NPR logo Learning To Freeystyle At Neukoeln's 'Little Stage'


Learning To Freeystyle At Neukoeln's 'Little Stage'

Neukoelln's Little Stage is a neighborhood music club where musicians can do a little experimenting during MOM, or "Mondayz Open Mic" nights. hide caption

toggle caption

Neukoelln's Little Stage is a neighborhood music club where musicians can do a little experimenting during MOM, or "Mondayz Open Mic" nights.

Berlin is best known for the electro scene, but if hip hop is your thing, (or even if it isn't but you want to take a creative leap) here is one of those hidden local gems where you can unleash your inner demons.

Little Stage on Jonasstrasse 1 in Neukoelln is a neighborhood music club where the next generation music scene is paying its dues.

You will find everything from new electronic rock, singer-songwriter, gypsy music to of course freestyle and new jazz.

It's the real deal- built, owned, and operated by Berliners and less obvious than the usual staples expats tend to find, like White Trash, Madame Claudes, and Schokoladen.

The club is lovingly decorated to offer musicians a decent stage with a rock-club ambiance. The owners used to build theater sets, so they knows how to create a vibe. I've performed there since they opened a few years back and seen them go through the growing pains.

The other day, I got a message on Facebook from Little Stage announcing that they are hosting a free open mike on Mondays for freestyle rap and cypher.

What is cypher? Free-styling (improvising your rap as you go but not in battle terms). You rap one after the other taking care not to break the flow-or cypher.

As a musician, I'm a big fan of jam sessions. I go to share an experience with new musical constellations and challenge my boundaries so that I grow artistically. For me, the fear of the unknown is an adrenalin rush.

Seeing the invite brought back memories. Two years ago was the first time I had ever free-styled. It took all my courage (or stupidity) to jump up on that stage in front of a room of 20-something hipsters from Neukoelln- they have so much edge, talent, and devotion to their craft.

I stood onstage while they watched me expectantly. No words came. Shell-shocked, I was in over my head and too embarrassed to give up and jump back off the stage. So, lo and behold, I opened my mouth and started some innocuous rhymes like "Cali and cool....making my own rules...not being no dude... " Anyway, some semblance of words took over.

Suddenly, this Spanish-looking kid flings himself on stage with gusto, grabs a mike and breaks into a ferocious stream of rhymes. I'm clueless as to what he's saying and unsure how to complement him, so I let out some half-hearted "ohhs" and "ahhs" in the background.

After the rap and applause, the guy looks at me and commands in German, "Now in Spanish."

"But..." I stutter, "I don't speak Spanish."

He ignores me, gives the DJ some hand signal, and the beat is on again. He's styling in Spanish...about a life of poverty and discrimination? Drug gangs? Fighting parents? Life in the Neukoelln hood?

I am racking my brain for Spanish words. What comes to mind is "Come va".... "Ole, ole"..... "vamos a la playa." (Yes, that means, "Let's go to the beach." Who raps about the beach???)

Luckily, all things come to an end. We smile to the audience and then clasp hands.

I whisper to him, "I don't speak Spanish!"

He looks at me and shrugs his shoulders, "Neither do I."

I am stunned. This kid's a genius. If I had a label, I'd sign him on the spot.

I probably made a fool of myself, but grandly so. I stretched my musical boundaries that evening. So whether you are a veteran or a newbie, bring your Beatbox performance, scratch action, freestyle rap and/or beats (on a usb stick or CD). It's hit or miss with the jam sessions- sometimes the place is packed and sometimes it's just a small crowd- just like a gig.

As for me, I'm still working on my Spanish.