young woman, visibly pregnant, steps up on stage at The Crown and Harp. It's her birthday and she's dressed in a sun dress, here to celebrate with friends and sing karaoke. Mic in hand, the music starts playing: "I'm a pipe, she like a crack addict," she raps, belting out the words to Lil Wayne and Birdman's "Stuntin' Like My Daddy," barely even having to look at the screen. This mother-to-be knows the words.

It's Hip-Hop Karaoke night at The Crown and Harp, but don't worry. You won't be hearing "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Total Eclipse of the Heart" here. It's all hip-hop — the only karaoke night like it in Dallas — and it's as fresh as an ice cream paint job.

Hosted by Too Fresh Productions’ Joel Salazar, Hip-Hop Karaoke is a monthly event that allows anyone with the guts to take the stage to try their hand at being an MC. In order to hear your favorite song, all you have to do is tweet @HHKDFW with its title and artist, and show up at the bar after 10 p.m. There are plenty of other karaoke nights in Dallas, but this one on Lower Greenville is the only hip-hop oriented live karaoke event in the city. 

Still, even as folks began to pour into Crown and Harp well before midnight on the July 2 installment of Hip-Hop Karaoke (this month features two karaoke nights, with the second happening this Thursday, July 16), things didn’t really start to get crazy until about midnight or 1 a.m. Before that, there was the mother to be rapping "Stuntin' Like My Daddy" and local talent buyer Moody Fuqua taking on “Nuthin But A G Thang,” rapping both Snoop and Dr. Dre’s parts flawlessly.

Fuqua is already pretty much always at Crown and Harp, where he regularly books acts and manages the bar. An admitted “sucker for old-school hip-hop,” Fuqua put his head together with Joel Salazar's — who was working with Poor Vida Productions, another promotions company — at the time. Together, they realized that no one else in Dallas was doing an entirely hip-hop focused karaoke event. And thus, Hip-Hop Karaoke was born.

From its inaugural night in March of 2013, the event has since exploded. Often, people can’t even sign up to perform a song because there are so many people who want to perform. “There are so many people that sign up that once it gets going we don't stop,” says Salazar. “We honestly can't fit every request in because of the amount of people that want to sing. On the nights when it is a little lighter, it’s mostly party and classic hip-hop, which everyone enjoys.”

According to a Hip-Hop Karaoke regular and real life rapper Bobby Fisha, the music selection is surprisingly diverse. “This night attracts the die-hard hip-hop heads and people who only love mainstream radio music,” says Fisha. “That’s awesome because the mix is always so eclectic even though it’s just staying within the genre of rap music.” On any given night, you’re likely to hear a mix of tunes that ranges from the aforementioned Snoop and Dre classic to dirty South favorites, Beastie Boys and rap radio hits.

And even if your particular interest in rap music is maybe a little more challenging than your own ability — being a rapper is harder than you think — no one’s going to make fun of you if you look a little like a jackass while forgetting the words of “Poetic Justice” by Kendrick Lamar.

“There’s no judging whatsoever,” says Pedro “Priest TD” Gonzalez, a local DJ who frequents Hip-Hop Karaoke. “Everyone has a chance to act a fool on stage and everyone is having a good time.” Fisha adds that it has a lot to do with the fact that hip-hop just produces a very inviting environment for karaoke. “It’s upbeat, and everyone is having more fun. When people at other types of karaoke are trying to sing serious songs and belt out these lyrics, the crowd can be really harsh and judgmental,” Fisha says. “At karaoke with rap music, everyone is too busy rapping with you to notice if you suck or not.”

Brit Stubblefield-Engram had to go to her first Hip-Hop Karaoke as part of an assignment for Joel Salazar’s Hip-Hop Studies course at El Centro College. As a student, Stubblefield-Engram was required to shadow Salazar as he produced one of his many hip-hop events around town, Hip-Hop Karaoke just one among them. But from there, she started to really fall in love with the culture that Salazar and the crowd at Crown and Harp had started to cultivate. “As a 6-foot-tall black woman, I’m stigmatized, and Hip-Hop Karaoke is the only place I’ve ever felt comfortable enough to perform,” she says. 

In fact, she’s so comfortable there, that stage fright isn’t even a consideration, but it used to be. When she visited another popular karaoke establishment in Dallas and performed “Before He Cheats,” a Carrie Underwood country song, she says that there was an audible sigh of relief that she wasn’t performing a “black song.” “No matter how bad someone performed, people paid attention and had fun,” says Stubblefield-Engram. “As soon as I got on stage people went outside, occupied the bar, any and everything beside listen to me.”

Now, Stubblefield-Engram brings her husband along and is a weekly performer, mostly choosing to rap Kanye West songs or old-school jams. “It's no different than letting go in the car and rapping your favorite song,” she says. “I'm just doing it with other people, especially after a couple of drinks.” Engram now attends Hip-Hop Karaoke as an intern of Too Fresh Productions, but she’d go even if she hadn’t taken the job.

And that has a lot to do with the inclusive community that Salazar, Fuqua and the crowd at Crown and Harp have helped cultivate. Hip-Hop Karaoke is attended by people of all races and rapping ability, and the crowd is more diverse than one might think. It is somewhat uncomfortable to watch drunk white people try to avoid saying the “n-word” in rap songs — one guy chose to use “ninja” over and over — but fortunately, Stubblefield-Engram hasn’t seen anyone cross the line into racist appropriation more than once.

“Outside of one time, where I had to ask my husband if I’d heard what I knew I heard while a group of white girls rapped on stage, I would consider Hip-Hop Karaoke a safe space, which is usually rare for Dallas,” she says. Judging by the crowd that continued to thicken over the course of that showed up earlier this month, she's not the only one who feels that way. "Who doesn't secretly want to be a rapper?" asks Fisha. "Especially when everyone gets rowdy, and for lack of a better term, turns up, whether you're awesome or terrible." 

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