All emcees welcome– this is the essential belief behind Austin Mic Exchange. Founded in 2012, AMX started as a weekly hip-hop open mic night at Spider House Ballroom. Along with the weekly program, the group acts as an events booking company and support network for local artists.
Story and Photos by Jordan Steyer
Adam Protextor, also known as p-teK, is the co-founder of AMX. He had one original goal in mind for the organization– to create opportunities for Austin hip-hop artists regardless of their level of experience, artistic medium, age, race or creed.
Every Wednesday night at 8 pm, the night begins with an open freestyle cypher where the DJ plays a beat. Anyone who signed up can go on stage and freestyle for about 30 seconds. In the next part of the night, artists perform one prepared track, going down a sign-up list in order.
“We’re not curating to a specific type of rap. We welcome all genres,” Protextor says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or if you’ve been performing for 10 years. There’s no favoritism. Everyone is welcome.”
On this particular Wednesday at the Ballroom, Protextor is pleased with the turnout. Although the crowd size fluctuates by week, a group of regulars make up the AMX family. Special events even bring out some new faces, and AMX recently celebrated their fourth year anniversary.
The group strives to unite artists and fans by providing a place for artists to show off their material, gain experience and network. Brandon Nate, aka N△TE, who has been working as a host for open mic night since 2013 and thinks it’s a great place for rappers to grow.
“When I first started coming, I was living in San Antonio,” Nate says. “I was driving an hour and a half to be here every week. This is the place for rappers and producers to come together. It’s like a family.”
Members who frequent Spider House consider it as an encouraging support group and a starting point for a music career. Nate says that if someone reads their lyrics off their phone or they mess up at first, it’s okay. The open environment gives artists a chance to showcase their work without the pressure.
“Adam [Protextor] gave us a home,” Nate says. “We’re waiting for when we make it big, and we’re like ‘remember open mic night?’ People have grown so much here. I feel like a proud dad.”
Coota Brown hosts and performs at AMX. Brown says that interactions with both the audience and his fellow AMX rappers has helped him improve as an artist. He enjoys rap as a form of therapeutic poetry.
“I got into rap because I had no friends,” Brown says. “I wrote a lot of poetry and a lot of short stories when I was younger. Freestyling is the same as writing, it’s just verbal. I write a lot about reality. If I can get someone not like me to be receptive to me, I’m doing my job.”
Nick de la Luz, aka Chuck Duze, found the open mic night while searching online. He wanted to see what it was like to perform and found AMX to be the perfect space for growth and encouragement. De la Luz says he feels like he’s been rapping forever, even though he’s only 19.
“There are a few open mic nights in Austin, but this is the one. They welcome you with open arms– it’s like a community,” de la Luz says. “If you have a show somewhere else, you tell the guys here, and they’ll be at your show too. It’s like an umbrella.”
Rappers aren’t the only ones who go to open mic nights. Artist Josh Henson, who paints and draws, enjoys going to AMX events to connect with artists of a different medium. He was connected to the local rap scene through his initial interest in poetry.
“I like to hang out with the hip hop community,” Henson says. “I come out here to sell my art and talk about it. I used to spend a lot of time with poetry, but then it turned into me doing this. A lot of the people out here connect with my work.”
Protextor describes the patio outside of Spider House as the perfect incubator for the Austin hip hop community.
“People are here early and they sit outside,” Protextor says. “They talk and they rap and a lot of people become friends. There are always lots of talented young artists, and there are always new people coming in. There’s an optimistic feeling behind it.”