Future’s latest release, “Mask Off,” blared through Thorne Hall’s speakers as the two emcees, Austin Wilson (sophomore) and Ashley Rivera (sophomore), kodak bopped in from stage right. Feb. 24 marked Black Student Alliance’s (BSA) annual Apollo Night. In honor of the original Apollo Theater in Harlem, the event caps off Black History month with a fun and inclusive talent show, according to BSA e-board member Wilson. While the event showcased a variety of talents, spoken word stole the night and earned the top two prizes and taking home $50 and $100 respectively.
Wilson wore a Kobe Bryant jersey that he decided to put on an hour before the show. Rivera wore a NY Rangers jersey that she tracked down in just as short a time frame. Wilson and Rivera’s humor, like their outfits, was completely improvised.
“We didn’t write any jokes ahead of time, I’m leaning on Austin to carry this,” Rivera said before the show began.
Rivera and Wilson’s lack of preparation was of little detriment to the show. Apollo Night flowed beautifully as the two emcees successfully established a humorous pace.
Ronnie Doss (freshman) opened the show with a riveting original poem. Doss’ gravitas commanded the audience’s attention, setting a heavyweight undercurrent for the night. Doss would go on to earn the second place prize.
Alexander Levers (sophomore) kicked off his Apollo Night performances with a solo rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “Jealous Guy.” He came across the song while going through Chance the Rapper’s samples from his mixtape “Acid Rap.” Combining the original melody with blues riffs, Levers’ rendition of the song was an ode to black art forms.
The sophomore synesthesiac said he grew up learning guitar by listening to John Mayer but wanted to perform a song rooted in his black heritage.
“It’s not just rap, I wanted to showcase other aspects of black culture,” Levers said.
After intermission, Levers performed again and displayed his musical range in a duet with Sophia Brown (first year). In another acoustic guitar rendition, Levers adapted Stephen Marley’s reggae song, “No Cigarette Smoking (In My Room)”.
“I wanted to showcase my Jamaican heritage,” Levers said. “Oxy encourages people to celebrate their different backgrounds, I feel like I can trumpet that part of me and I wanted to display that at Apollo Night”.
Darla Howell’s (first year) took the first place prize with her original poem. Repeating “what man can do to man” throughout the poem, Howell’s piece poignantly reflected on the power of empathy and more specifically the black experience.
“I like to make music. I play the piano and I sing and rap a bit, but I’m most comfortable reciting my poetry,” Howell said.
Howell’s musical background was showcased at Apollo Night where the spoken rhythm of her poem captivated the audience, providing the event with a fitting sense of closure.
“Poetry is also a brilliant way of communicating your thoughts and opinions in a way that can be both political and personal. Poetry allows me to manipulate words using various literary devices like repetition or alliteration to convey my opinions,” Howell said.
The two winning original poems, both created and performed by first years, provide optimism for the future of creative expression at Occidental in the upcoming years.