“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we could do Future karaoke, or Migos?” Jason Mowatt texted his friend.
“You mean like a trap karaoke?”
This exchange between Jason Mowatt, a 31-year-old from Washington, D.C., and a friend who was on his way to karaoke with coworkers, began a concept that would make waves in the hip-hop scene. Karaoke as most people know it doesn’t involve hip-hop or R&B, which Trap Karaoke host Nile Ivey says limits the selections for black communities. Trap Karaoke changes that – and sets it up like a concert, with the crowd on its feet and singing along.
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Mowatt, using his experience in social media and as an investor for D.C.-based multiple-music-genre festival Trillectro, formed a team now known as Trap Karaoke: Ivey (aka “Low Key”), DJ Austin Millz, DJ Quiana Parks and himself. Their first show was in September 2015 for a crowd of 40 in New York City. Now they travel all over the country and have done shows for up to 3,000 people.
They recently came to Charlotte for the second time (both sold out) this year, partnering with HBO for a July 13 premiere party at The Fillmore for “Ballers” and “Insecure.” And they’ll be back in the vicinity this fall, coming to Raleigh Sept. 13 on tour with rapper 2 Chainz.
If you love hip-hop, and have been memorizing lyrics and performing in front of your bathroom mirror for years, Trap Karaoke was made for you. But first, you better know what you’re getting yourself into. Here are five things you should brace yourself for at Trap Karaoke.
1. Be ready to be a “wild card.” If you didn’t sign up in advance to perform (through the website or email organizers send out), you may either be excited to still have a chance to shine, or terrified that you could be chosen at random. Wild cards are scattered amongst the other performances. If a scheduled karaoke performer does not make it to the stage within 30 seconds, another wild card is picked.
Jerome Reid was the final wild card and performer of the night at the HBO Trap Karaoke after party. He ran to the front, swung his arms wildly, and screamed to get chosen. As soon as he was up it was clear that he was born for this moment.
“It felt great the crowd was loving it and everything. I mean I was up there vibing with everybody,” says Reid. “If you ain’t ever been to Trap Karaoke you gotta do it. It’s a life experience.”
Reid threw it back to the year 2000 with his performance of “Trial Time” by rapper The Last Mr. Bigg, and he’s right. The crowd fully supported him as he pointed to the audience, danced and hit every word.
2. You better know all the words to your favorite song. Karaoke usually consists of words on a screen for people to follow, but Trap Karaoke has a limited list of songs they have lyrics to. There’s a reason for that. Mowatt says that people tend to perform a lot better when they know the words by heart.
And if you don’t know the words, you’re out. They will give you the intro to a song, typically the first 30 seconds, and within that time you better give it everything you’ve got or they’ll move on to the next performer.
But don’t be too nervous. The crowd won’t ruthlessly boo you offstage. When someone struggles with the words, the crowd has his or her back and usually helps out. They will continue to hype you up regardless. Everyone just wants to see you be great.
3. How you perform and engage with the audience is key. This is more than a test of your memorization skills. The crowd wants to see you get into the music. This is your time to pull out those moves you learned from music videos. Project your words. Let everyone feel your energy.
The audience is judged based on their engagement as well. If a crowd is loud, supportive and keeps up its energy it can win the “Trappie” Award for their city. Only a couple of cities have won, among them New Orleans, Detroit and Memphis.
4. You don’t have to go up alone. Many people came onstage at The Fillmore with friends. Some came to support their friends as their personal hype man. Some were great backup dancers. Other groups looked as if they’d been practicing for this night, knowing when to switch off who took over the mic. If you have that one friend who knows the song better than anyone and loves the spotlight, be prepared for him or her to completely forget your presence and take over the stage.
5. “We’re not party promoters, we’re community organizers” is Trap Karaoke’s go-to phrase.
“It’s different from going to the club and getting drunk,” says Parks. “All sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles can come here and have a good time, and I think that’s what it’s about.”
Trap Karaoke made sure at its Charlotte show that all the audience felt included, mixing it up with old-school hip-hop as well as new school, for the range of ages in the crowd. At one point, the play list even turned to gospel music.
“Us including that is a reflection of people who come to this event and recognizing that a lot of people who enjoy trap music still go to church,” says Mowatt. “Or there are people who enjoy trap music and [are] still professional. They’re lawyers, they’re doctors … And they’re just looking for a space where they can be their whole self, not just half of who they are.”