Dealing with Jerks (and Other Personalities)

Everyone has a story to tell. Unfortunately some people remain under the impression that they are entitled to speak, act and play in a way that is offensive to others. They might freestyle in inconsiderate, rude, sexist, racist, homophobic, and/or hateful ways. We want to re-train, contain, explain and reframe the folks whose behaviour is not respectful.

If it’s your mic and you are holding the space, then it is up to you to make everyone feel welcome, even the “jerk.” Being inclusive also means making sure everyone feels safe, so keep in mind the experience of the other MCs and those listening in. Depending on the situation, this could mean: visually signalling to someone that their mic style is inappropriate; cutting them off with your voice; turning their mic off; or even kicking them off the mic altogether and asking them to leave.

It’s much better to avoid a problem in the first place. Don’t invite people to your freestyle sessions that don’t have the proper respect for the space, and make sure the people you do invite know that they are responsible for the behaviour of the people they bring. If everyone feels responsible to a person in the room then a chain of accountability can help ensure a basic level of respect. Let everyone know at the start of the session what you expect of them.

Public freestyle jams in the outdoors (like a festival setting or in the city with a mobile sound rig) present trickier problems for jerk control. If you open up your mic in public spaces, keep your eye out for people who might become a problem. You will learn to read body language and the way they approach the group and the mic.

Be prepared, but don’t exclude based on pre-judgement. Some of the best freestyle can come from people that are rough around the edges if you give them the opportunity to participate. There are ways of giving unknown people the benefit of the doubt and a shot at being respectful on the mic while still retaining some ability to facilitate a safe space.

Techniques for Jerk Management

1. Before you give someone the mic, ask them their MC name, and announce their name before you pass them the mic. This will subtly show them that you are holding this space, and that they are accountable for their actions.

2. Explicitly mention “keep it positive” or that this crew “runs on positive energy.”

3. Don’t be afraid to use your mixer to cut someone off the sound system if they are being disrespectful, or ask them to give up the mic.

4. Make sure to have two mics. This is big. If you have two mics, make sure you or someone you trust always has control over one of the mics.  You can work them off the mic with hype words that bring their session to a conclusion. Words like “OK, that was MC [insert name], rapping about [something].” “MC [insert name] is all warmed up, time to pass the mic to the left.”  When the rapper gives up the mic, you can announce their MC name again and thank them. Decide whether they can be reasoned with off-mic about modifying their behavior. If not, you need to ask them to take a big raincheque, and say see ya later. If you are using a mobile sound system, this might be a good time to announce “we’re moving.”

Control your anger. Focus on a jerk’s behaviour or lyrics and refrain from condemning their person. You don’t have to give them the mic again, and calmly tell them your reasons if they ask. Focus their attention on what is acceptable, so they have the opportunity to change. If they are beyond reason or intoxicated, you can tell them they can have another shot if they come back another time.

The important part is to keep it fun and safe. You might not be able to prevent every bad situation, but hopefully you can have a chance to hear everyone and still avoid any real trouble.