Signature Lounge (5959 Richmond, Ste. 100) is an underappreciated nightclub located in a Richmond Strip strip center that also includes, among other things, a place to buy tickets (Ticket Attractions) and a place to buy artificial melanin (Darque Tan).
Fridays, when Signature is at its peak, 200 people may cycle through. Ambient lighting and damask wallpaper soften the small, narrow interior. There's limited seating, but that's not necessarily a problem if you're there to dance, which is often the case, because the DJs pound the concrete floors with all manner of shake music all evening long.
What sets Signature apart from other hip-hop-oriented Houston nightspots is that here, DJs do more than just keep the crowd moving.
Or one specific DJ does. Earlier this month, Signature Lounge joined up with Kiotti, general local luminary and outgoing, engaging on-air personality for 97.9 The Box, to present New Music Monday.
At this weekly industry night, amid networking video directors, graphic designers and potential models, crowd members hand their records to Kiotti, who plays them and then offers insightful criticism.
"There are things kinda like [this] around the city, but it's where you could get booed off the stage," says Kiotti.
"There's no feedback. These new guys need that. We needed it."
Kiotti speaks with burnt wisdom.
In 1999, at age 17, he participated in an open-mike night at now-defunct comedy club Just Joking. It cost $10 to enter, which he found unreasonable. Kiotti's cousin eventually convinced him to enter, paying his way to do so. Sans music, Kiotti freestyled well enough to walk away the winner. His career took off from there.
In 2001, he signed with a local record label of nominal fame. That relationship dissolved when they couldn't agree on what each side wanted to do musically.
Two years later, he recorded "Hooka, Hooka," a wobbly dance track that caught fire regionally and sparked numerous robotic imitations. He officially had clout.
From there, Kiotti signed with Warner/Asylum, a decision he still laments.
"It was a horrible deal," he says. "A horrible, horrible deal."
Things came unglued rapidly. At one point during Kiotti's four-year relationship with the label, he called every day for two months before he was able to hear someone else's voice on the other end.
Even then, it was only long enough for someone to tell him that, despite shelving him for the duration of his contract, they would not release him from his deal. The label also refused to front him any money to pay down an eviction notice he'd received.
"That was [my] introduction to the dirtiness," says Kiotti.
Later, following regular freestyle performances on The Box and then-urban station 104.9 FM, a career in radio came. As his name grew again, so did his desire to keep as much industry shittiness from the paths of guys coming up behind him as he could.
"Me being an artist, nobody helps the artist," says Kiotti. "Nobody. [New Music] Monday is just pure, for the love of music. We're not doing it for the bread, really, just the community."
Oh, and New Music Monday is free for everyone.
There are no acerbic commentaries or nasty jabs. New artists receive civil, politely constructive, hard-to-come-by honesty, given by a person who works in the exact places they want their music played.
Tonight, only the event's second week, the room begins filling quickly, with talent ranging from rappers who just started last week to established members of the community such as video director DJ Young Samm.
Qmane, a prodigious 14-year-old talent modeled after Louisiana's Lil' Boosie, offers up his music to the room's ears. His future single, "Gwapin' Time," a club-ready collection of bass thumps and Southern drawl, lunges out of the speakers.
Most people bob their heads. Afterward, Kiotti christens it, saying it was very good, but that the vocals needed to be turned up a smidge and polished some more.
Qmane nods, and Kiotti looks at the sign-up sheet to see who's next.
"DJs are the people that I'm concerned about," says Qmane's father and manager, who asked to remain nameless so his son could receive all the recognition.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"You get feedback, you get inspiration. It's a great event."
Signed and delivered.
New Music Mondays coincide with Signature Lounge's change of ownership to George Mosley, part of the Blue Line Productions company. On September 10, Mosley is throwing a celebrity party at the Ayva Center (9371 Richmond). Scheduled to appear are Monica, Toya Carter (Lil' Wayne's ex-wife) and Terrence J from BET's 106 & Park. The event is a Black Tie, Red Bottom affair. Pre-sale tickets are $30. If you care to skip past the line, you want the $50 tickets. And should you want VIP access, $100 will secure you the proper credentials.