Awthentik & Dometi Honest Out Loud
Speaking From The Heart
Walking into the Artist Lounge open mic, some unsuspecting person may assume the gathering to be a social networking or community youth event, others may think it to be an impromptu kick back. The mixture of art on the walls and books for sale add a flair of mercantilism. Partnerships with major retailers, give the impression of an LLC. Essentially all would be correct in assuming any of those scenarios. One thing remains undeniable: the scene is unapologetically Black. Starting out as an excuse for social time, the twice-a-month event morphed into a quarterly pop-up open mic force to be reckoned with. The Artist Lounge is a fine mix of business, Unapologetic Blackness and everything there is to love about Chicago’s nightlife. At the center of the Artist Lounge’s success is the partnership of its two charismatic hosts, Johnetta “Awthentik” Anderson and Dometi Pongo.
The always joking Awthentik and Dometi, are seasoned artists of Chicago’s spoken word scene. “We first met when he asked me for a quarter, he was broke,” quips Awthentik. She’s clearly joking, but the energy between them is so natural Dometi quickly retorts, “It was a dollar, but she still gave me a quarter.”
In the verified version of how they met, Dometi an emerging hip-hop talent, met Awthentik while attending Southern Illinois University. Dometi recalls, “My homeboy came to me bragging like, ‘Yo, I just met this dope poet from the west side. you gotta meet her!’.-- I’m like, why is she so dope?-- ’Man, we was kickin’ it, and we was drinkin’... relaxing, and she gets to doing this poem and everybody in the room cried… It was Deep!’” Having been on the Spoken Word scene since she was 14, Awthentik a seasoned performer, would invoke tears in the unlikeliest of listeners. Dometi describes, ”She’d be like, aight I’ll spit somethin’, I mean [she’d have] gangstas, Crips from St. Louis crying!” Awthentik interjects, “But like nobody knew… I was never like, ‘I am a poet’ I went through high school [and] none of my friends knew I performed.”
Awthentik, being a ball-playing tomboy, defied the conventional perception of a spoken word artist. Dometi adds,“She just didn’t have the typical energy of a poet, she had on a buck fifty, and an Akademiks hoodie!” Jokes Dometi of the laid back Awthentik. “We just connected instantly…” adds Awthentik of the immediate chemistry the two shared.
Dometi doesn't consider himself to be a poet. Known in the talent shows at SIU by his stage name Prophecy, he found that he was able to naturally transition to the art of spoken word. During a show, poor sound systems made for an almost missed performance, “My first time doing poetry was in St. Louis, … the sound system sucked, so I said fuck it, let me spit with no track... I found that my rhymes hit harder if I spit them acapella.” Thus, a spoken word artist emerged. From a young age, Dometi grew familiar with performing and captivating audiences, as several news articles were released praising his 90’s influenced rap style. “I always wrote… I was rapping since I was 6... my sister was a rapper... she helped me write my first verse and I just took off from there.” Dometi reveals. He still doesn’t consider himself a poet; only considering one of his pieces a “true” poem.
Once Dometi realized his lyrical prowess translated well in the poetry scene, it was game on between the two friends. A competitive kinship quickly evolved from their chance meeting. The two performers continually took the top spots of every poetry slam they participated in. Awthentik brags “We were winning a lot of poetry slams and talent shows, like this one I’d place first, he’d place second, or the next one I’d place second, he’d place first, we were like killing it!” As typical broke college students, the competitions were the two poets’ bread and butter as many of the competitions hailed cash prizes.
"...the sound system sucked, so I said fuck it, let me spit with no track... I found that my rhymes hit harder if I spit them acapella."
With the accolades, the two prolific speakers garnered it was only natural for them to begin hosting shows together. The inaugural open mic set hosted by the dynamic duo was flooded with almost the entire student body, “... No flyers no nothing, they let us rent out these areas in our dorm hall, word of mouth we told everybody, ‘Yo, come out to the show’!” They packed the place to maximum capacity- astonishing considering they were both freshmen. This was just the beginning for the two talented artists. From their partnership, the two created an award-winning student organization called One Mic Poetry, through which they would host shows. Awthentik reflects, “We were hosting our own shows with the homies, who are now part of the Artists Lounge scene… That's really what it was, an excuse to hang out and kick back.” Considering their busy schedules, the shows were a means to chop it up with friends and fellow artists, evolving into what is now known as The Artist Lounge.
The open mic series is a safe space for Black artists to show off their skills and talents in spoken word, music, and art. Locations like art galleries and black-owned bookstores provided the perfect atmosphere for audiences to interact with their surroundings while enjoying a dope show. Setlists often get overwhelming enough that the pair doesn’t always perform, making way for other artists to show off their skills. Knowing their dynamic to be undeniable, Dometi elaborates on the chemistry that draws audiences to the Lounge, “The show is the hosts [us], I don’t care if we do an open mic and ain’t nobody on the list, we can give you a three-hour show just us two….We’re completely honest with each other out loud, that’s us in private.”
Unbelievably, as charismatic and hilarious as the duo is in public, Awthentik admits, “Y'all get the real mild version of us in public!” but it’s hard to believe that what the audience receives at each Artist’s Lounge is considered “mild”! The pair, always firing off mock insults and jeers to one another and fellow artists, bring the element of comedy to the show. Meanwhile, Awthentik’s skills on the ones and twos (her stage name is DJ Westside Slap Yo Momma) keep the party moving to the beats of KRS-One and MC Lyte to Migos and Beyonce. Both Awthentik and Dometi believe in being unapologetically who you are, respectability politics be damned. Awthentik asserts, “We get discriminated against a lot, especially when ya hair nappy, but when you put together a product that people want, they don’t give a fuck how you look.” Their choice of clothing, hairstyles or vernacular has never stopped them from approaching new challenges authentically. Dometi insists, “I was aware of what it would cost to be my one hundred percent self, and I thought that would bar me from opportunities, I didn’t care because I was still gonna be me, I wasn't going to censor myself.” The two college graduates, boast multiple degrees between them, and they each have impressive resumes, Awthentik is a known partner with After School Matters and the KLEO Center. She also instructs a college writing course on Black Feminism and Hip Hop at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The class is extremely popular and has hosted hip-hop legends like, MC Lyte and Roxanne Chante. Dometi has a noteworthy career in broadcasting as a news anchor and reporter for Chicago’s WGN Radio 720 AM. He served as news director for urban talk radio station, WVON 1690AM where he wrote and produced features. With the amount of personality and professional success between them, corporate partnerships are developing left and right, propelling the Artist Lounge in a new direction for 2018. Dometi adds, “Artists sometimes cut themselves off at the knees… they don’t allow themselves to leverage those [business] relationships, they’re taught not to like organizations or corporations.”
"You gotta figure out ways of bringing in money, not just for yourself, but for the community. Starving ain't cute!"
Dometi and Awthentik believe that developing relationships with corporations allows them to connect their community with resources and access that otherwise might not be available. “Of course we wanna work with community organizations, but we wanna work with Champs too!” Adds Dometi, low-key bragging due to the wild success of a recent Artist Lounge pop-up Partnership with the athletic retailer at their State Street location. The event was a massive success as once again, the dynamic duo packed their venue. Dometi admits, “The setlist was so long! Like a lot of our favorite performers didn't even get to go on!” At their core, Awthentik and Dometi are keyed up about empowering Chicago black and brown youth, and community engagement. Awthentik had her own popular youth program, Colored Girls are Covered Girls for teens and young adults, and Dometi through his connections with different community organizations has lead annual cultural excursions to Ghana, Africa, with potential works of a youth excursion. Combining their community efforts and love for youth mentorship, with Artist Lounge’s success the two hosts have been able to give Chicago youth new experiences. Dometi elaborates, “We want to teach them to create their own avenues, their way…” Noting that an artist doesn’t have to “sell out” in order to monetize their talents.
The success and growth of the Artist Lounge is a testament to how powerful the bond between the two friends really is. Dometi and Awthentik have the chemistry, comedy, and connection of any famous duo. The two can laugh in the face of critics, those who mock so-called “starving artists”, knowing that with every win they share, the unapologetic honesty will never change. Awthentik imitating, “They be like, ‘You artists ain’t shit, not shit… And ya broke!’” Laughing she adds, “You gotta figure out ways of bringing in money, not just for yourself, but for the community. Starving ain't cute!”