There was nervous laughter in the air as new members of OutSpoken, a student-led creative arts collective founded at Jackson State University, prepared for their New Member Showcase on Tuesday, Feb. 20 inside Johnson Hall’s Art Gallery.
In 2007, music majors Jamaal “Moving Testament” Bolden, Diandgy “Thiiird World” Georges and Tori “Scarlette” Thompson used their passion for spoken word poetry to create OutSpoken. Since then, the organization has grown to include singers, dancers, graphic designers, photographers, rappers, musicians and almost all things creative.
Every Sunday the collective meets to discuss group business and critique each other’s work. Each fall, OutSpoken holds auditions for new members. After the selection process, individual interviews follow. The showcase gives “newbies” a chance to apply what they have learned since joining the organization.
Kenya Johnson, a junior, joined OutSpoken because she wanted to get more comfortable with performing in front of an audience.
“I’m not really too confident in my craft. But I feel this is a good opportunity for me to practice in front of people who I know won’t judge me,” said the big-voice songstress who belted out an acoustic version of Rihanna’s “Diamonds in the Sky” and CeeLo Green’s hit “Crazy.”
Johnson said she chose the songs because they remind her of a relationship cycle. In the beginning, things are perfect, but as time progresses, a loving couple can still make one another a little crazy, she explained.
“I’m in a relationship right now, and he drives me up a wall,” Johnson said, then laughs.
When it comes to OutSpoken, Johnson suggests that other creative students should give the group a shot.
“We’re like a family. Nobody will judge you, but you have to be able to take critiques,” she said. “It’s not to degrade you; it’s to make you better. They see potential in me that I don’t really see in myself, especially my friend Devin (Cousin). I say try it out.”
The showcase is bittersweet for senior Tyler Harden, president of OutSpoken. Her impending graduation from the University in April serves as a reminder that this is her last year with the group.
“This is the first organization that I joined at Jackson State. I’ve been here since my freshmen year, and I’ve done everything that I could possibly do in OutSpoken, so I’m really going to miss it,” she said.
Harden echoes the theme of family and explains that the faction also serves as a support system. She notes that to join, students do not have to be performance ready, but they must come to auditions with love for their art and an open heart.
“A lot of these people are my lifelong family and friends. This is my last New Members Showcase, so we want this one to be the best one yet,” she exclaimed.
Based on the crowd reaction, Harden’s request may have come true.Rapper Justin Brown opened the show with a piece that seemed to describe the daily goings-on he encounters while “riding through my city.” K.J. Roberts, freshmen class president at JSU, performed a metaphorical poem he wrote titled “Amnesia.” And Ananda Collins closed her eyes as she sang Anita Baker’s “I Apologize” in a sweet and airy voice.
Tierra Mister came to the showcase to support her friend Sydni Rose. Mister admits that she has seen a boost in Rose’s confidence since joining OutSpoken.
“I’m really excited to see her perform in front of everyone. I’m ready to hear what she has to offer, and I think she’s going to do great,” said Mister.
Attendees could not help but to sing the catchy hook to Rose’s spoken word piece “Vibin’ and coolin,’” where she laments a summer fling turned sour.
A business management major, Rose composed the work over winter break, and explained that it was based on her personal experiences with a relationship.
“I wanted to get over it, so I wrote it out my system,” she said.
After practicing the song in front of OutSpoken, she agreed that “Vibin’ and Coolin’” would be better as a spoken word performance.
“I think I did really well. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be and it went smoothly. So, I’m really happy,” she said.Singer Teon Woods gave a stunning performance of “Love” by Musiq Soulchild that left the crowd imitating his melodic runs and ad-libs long after he finished singing. Photographer Ahmarey Stimley shared his emotion inducing flicks on a projection screen while reading a self-penned poem from his phone. And Robert Mack told listeners to “marinate on the beat for a second” before displaying witty wordplay in his rhymes.
Demetrius Young, a senior, also came to see his friend Timothy Young, a graphic designer who goes by the pseudonym Kxng [sic] Alex.
“It was a great showcase. I enjoyed everyone’s different talents. I also like the way it was presented. It was a very warm feeling, everyone was like a family sitting together enjoying the vibes as a whole,” said the mass communication major.
Although he is not a member of OutSpoken, Demetrius said he would recommend that creatives join the collective.
“You can learn so many things and also make connections.” He points out, “When you’re an upcoming artist, the more connections you have, the more outlets you have, the better chance you have of making it.”Seated in a chair, wearing a black and white striped dress Imani Taylor sang Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” But instead of the fast and frenzied original, Taylor treated spectators to the slow and seductive remix found on the “Fifty Shades of Gray” movie soundtrack. Sieara DeLone and Thaerin Generette closed the show with a good-energy duet that began with spoken word and ended with rapping and singing that had everyone bobbing their heads.
Music education major and Vice President of OutSpoken, Andre Dyson expressed his feelings of pride after observing the “newbies.”
“It was dope to see them grow over time and mature with their craft in a small amount of time. They were really attentive, receptive and willing to work,” he said.
When asked who was his favorite performance of the night, he smiles slyly before saying, “Teon Woods, that boy can sang his derriere off.”