Flint, MI—Young people in Flint, Mich. have a new platform to flex their creativity: a monthly open mic night at Comma Bookstore & Social Hub.
“I feel like it’s important for the youth to have a safe space to be able to come through and express themselves musically, or whatever talents they may have, and get comfortable with doing that,” said Kameron “King Kam” Motley, one of the founding members of Flint Renaissance Era, a newly-formed collective of Flint-based artists and host of the open mic series.
The open mics, which will take place the first Friday of every month going forward, kicked off on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022 with more than a dozen performances ranging from raps and spoken word poems to guitar-laced ballads and a cappella covers.
Beyond encouraging young artists, members of the Flint Renaissance Era, taking inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance, said they want to be a part of redefining Flint’s identity as a hub for Black success.
Supporting that mission is WOW Outreach, a nonprofit based in Flint’s north side that hosts youth programming in an effort to cut down on violence in the community. WOW is funding Flint Renaissance Era’s open mic series and hopes to build on it with artist showcases in the future, said program administrator DaChelle McDonald.
As for the Flint Renaissance Era team, “they’re infectious,” McDonald said, adding that the artist collective is helping to teach their peers practical life skills, like networking and collaborating, through the series.
Aside from those big-picture goals, the open mics are all about having fun and “doing stuff,” said Wutae World, a Flint-based musician and another founding member of the Flint Renaissance Era.
“My initial goal for the Flint Renaissance Era when I created that term was just for Black creatives to create,” he said. “That’s exactly what this is.”
Motley recalled his grade school days rapping during lunch. The producer behind his beats now, E.T. Versace, made his beats back then, too, by drumming on the lunch table with pencils, Motley said.
“I come from freestyling in the cafeteria,” he said. “I remember I attracted this huge crowd. I mean, the principal even came through and was watching me go off the top. That’s when I really knew that it was something there.”
Now, Motley, who styles himself as “the voice of the youth,” looks to the late Nipsey Hussle for inspiration.
“You can see how he used his his gift to be able to talk about investing, talk about generational wealth, Black excellence, and it goes on and goes on,” Motley said. “So with me, I feel like I have a responsibility to do something kind of similar in my community, be able to use my my gifts to inspire the youth.”
Isaiah “Jaddai” Baker, another founding member of the Flint Renaissance Era, has been surrounded by music his entire life, he said. It was natural for him to start making it himself, infusing influences from jazz, gospel and rock into his style.
He’s spurred on by music’s ability to heal, he said.
“I’ve seen people’s lives been changed by my music,” Baker said. “Knowing people that were dealing with depression, and once they listen to my music, they feel at ease.”
Wutae World launched his music career out of boredom when he was in eighth grade, he said.
“Really, I was dissing my exes in eighth grade,” he said. “It was funny. People loved it. People hated it…It was art.”
He was nervous about performing during the first open mic, he said, but that fell away once he was on stage. Looking back, Wutae World said any mistakes he made added to the realness of his performance.
“I take the over-analyzation of performing and just let the soul speak,” he said. “I’m just going to do.”
Giovanni “Gi to the O!” Serra was nervous, too, he said. His act was the first of the night.
“It was like, it was all on me to set the tone, right?” Serra said. “That last 10 minutes before I went up, it was like the sound of darkness. It was like, I couldn’t hear nothing. I couldn’t see nothing. But it was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m about to be up here.'”
Serra’s earliest memory of making music was in fifth grade, he said, when he got a guitar for Christmas. He put together his first song on it.
“Ever since then, I just enjoyed being able to be free within words and sound,” he said. “Everyone likes music, so just being able to create it yourself, I think it just makes that much more special.”