Nothing wrong with feeling your race, sometimes. "Be nice to the white guys," says the DJ to the audience, fanning himself with a record onstage. He can't mean anybody but us--that is, my pale friend Keith Harris and your paler reporter, who are pressed against the paneling of a Polish community hall in northeast Minneapolis. It's a warm Friday night in June, and the room is filled to capacity with black teenagers here to dance, though there are a few wary-looking white teens just arriving, and one wiry white kid in a floppy army hat. (Ah, those ravers: the bloodhounds of party-hunting.)
The walls of the Polish White Eagle Association are bleeding with condensation, and Keith writes his initials in a steamed-up mirror. Closer to the stage's edge, I chat up the only female remotely near my 30-year age. "I've got to ask you," she says, smiling. "What are you doing here?"
Younger women brush by, leaving decorative sparkles on my sleeve, but I don't notice that right away. Instead I see they're wearing cowboy hats--the best damn female hip-hop fashion trend of the late Nineties/early Naughties--and their forms are as tightly and lightly garbed as you'd expect from a party called "Freak Nik 2000." Actually, I'm surprised to see any women here, much less a gender party parity: It's sex, not race, that's making this white boy nervous at an event that advertises cash prizes for "Sexiest Dressed" and "Back That Rat Up"--presumably separate categories of womanly excellence. I have pointedly refrained from inviting female friends.
Yet the mood tonight is more playpen than lion's den. Only a few minutes ago, a boisterous boy outside asked the ladies how much of their minimal covering they were planning on shedding tonight, and one of them gave him an "Oh, please" eye-roll. "Hey, I'm just trying to bring out the freak in y'all," he protested, giving his hips a fluid shimmy for emphasis. Contrary to the dance phobia of the prototypic hip-hop icon, it seems that local males are as determined to show as to tell: Inside, a roving camcorder shines its light on a pair of ripped male dancers in wife-beaters and nylon caps. They lock fists and slink around near the floor, letting their lower backs go to jelly.
I've never seen anything like this in b-boying--platonic couple dancing? In hip hop?--and I later learn the moves come straight out of Chicago. This makes sense given the crowd, which knows every word of "Hay" by Chicago's Crucial Conflict and roars approval when an MC asks if Chi's in the house tonight. Southside Clique, the organization running tonight's party, is actually named for the city ten hours southeast by Greyhound, not south Minneapolis. And tonight's host--the tall, lightly goateed DJ working the ticket desk--was also hatched in house music's birthplace.
Boogie is known to hip-hop aficionados, KMOJ-FM (89.9) listeners, and even many ravers as the man who brought "ghetto house" music to Minnesota, perfecting what may be the rawest, most visceral strain of house music--Chicago's diva-sampling post-disco thump. Ghetto is filled with sped-up rap samples and shouts, and its strains can already be heard on local Jeep systems. But tonight, away from the tables, Boogie has slipped into the role of organizer. Recreating the carnal, spring breakbeat atmosphere of Atlanta hip-hop parties--like the one that "Freak Nik" lifted its name from--Boogie now hopes to become the "Minnesota Luke," referring, of course, to Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew. (Boogie's previous parties include Steam Pit, Pleasure Dome, and Freak Out '99; a larger Freak Nik is being planned for later this summer.) And if the Chicagoan also manages to help popularize his own chosen genre, well, all the better.
The fact that tonight's rap-video fantasy spectacle remains good--if not so clean--fun may be equally influenced by the personality of its host. With his pinchable cheeks, elfin laugh, and avid dedication to helping out lesser-knowns, such as tonight's hip-hop openers LIS (Lyrically Insane), Boogie comes off as a harmless sensualist in a long American tradition of same. (Call him all about the Benjamin Franklins.) He may be minding the door most of the night--announcing his celebrity only by a ball cap, T-shirt, and laminated pendant bearing his title--but his collaborators onstage direct the audience and talent with the same smiling self-assurance: "Y'all ain't the Wu-Tang," says one Southside Clique organizer to friends of MC Contac. "You don't need 19 muhfuckas onstage."
"We got a weed problem up in here," announces another security man.
"If you're 14 or under, it's curfew time," says another voice from the mic (it's often difficult to see who's talking in the cramped quarters). "You've got to go home now."
When the pale dancer in the floppy hat draws a circle of onlookers with some of his dance moves, another Southside Clique member leads the crowd in a chant of, "Go white boy! Go white boy!" Then, when a female "contest" winner is lifted onstage, an organizer makes sure certain limits are observed. She pulls up her red dress to reveal nothing on underneath, and one admirer reaches between her legs. At that, the Clique honcho stops the proceedings. "Get your hand out of there," he scolds. ("You best be getting paid for this," yells a voice I assume to be the Boyfriend. The woman pockets her cash, seemingly untroubled.)