Black on Black Rhyme turns 21

Founder of Black on Black Rhyme, Keith Rodgers.
Photo Submitted by DeAsia Robinson

If you’ve ever visited Nefetari’s, just off Gaines Street, then you’d know that it’s not only a restaurant with a menu filled with delicious cuisine, but it’s also a cultural arts center filled with artifacts from around the world that represent many African dynasties.

Perhaps one of the most artistic features of the restaurant is its weekly Black on Black Rhyme showcase, which premiered in 2001. The event features many artists such as poets, comedians, singers and photographers, who gather to express themselves with hopes to inspire other artists.

The showcase, which celebrated its 21-year anniversary on Tuesday, was founded by Keith Rodgers, who originally began performing spoken word in his apartment in 1998, a social gathering he referred to as the “poetic drive-by.”

He says his male roommates and two female friends of his were the first to attend the event and that eventually more folks started to join, which prompted him to move the event to a larger location at Mt. Zion Calypso Café in 1999.

“It just started growing. We had three different apartments we would host at and someone suggested I have it at mine,” Rodgers explained. “We ended up moving to Mt. Zion because we outgrew the apartment.”

Rodgers says the name of the event, Black on Black Rhyme, was the title of a poem he had written and a poetry book he was selling at the time.

“Most of the poets don’t even know that I have a book. Once the event became the movement that it is today, I stopped selling it,” he said.

Now, nearly 21 years later, Black on Black Rhyme has become a powerful movement within the Tallahassee community and has changed the lives of many artists who are involved in it.

Derrick Standifer, a 28-year-old poet who started attending the event when he was 18, says the showcase allowed him to turn his pain into poetry and credits Rodgers for being a father figure to him.

“Keith is a father figure, mentor and confidante. He’s more than just a staple in the community, he’s a selfless person who could probably be a millionaire by now, but he chooses to pour that energy into other people,” Standifer said.

Another artist who goes by the name of “Pharaoh Dee,” says poetry came to him naturally after writing his first poem for a girl he had a crush on. It wasn’t until he started school in Tallahassee that he was introduced to Rodgers.

“Keith is such an inspiration. He doesn’t tolerate excuses because he always finds a way to make things happen, said Pharaoh.

Black on Black Rhyme, which started as a small gathering among friends, is a vital contribution in the lives of many artists and has grown to have chapters in Tampa, Jacksonville and Atlanta, to name a few.

When asked about what celebrating the 21st anniversary of the event means to him, Rodgers said it’s not a big deal to him because he celebrates every week.

“It’s not a big event to me because I celebrate every week. Every week is special to me because there’s always someone new and someone old.”