Rap on the North Side
The business of live hip-hop on the north side has had its ups and downs over the past month. In late October Ice Cube played two sold-out shows at the China Club. The unapologetic gangster rapper was the biggest hip-hop name yet to play the upscale dance den, and the show was a success for booker Mike Yerke, who conceived the gig, made the deal with Cube's people, and pulled off the shows with no trouble in front of a mixed audience. Nice, right? One problem: the show was Yerke's swan song. A few hours before Ice Cube's first show, he was told that the club's direction was changing and that he was out of a job.
The new operator of the club is Hostmark, a management group that owns or operates several dozen big-name hotel franchises. Joseph Sammartano, vice president of food and beverage for Hostmark, says that while "you're going to continue to see rap acts at the China Club in 1994, gangster rap we will shy away from."
Yerke is now out on the street and working to pull off his own shows--like a pair of George Clinton concerts at the Cubby Bear December 16 and 17. He maintains that there's money to be made from hip-hop shows. "It's an art form I really like, but that, of course, doesn't keep the doors open," he says. "There's an audience out there: it sells a lot of records. But you have to know how to do it."
He recognizes that some whites "are scared as hell of it." Between the Avalon (where he brought in De La Soul and Arrested Development) and the China Club, Yerke's been doing north-side rap shows for four years now. The problems mostly haven't been the sort that make headlines; aside from Jose Canseco allegedly slugging another patron at a China Club Clinton show, Yerke didn't have any problems with violence. The things that work against rap are more mundane: "You don't get a big bar." Live music in all but the very biggest venues is merely a way to get people to buy liquor; bands that fill a room with people who don't want to shell out two or three dollars for a bottle of beer aren't popular with club owners, whatever their color or style of music.
Last Friday marked the north-side appearance of an artist whose newest record debuted at number five on the Billboard charts and still nestles in the top ten with the likes of Pearl Jam and Janet Jackson. But be-cause he's a gangster rapper--because he's Eazy-E, cofounder of the ultimate hard-core rap outfit, N.W.A.--his appearance at the Riviera came with far less fanfare than one might suppose. The show wasn't confirmed until less than a week before the concert. Hundreds of thousands of white kids buy Eazy-E albums, but the 1,200 kids at the Riviera, says promoter Domingo Neris, were virtually all black. Twelve hundred tickets wasn't a sellout in the huge Riv, but it was a profitable show, says Neris--and a peaceful one. Eazy-E is the biggest name yet for the young hip-hop entrepreneur, who got into the business straight out of high school. He began throwing DJ parties after seeing other organizers screw up. "They'd say this person was going to be there, but this person would never show up, you know what I'm saying? I thought I could provide a better product and give them better quality for the same amount of bucks," he says.
Newspaper ads are expensive and not necessarily effective; Neris has advertising by handbill down to a science. "You know those booklets everyone's using now?" he asks. "Back then everyone was using half sheets [fliers half the size of a sheet of paper]. I provided so much entertainment it wouldn't fit; so I busted out with the booklets. Then I busted out with pictures, and then we got into superexpensive glossy fliers. We were the first ones to bust out with almost like a comic-book kind of thing; it was much further advanced than this rave stuff [the glossy psychedelic cards used to promote techno shows]."
His company is called Chicago Party Masters--"people say that's an old-style name," he says--now generally referred to as CPM. For the past few years he's been using the AC Club at Pulaski and Milwaukee, putting on 17-and-over shows of house and "heart-throb" (mostly female dance singers). Recently he's moved into hip-hop.
Neris harbors no illusions about the white audience. "They're turned off about going to a show like that," he says matter-of-factly of the Eazy-E appearance. "They feel like something would happen. A lot of these groups, they're from the streets. They'd get into trouble anyway. They're gangsters, they're gonna. Know what I'm saying?" But he notes that he's put on eight shows over the past year, six of them with crowds of 1,000 or more, with no incidents. "Now, everybody, when they go into a club, they respect the club. We don't have problems at the AC. The only rule I had to do was the club wasn't making enough money on the drinks. A lot of kids are on a budget. So we have a mandatory coat check, one dollar." Still, he tries to keep costs down. "Why should I be greedy?" There's a lot of business to be done, he thinks. "I'm going to keep doing it until I have enough for my own venue, you know what I'm saying?"
Silos guitarist Manuel Verzosa was killed in a van accident on a snowy Wyoming road on the night of November 11. The talented singer and songwriter, formerly of the Walkers, had just been signed to Epic; his A and R person at the label, Ben Goldman, said Verzosa was on tour to loosen up before going into the studio. No one else was hurt, though the van was totaled and the tour discombobulated. The band will play its scheduled show Friday at the Empty Bottle....Last week Hitsville described the Sundowners tribute concert starring the Mekons as happening both December 1 and "tonight" (i.e., last Friday). The former was correct: it's next Wednesday at Bub City. Sorry.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.