Englewood open mic makes space for city’s best spoken word, hip-hop talent

As night fell upon a vibrant blue-and-yellow pop-up basketball court at the busy intersection of 63rd Street and Ashland, an intimate crowd of Englewood residents gathered across from the Green Line station to watch open mic performances from local poets, singers and featured rappers Shaundric and Mani Jurdan.

The jubilant, soulful sound of Afrocentric music, performed by the all-Black female band Ancestral Family Business, from South Shore, amplified the calm energy of the event and covered the whole ‘hood in a balm of joy.

“We find it so important because we consider this as ‘frequency music,’” says Arcana Bright, the band’s lead singer. “[We] wanted to touch people’s DNA without them even knowing, through the music first. And once we captivate them with the music, we hit them with the conscious lyrics — what we should be doing, unifying, the next step — because there’s a whole lot of stuff going on.”

Bright’s appearance in July at the INTH3LAND (In the Land) open mic was her first. Founded in 2020, INTH3LAND started as an idea of host Isiah “ThoughtPoet” Veney and his brother while they were unhoused and hanging out at the 95th Street Red Line station. The brothers came up with the name together, but it was ThoughtPoet who made it a reality.

He was concerned that the number of legit open mic spaces had dwindled since his time on the spoken word/hip-hop scene with future stars like Noname, Saba, Femdot, and Chance the Rapper.

“I just noticed that, as 2020 was starting, there wasn’t a lot of open mics that people trusted. So when I created INTH3LAND, it was really to just be a space where people can come, they’re safe, they don’t have to worry about being harmed, and they can creatively work on their art,” says ThoughtPoet, who hosts the monthly event with local singer Jazstar.

INTH3LAND forged a partnership in 2023 with streetwear store Englewood Branded, with which it shares local roots. Englewood Branded owner Corie Luckett said he’s been in the neighborhood since 2017, and like ThoughtPoet, he wants to serve as a resource to local youth. Ten percent of his sales goes to youth programming.

“When we had the opportunity to do this, it made sense,” said Luckett. “The best way to catch the youth are three things: fashion, music and artistry.”

Since its inception, the open mic has drawn people from across the city to see Chicago’s best and brightest upcoming young poets, MCs and singers and brought out some familiar faces as well. Hip-hop icon KRS-One visited in July and gave a performance for an intimate outdoor crowd, video of which quickly circulated across social media.


“[INTH3LAND] is something that Englewood needs,” says Shaundric, one of July’s featured performers.

Alex Wroblewski/For the Sun-Times

“It creates a different perspective for the people in the neighborhood, but also the people outside the neighborhood that want to visit,” said Jurdan, a West Sider. “This is a beacon of light that I can come and share my light with other like-minded individuals and create a different narrative for our city. So, to me, it’s very important that this is here.”

“These have been artists who have been in the community for the last 10 years, building. INTH3LAND was just another way to show them, ‘We love you, we appreciate you, and just keep going,’” said ThoughtPoet. 

INTH3LAND takes place in the last week of every month at 1546 W. 63rd St.

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