It's Tuesday and the night is crazy muggy and a crowd is gathering in front of the Bop Shop on West Division. B-boys and girls in their late teens and early 20s are standing in slouchy jeans and backward-turned caps talkin' and trippin'.
The mad bass of A Tribe Called Quest is rippling out from inside as groups line up by the door. At the bar the air is thick with the smell of beer and beedies, the thin Indian cigarettes hip-hoppers favor. DJ Tony Craig, formerly known as Twilite Tone, is pumping out a mixture of old R & B, disco, and hip hop in the dark room in back. A few guys in loose Karl Kani jeans are flexin', making their bodies move like hyped robots, and three men in locks and fros stand in a corner rappin' to King Just's underground hit "Warrior Drum."
For six weeks the city's hip-hoppers have been flooding the Bop Shop every Tuesday for Freedom Rag magazine's "benefit" party. "People come from Evanston, Waukegan, the south side, the west side, even Indiana," says Craig. "There's just nothing else happening."
In the front room people grab free cassette singles from a basket on the bar. Free copies of Freedom Rag sit in a basket next to it and they snatch them up too. It's a new glossy African American arts quarterly that according to the cover will promote "revolution through reunion of kinks and konks."
Kelli Curry, Freedom Rag's 24-year-old editor, says she started the magazine in homage to her grandmother, a Harlem Renaissance concert pianist who fostered within her a love for African art forms. The magazine's mission is to give voice to the city's African American community. "There's no reason black artists and writers shouldn't have an outlet," Curry says.
The same could be said of the young hip-hoppers who turn out for her parties. They rarely have a place they can call home for long. Fear of violence eventually closes most spots that open. "I'm not trying to promote huge-ass parties but just show people a good time," says Curry. "It's obvious that we're starving for good treatment and good music, not some watered-down techno bullshit."
It's 1 AM now and there's barely room to move, but Craig's kickin' Rick James's early-80s classic "Give It to Me Baby" back to back with Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome," and the crowd is in a singing, rapping frenzy.
"Club owners want to have pretty little blond kids, the beatnik or grunge crowd, but this is the real deal," Curry goes on. "These kids are real peaceful. They don't want to start any trouble, they want to mingle and meet their friends. There's no other place in the city they can go."
The Freedom Rag benefit party happens every Tuesday at the Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division, 10 PM to 2 AM, $4 cover. Last week Curry started throwing similar Sunday night parties for the over-21 crew at Wild Cherry, 1576 N. Milwaukee. Cover charge for this one is $5 but just a quarter for women before 11 PM. For more information call Curry at the Orpheus Connection Corporation, 654-8042.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marc PoKempner.