Michael Patrick Welch and MC Intelligence make it possible for anyone to play The Rap Game.
So easy, a kid can do it.
That's the premise behind The Rap Game, which comes to One Eyed Jacks tonight to open for MC Sweet Tea. Michael Patrick Welch wrote and edited New Orleans: The Underground Guide with Alison Fensterstock, and he and MC Intelligence - Kerry Gibson - created The Rap Game, which is the hip-hop version of karaoke. The audience is given a beat, a brief primer on writing rhymes, and eight lines to show their stuff. On Friday night, they'll have a horn section to play the contestants to their spot to rhyme, then to help them get out with some style and grace. Welch and Gibson have played The Rap Game at Mimi's and the AllWays Lounge, but this is their first time at One Eyed Jacks.
"People can rap," Welch says, but they rarely think so at first. The biggest challenge is always to get people to come up onstage, and cheap shots of something strong help. After a little badgering, people loosen up and get involved. "I really hard-sell them, but it works," he says. "By now, rap's been around for so long that every single person who gets up there can imitate The Beastie Boys for a second. Nobody has ever gotten up there and been as shitty as you see people be at karaoke, where you're like, 'Ohmigod, this is not fun.'"
The Rap Game grew out of Welch's classroom activities, where he teaches grade school-aged children to write. To make literacy less abstract, he started asking them to write rap. The results were so entertaining that an album emerged from it - YA! Young Audiences Raps. Welch and Gibson will show some of the students' videos Friday night as part of the show.
"It's a literacy class disguised as a music class," Welch says. "The CD and the rap and the beats are the carrot to get the kids to practice their writing, which they don't want to do." It's a form of journal writing but set to music, and he has the class vote on a topic and brainstorm to get details and subject matter down before they're allowed to start rhyming. "Otherwise, they become sing-songy, off-topic, whatever rhymes. They go after the rhymes before they go after the subject matter.
His method works, but it's not universally loved. Many parents and teachers consider hip-hop the enemy and would prefer the students have as little to do with it as possible. Some dismiss it as a low priority for students that also need history and math, while other consider it a low form of self-expression. "You're using the shitty, corporate version to judge the most important black artform of the 20th Century," Welch says. "I have them writing about puppies and rainbows to show that it's the topics you choose and not the genre that's destroying America."
Gibson is a recent addition to Welch's teaching efforts, having been with him for two summers. "The one thing I was missing was leading by example," he says. "He can rap all the rules to them and the topics, and can teach the class while rapping." Following his example, Welch started rapping with his class and found that when he did, they rapped back. "You've got to put yourself out there," he says.
The idea to move this out of the classroom came when they did some workshops including one at the New Orleans Museum of Art. "We got parents and their kids to all a write rap within 20 minutes, and all get up and do it. We realized it was kind of like karaoke, and people got into it the same way. It's a huge success everywhere we do it."
In the past, The Rap Game has involved three rounds winnowing down 20 or so competitors to a winner, but the last time they played, that process took more than three hours. Because they're in an opening act slot, they've trimmed it down to more manageable 45 minutes. "This is what we do on the first day of class," he says. "By the end of it, there's a song - more or less."