Mic Shane helped boost Chicago hip-hop onto a global stage | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Mic Shane helped boost Chicago hip-hop onto a global stage

He cofounded the city’s first hip-hop magazine in 1991 and worked tirelessly for decades to help the scene grow.

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BboyB, Mic Shane, and Raymond O'Neal pictured on the FlyPaper staff page from a 1994 double issue - SCANNED BY LEOR GALIL
  • Scanned by Leor Galil
  • BboyB, Mic Shane, and Raymond O'Neal pictured on the FlyPaper staff page from a 1994 double issue

Raymond O'Neal doesn't remember where he was the first time he heard the 1989 Boogie Down Productions single "Why Is That?" But he remembers who played it for him: Michael "Mic" Shane. "If it weren't for that very moment, I'm pretty sure the trajectory of my life would just be completely different," says O'Neal. By 1995, O'Neal had become an executive vice president at Vibe magazine publisher Vibe Ventures, a job he owed in part to his collaborations with Shane. In the early 1990s, they'd worked together in the Chicago rap scene to organize shows, manage local acts, and launch the city's first hip-hop magazine, FlyPaper.

As FlyPaper's editor, Mic Shane helped publish work by future ESPN writer Scoop Jackson, hip-hop historian Kevin Beacham, and teenage hip-hop promoter John Johnson, aka John Monopoly, who'd later manage Kanye West. "Mic was one of the real figures in the city that was always pushing the envelope, as far as music and culture goes—specifically hip-hop music and culture," Monopoly says.

"FlyPaper was dope, because it was something for the community," says journalist Mary Datcher. "It was something that you would not find in the Reader. It was something that you would not find in any of your traditional media outlets. And that's what made it special." Because Shane labored behind the scenes, he rarely got his due. He died June 23, at age 59.

"He was like the glue—or he was the connector for everything dealing with the hip-hop community," says hip-hop promoter and vocalist Gq tha Teacha. In the mid-90s, when Shane worked as a program director for new hip-hop station WEJM 106.3 FM (better known as 106 Jamz), he hired Gq to do street promotions. "It was fun working with Mic," Gq says. "We did promos for everybody, from Scarface to Nas to Common to Gang Starr to Mary J. Blige."

Shane couldn't always directly employ his friends, but he consistently championed anyone trying to build a Chicago hip-hop scene that could rival anything on the coasts. Bobby Sox, a visual artist and tattooist who ran Wicker Park hip-hop lifestyle boutique Triple XXX, recalls how doggedly Shane would press him and their mutual friends to pursue their dreams. "We'd talk about what we'd do, talk about pushing this hip-hop thing—Mic didn't take no for an answer," Sox says. "When you say 'a driving force,' that's what that dude was—especially about the culture. He inspired all of us."

Shane was a Seattle native and a University of Michigan graduate, and he befriended O'Neal (born in Washington, D.C.) after they'd both moved to Chicago. They met through Alan Lewis, a classmate of O'Neal's from Miami University in Ohio who founded Chicago Bagel Authority in early 1991. Soon Shane immersed himself in Chicago hip-hop, and O'Neal followed him in.

The two initially bonded over basketball. "You have never seen a guy handle the rock the way Mic handled baskets," O'Neal says. Sometime in 1990, O'Neal remembers, Shane played him a mixtape that included "Why Is That?" O'Neal was a hip-hop novice, and that track got him hooked. "I never heard ideas posed in musical form like this," he says. "I had never heard Black pride posed in musical form like this. The raising of questions, the joy, the anger coming through that music—I kept hitting rewind."

O'Neal asked to borrow the tape. Shane declined, but he didn't say no to much else. "This doorway was opened up by this one man and that one gesture," O'Neal says. "From there, he couldn't shut me up. 'Mic, what about this? Mic, what about that?'"

To further O'Neal's hip-hop education, Shane brought him to Lakeview's Club Lower Links, where O'Neal met Duro Wicks, who rapped in the group He Who Walks Three Ways. Wicks hosted events under the banner Big Lip Productions, and the Sunday night open-mike series he ran at Lower Links was the premier place to experience hip-hop in Chicago. "I was enthralled," O'Neal says. "B-boys breakdancing on a dirty-ass floor, and all of these kids sweating—half of these kids were white kids, so my mind got blown."

Shane showed O'Neal a vibrant community in their chosen hometown, but neither of them saw that scene reflected in national hip-hop media, at the time epitomized by The Source. "Chicago doesn't have a voice in this game between the coasts—that's when we determined, 'Fuck it, let's do our own thing,'" O'Neal says. In 1991, they partnered with BboyB of graffiti collective the Artistic Bombing Crew to launch their magazine, originally titled The Rap Sheet. After they received a cease-and-desist letter from another magazine with the same name, they switched to FlyPaper.

Michael "Mic" Shane, from his Facebook page - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • Michael "Mic" Shane, from his Facebook page

"I don't think anyone had a background in newspaper, printing, magazines, or anything like that—we just figured out how you do it," says Wicks, who ended up writing a couple pieces for FlyPaper. "Which was pretty much our whole approach to hip-hop: seeing the end product from other people and figuring out how to reach that end product on our own."

O'Neal worked as publisher, BboyB as art director, and Shane as editor. Despite his lack of training, Shane had the vision to showcase the scene in all its manifestations—he didn't just cover rappers and DJs but also breakdancers and graffiti artists. "People were finding out about groups that they hadn't necessarily heard yet," Wicks says. "It gave name recognition to a lot of people, or it gave recognition to future projects they were about to do—like, 'Rubberoom is working on whatever,' and now people are anticipating that. It was just like The Source, but for us."

Shane also proved himself an indispensable collaborator. "Raymond would think about the whole thing, like, 'We need these photos, we need to interview some people that do this, and we need to do some writing,' and Mic was like, 'I got you.' Anything Raymond or I asked: 'I got you,'" BboyB says. "Mic was that cat that was always out—like, he came out of nowhere, and within a few months, everybody knew him, and everybody in the culture knew him."

Since Shane and O'Neal hadn't grown up in Chicago, they could pursue their goal of uniting the city's hip-hop scene without triggering destructive factionalism rooted in neighborhood loyalties or other local bonds. "They really didn't have an affinity or any kind of affiliation with anybody," says Julia Johnson, founder of online radio station Know 1 Radio (and John Monopoly's sister). "They weren't from the north side, they weren't from the south side, and they weren't gang related. They were just young brothers that were literary. They were writers, they were educated, and they loved music—not just hip-hop, but hip-hop right there was at the forefront."

  • This 1990s Media Burn Archive clip includes Wicker Park footage showing Triple XXX and Lit-X (also known as Literary Xplosion).

In the early 90s, as Chicago hip-hop grew big enough to get out of house music's shadow, Wicker Park became the scene's north-side home. Sox's Triple XXX shop and Afrocentric bookstore Lit-X were right at the six-corner intersection near the Damen Blue Line station, and just north on Damen was Beat Parlor, a hip-hop-heavy record store run by former Medusa's doorman Howard Bailey. The nightclub Red Dog, on the northeast corner of North and Damen, became a beachhead for hip-hop nightlife in the neighborhood. Wicks began throwing shows regularly at the club in early 1993, and the FlyPaper team distributed the magazine there. A bit south on Milwaukee was the Copy Max where BboyB used to design FlyPaper.

"I put a tagline on FlyPaper early on. It said, 'FlyPaper prints whenever it feels like it,'" BboyB says. "Like, don't expect it every month." The team did in fact publish monthly for much of the magazine's roughly four-year run, and almost always managed at least nine issues per year.

"The FlyPaper was all over," Sox recalls. "I had cousins in the Hundreds who had heard of the FlyPaper. Somehow, these brothers hustled that shit. And that's what was so awesome about it—it was legitimate. They would do these articles about everything that was going on at the time."

Monopoly recalls that his first contribution to FlyPaper was about experiencing police harassment as a young Black man. He'd made a name for himself as a concert promoter in the early 90s by the time he connected with Shane. "I just got cool with Mic," Monopoly says. "And he saw that I was a young guy producing and managing—this is around the time I started managing Kanye. And I was just on the scene, and he recognized me as a young guy trying to push the envelope."

Datcher met Shane when she got a job working for George Daniels at west-side record shop George's Music Room, then already an institution more than two decades old. She'd moved back to Chicago in the early 90s after working for Def Jam, and connecting with Shane helped her get a deeper understanding of the city's hip-hop community. "What Mic and Raymond did was, they started to grow out of the underground hip-hop scene into finding out how to connect with some of the players in New York who were breaking and signing new artists," Datcher says. "I was part of that bridge, because a lot of my accounts were with major labels."

Those connections came in handy as Shane and O'Neal began to work in a more hands-on way with local rappers. "We literally had our pick of the greatest MCs in Chicago, in terms of managing," O'Neal says. Among the artists they managed were Gravity (a member of the Elements of Nature collective, aka EONs) and the duo Kinetic Order, aka Rob Bradford ("Rob Free") and Julian Akins ("Judgmental").

  • "Deconstruct" from Kinetic Order's 1992 demo. Click through to read an essay about the group by Kevin Beacham in the description field.

Shane and O'Neal called major labels on Kinetic Order's behalf, which helped the group find a bit of success. "We caught a couple production deals and put some money in our pockets," Akins says. "Hip-hop at that time was like being a prospector—we were looking to strike oil." In a recent self-published essay about Kinetic Order's 1992 demo, Kevin Beacham writes that Kinetic Order landed a deal with Elektra imprint Chameleon, but the label shelved what would've been the duo's formal studio debut.

Shane and O'Neal's relationship with Kinetic Order went deeper than business, though—Akins considered both of them integral parts of the duo's crew. "We had a lot in common, and we just built on that," he says. In 1994, the whole crew went to New York City to attend the New Music Seminar, where Akins won the annual Battle for World Supremacy rap battle. The following year, Akins traveled with Shane and O'Neal to D.C. for the Million Man March. "Mic was instrumental in managing the Kinetic Order group," Akins says. "Him and Ray were like brothers."

FlyPaper published on broadsheet newsprint, and though it charged a nominal price per issue, it sustained itself mainly through advertising. "Nobody made any money," O'Neal says. "It was strictly for the love—and for the brand. We all were able to take something from it." FlyPaper shut down in 1995, the same year O'Neal moved to New York and began working for Vibe Ventures. While with that company, he launched a magazine called Blaze—it didn't last long, but it begat the HBO rap competition Blaze Battle, which featured a turn from future Chicago alderman Andre Vasquez, aka Prime of the Molemen.

FlyPaper helped Shane jump into radio at 106 Jamz, where he worked alongside pioneering Chicago hip-hop radio personality Isadore "Rapmaster Pinkhouse" Pink. By the end of the 90s, Shane had moved to New York, where he got more involved in marketing and promotions. His LinkedIn overflows with job titles and still barely scratches the surface of his experience in the field. "He would emcee major events," Julia Johnson remembers. "He was the first Black guy to actually host any event at NASCAR. He was going on tour for major corporations—AT&T, Game Day, different athletic events."

Shane moved back to Chicago at the beginning of the 2010s, when Johnson was planning to launch Know 1 Radio. She reached out to Shane to work for the station, which began broadcasting in 2013, and he eventually became its chief operating officer. "He produced all the young people," Johnson says. "He taught them about radio, taught them about hip-hop. He taught them about logistics."

After Shane passed away, Johnson fielded distraught calls from coast to coast and consoled friends from the scene. Even though most of Shane's day jobs weren't connected to music, he spent all the time and energy he could thinking of ways to help hip-hop grow. He committed himself to legitimizing Chicago's hip-hop scene at a crucial point in its growth, and nearly everyone I've asked about him has described his importance the way Johnson does. "He was a hip-hop legend," she says. "You can't talk about hip-hop, music, sports, or anything in media without mentioning Mic Shane."  v

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