Before I entered the Multicultural Center last Friday, Feb. 27 for Nadirah X’s performance, promoted as a mix of slam poetry, spoken word, hip hop, rap, and reggae, I had no idea what to expect. I felt the reverberation of bass echoing from outside the theater as the ticket-takers said, “Yeah, they were incredibly loud when we were in there before.” Prepared with my notebook, pen, and photographer friend, I entered the theater expectantly when the doors opened and snagged some up-close and personal seats. I glanced to notice that the MCC’s theater stage was adorned with a giant drum set, British flag guitar, microphones, and scratch turntables, presumably for the Jury, a band that would accompany Nadirah for part of her set.
The night started out with Nadirah X airing a quick trailer for her recent movie “Under the Rainbow,” in which she plays the lead role. Afterward, she took the stage, artfully dressed in colorful shoes, an elaborate sparkling gold accented jacket, and dark-wash jeans. She shared the stage at first with a backup rapper, Swish, dressed in a similar gold-lined jacket getup. He served as little more than entertainment for most of the audience, however, compared to Nadirah’s composed talent.
Nadirah X’s first song had some technical sound difficulties, mostly drowning out her voice by an intense background music set from her DJ, DJ Scratch. After the sound issues were resolved, the intimately sized crowd encouraged Nadirah X to repeat the song the right way. She said she wanted us to really hear and â€œfeel the lyrics,” because that was what performing was all about for her.
After a rocky start, the first couple songs were quite powerful, due to Nadirah’s expressive stage presence. Though modest in between songs, on stage the Jamaican-born Nadirah is passionate, and uses her full body to express her emotion and feelings. With power reflected in her intensely blue eyes, she stares right into your eyes, raises her hands and arms, and moves along to the beat. Her natural rhythm flows well with her lyrics and rhymes.
None of the lyrics glorified materialism or excessive violence, two common complaints about the genre of rap. Nadirah’s themes of social consciousness, self-examination, injustice, relationships, and achieving dreams really resonated with me and, I expect, most of the audience.
In the background, the music alternated between gentle, ethereal voices combined with guitar riffs reminiscent of Linkin Park and jamming bass beats with intense, heartfelt rapping and introspection.
Her music got a lot of the audience dancing and rocking out, coming out into the aisles and front floor to take advantage of the space. Nadirah sashayed with the microphone, adding her own funky dance moves to the bouncy, jamming songs.
After a solid set of five or so songs, Nadirah told us that she wanted to introduce the ladies and gentlemen of The Jury, the band that would take the stage for the rest of the night. This mostly British band added vivacity, soul and more of a reggae feel to her music. Each instrument and voice had a separate personality, and each was allowed a chance to shine or express their talent separately through quick individual solos, especially during a song entitled “I Hate This.”
The Jury performed seamlessly for several songs with Nadirah X, DJ Scratch, and Swish, describing life on the streets and boyfriends that just don’t get that it’s over, encouraging us to pursue our dreams because they’re all we’ve got. The audience grew so enthusiastic that when Nadirah X asked if she and The Jury should come back sometime, the response was a roaring cheer that vibrated the entire theater.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Nadirah’s performance opened my eyes to a new genre: a combination of slam poetry and rap. I was thoroughly entertained and inspired to continue my own work as a poet. This performance showed me there’s a bigger audience for poetry, especially if combined with music, than I imagined.
Nadirah X was pleasantly down-to-earth during her interview with me shortly after the show. She told me that she performs because she loves being on stage and she feels like she has something to offer. For her, it’s a chance to say what we need as a society.
To those looking to pursue a career in slam poetry or rap, Nadirah said, “Go for it. This field’s kinda underground, so it’s tough, but stick with it.” She insisted to me, “day to day events inspire my music; it’s nothing that extraordinary. When I sit down in my room, though, me and God write the music.” This spiritual connection, deeply embedded in her poetry and lyrics, seems to drive Nadirah X further and further out of the abyss of obscurity and into the bright lights of fame.