There's only one place in town to go if you're interested in rap battles and breakdancing: the Jinx on Tuesdays.
Sounds weird, but it’s true. It’s the longest-running weekly club event in Savannah.
Hip Hop Night at the Jinx is an open mic of sorts that combines freestyle rapping, break dancing and DJ-ing. While a guest DJ spins records, a group of young guys in jeans and T-shirts who call themselves the BBoyz breakdance on the Jinx floor, their shoes squeaking with each spin.
Anyone in the audience is then free to take the stage, spit a few rhymes, and battle with other MCs for the freestyle games. While passing the mic around, the more experienced rappers show the others how to control their breath and projection, as well as how to enunciate properly.
It’s a great opportunity for aspiring rappers to practice, especially since host Joe Solo isn’t afraid to let a rapper know when they’re just no good.
“Too many people are just OK’ing everybody else,” he says. “They’re saying, ‘Oh, you’re good,’ but then they’re not telling them, ‘No, you suck. You should think about going to work at the Waffle House.’ That’s where I feel that booing is essential.”
That’s what happened to Solo (real name: Joseph Davis) four years ago, when he began freestyling at Hip Hop Night, then run by Dope Sandwich’s Basik Lee (aka Steven Baumgardner). A studio rapper with no stage experience, Solo plunged in and got booed plenty of times before the crowd started cheering him on.
The boos taught him what worked and what didn’t.
“I realized I needed to give way more effort, so I had to start focusing,” Solo, 27, says. “You have to conquer your fear, and this is the perfect place to do it.”
Four years later, Solo felt he was ready to move up and host Hip Hop Night. As it turned out, Lee was looking to hand over the reins after nine years. “I felt like someone else could grab it and take it to places I never could,” Lee recalls.
An engaging and enthusiastic young rapper, Solo—who’s been in charge since last December — is a natural onstage. While the BBoyz are dancing, he reminds the crowd to tip their bartenders and encourages them to come up and rap, because participation is the key to a successful night.
That, Solo explains, is the problem Hip Hop Night faces now: it’s severely under-attended. Things don’t get going until well after midnight, and the place looks almost dead in the hours before.
In the early days, according to Lee, people would come down from Charleston and even reschedule their classes just to attend Hip Hop Night.
Now, Solo says six, maybe seven rappers will throw down each night. But the declining numbers aren’t just because of the switch. Lee says attendance has been dwindling for years.
“That was another reason I wanted to stop,” he explains. “I felt like I wasn’t pushing it hard enough.”
Hip Hop Night lost more of its crowd when Lee handed over the duties to Solo.
“When I left, I had people come up and tell me, ‘Oh, you left? I’m going to stop coming. You ain’t there, so I don’t want to come,’” Lee says.
“That’s not how it works.”
At first, Solo received some criticism for the way he hosted the event, but Lee defended him, saying, “He’s not gonna do what I do, and he just started. He’s going to do it his own way and it’s going to take him time to find his own way to do it.”
So far Solo has put on an entertaining show every Tuesday, even if it’s usually slow to start.
A Savannah native and longtime Southside resident, Solo sees a divide between the two music scenes: downtown and Southside. Hip Hop Night is a blend of those two scenes, he says, since it brings hip hop to the downtown area.
“When I first started, it was this golden age because of the SCAD connection,” Solo remembers.
Now that most of the original SCAD kids have graduated, there’s more variety to the performers who are bold enough to show up.
Moreover, he doesn’t feel that the hip hop scene itself is supportive enough.
“It doesn’t support its own,” he says. “Everyone’s just pushing their own boys. The hip hop scene needs to flourish like the punk rock scene does. It has to be that bond-driven. There’s enough talent, but not enough effort.”
Solo is confident that the activity at Hip Hop Night will pick back up because such an event is necessary for the scene.
“I really love the positivity of it, and that’s the main reason why I’m pushing it, to keep that positivity flourishing in a community that needs it so deeply,” he says.