On Wednesday night, over 300 people filled up Liv nightclub on U Street to watch eight poets from around the country battle it out for the Graffiti DC’s Art of War Poetry Slam finale.
The event, held every third Wednesday since July 2010, featured 60 poets in its first season. The winner of each round became a finalist for a shot at the slam champion trophy and $2000.
Beny Blaq, founder and CEO of Beny Blaq Entertainment, came up with the idea for the event last year as a way to bring more variety in entertainment for 18-and-over event seekers.
“I felt there was a big gap in the age group for the 18-and-over market and them really trying to express themselves. I wanted to bring them something where they didn’t have to try and worry about dressing up but still keep it nice and still keep it cute,” said Blaq.
He also explained the concept behind naming the event Graffiti DC.
“I felt ‘Graffiti’ represented being young, vibrant, colorful, and spontaneity, and it spoke to the audience I was trying to attract,” said Blaq.
The audience sat tightly on the stage and floor and stood up when all the seats had been taken. The DJ kept the audience entertained with hip-hop classics in between performances.
The event brought out a strong college crowd with students from Georgetown University, University of Maryland, Howard University, and American University in the audience.
The finalists, 13 of Nazareth, Green, ItsRealLight, Gray the Poet, Epidemic, Kane Mayfield, Jinahie, and Simply Tee, slammed on topics ranging from love, black consciousness, to war. All of the poets wore T-shirts with the Fuze logo, the company that sponsored the event.
The poets were judged by five media personalities from the D.C. area, including EZ Street from 93.9 WKYS.
During the first round of the competition, each finalist performed for about three minutes. The top three highest scorers, IsRealLight, Epidimic, and Jinahie advanced to a final round where they performed for the title.
After what was said to be a close call, Jinahie, 19, from Virginia took home the slam trophy and the $2000 prize. She performed a piece from the point-of-view of a child witnessing their father treat his family negatively, due to post traumatic stress after returning from war. The audience’s loud cheers after her performance foreshadowed her win.
“All the poets were so beautiful and the audience had so much energy tonight. I’m just overwhelmed,” said Jinahie.
She said this was her first time competing for money.
“I been doing poetry for about three years. It is not my first competition, but it is my first competition for money because people don’t usually give out money for poetry,” said Jinahie.
Lauren Dezera, 22, from Virginia attended Graffiti DC for the second time last night and felt this type of event was lacking in the area.
“I think this is a great opportunity for our voices to be heard. It’s been so inspiring to be here and I think it’s exactly what we need right now,” said Dezera.
Anik Khan of New York City thought the event was the start of a great movement.
“This is my first time at a slam so it was really dope. It’s dope to not just see Def Jam Poetry do it, but to see other organizations do it too,” said Khan.
Nyasha Chikowore, 25, who is the Graffiti DC coordinator, said the goal for the next season is to reach out to more fresh faces to compete.
“The poetry scene can be cliquish and sometimes we see the same faces, so I’m hoping to get more college students and novel poets – people who haven’t been here in the area to perform,” said Chikowore.
The next Graffiti DC installment will begin this July.