The air was frigid on a recent Tuesday night just outside Bohemian Caverns. But upstairs and inside the jazz venue’s Liv nightclub, D.C. was on fire.
Well, at least according to local MC Javier Starks, who rhymed over a frenzied instrumental from the band Mambo Sauce. Then the chaos faded, and the poetic duo BPM took the stage, shifting themes to the plight of local black youth. Later, an amateur singer grabbed the mic to test her chops, and eventually sang a rendition of Monica’s “Before You Walk Out of My Life” that had what seemed like most of the club emoting along.
It’s not often that you see a crowd heavy on MCs singing lyrics like “I only wanna make things right/Before you walk out of my life” in unison. But this was just another night at the Up and Up Open Mic, held at Liv every Tuesday from 9 to 11:30 p.m.
“More than anything, it’s a family environment,” says Godallah Truth Hall, who heads the group responsible for the open mic and is one-third of the rap outfit Gods’Illa.
For instance, co-hosts Black Boo, of Mambo Sauce, and Victorious Hall sing the Cheers theme when there are newcomers in the audience. Black Boo is also known to make fun of the artists before they perform.
It’s always an eclectic scene. Demont “Peekaso” Pinder, a local freestyle portraitist and “art director” for crooner Raheem DeVaughn, paints two pieces during the event—one that’s the prize of a $1 lottery, and another that he sells outright. At the end of the night, the artists who didn’t get to perform—the list fills up quickly—can do so in a jam session. Each week, you see über-thug MCs and incense-burning tree huggers, comedians like Eddie Bryant and ecstatic West African percussionists. Still, the vibe is decidedly unforced.
Up and Up is also a low-key stopover for some of the region’s most notable hip-hop names: It’s not rare to see Tabi Bonney, Kingpen Slim, Uptown X.O., Kokayi, or RAtheMC there.
Up and Up began in summer 2009 at the quaint Almaz Ethiopian restaurant, and moved to the bigger Liv just 10 weeks later. About 120 people attend each week, according to Hall. “Our whole plan is to be a haven for everything,” Hall says. “We don’t want to be put in a box.”