This Wednesday will mark my fourth visit to a Moth storyslam. There will be seven of us from Connecticut going this time, and it is so amazingly cool to be part of a collective of the Hartford storytelling scene going down to the BK to do this. It’ll take a bit more luck than usual to get my name called to perform.
One thing I dread is being called up first. First is worst is a phrase I sometimes use, and it’s an opinion shared by others I’ve talked to — it’s incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to get top scores going first. The judges want to leave room in case someone better comes up, people forget your story by the end of the night, people judge more liberally as the night goes on, etc…
This morning, I was reading a bit of the book How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC, and I came across a section on guest tracks and collaboration. When several MCs contribute verses to a track (for example, A Tribe Called Quest’s Scenario) there’s an order to which each MC records their stuff. The first MC is in the same situation as the first slam storyteller — worried about getting blown away by the others who will listen to their stuff and not knowing what’s going to come next.
I’ve heard that sometimes a storyteller will use a throwaway story if they called up first. The alternative is to apparently waste a well-crafted story in a no-win situation. I thought about maybe preparing a throwaway story myself, but I read a quote from Cyprus Hill’s B Real that got me thinking otherwise. When you’re the first MC on the track, you’re setting the pace for the others.
…if I didn’t hear anything from all those other dudes, then I know I have to set the pace — they’re gonna have to do some really raw shit to outdo me. So if that’s gonna make the song better, fuck it. I’ll set the pace if I don’t hear anybody and I’ll make them come to me.
Being first is an opportunity. Not just because you’re on that stage at all (which is indeed an amazing opportunity), but because you get to set the pace of the evening. In any event, why waste any stage time on telling crap?
(Bonus content: How to Rap also turned me on to this classic track that I’m using to psyche me up: Time’s Up by O.C.)