One Nation, Invisible

The untold story of local hip hop: 1981 to 1996

Club Hip Hop was rocking, man. The floors actually used to vibrate.

Verb X, DJ: That place had a floor that danced with you. I mean, it jumped. You always felt like you were going to go through, and they were all like, dude, don't worry, just do your thing.

Travitron: Anywhere I could rent a place out, I'd put on a show. Sabathani, Lyndale Community Center, North Commons. I started giving parties at the Great Hall, at the U of M, and I was getting 700 kids there. I put myself through college doing that, from '81 to '86.

Disco T: The Coffman Union was so close to St. Paul that a show there kind of turned into a Minneapolis-St. Paul thing.

Sugar Tee, a.k.a. Terry Burks, MC: I believe my first performance with Travitron was at the Inner City Youth League. There were no women doing it at the time.

Travitron: Sugar Tee, she was one of the first female rappers. She was good. She was part of the TNT Breakout Crew, which was me, her, Mark Miller from Northern Lights, and Travis Mitchell. Terry was in high school.

Sugar Tee: I was 13. I was rapping about guys, probably. Just a little bit about me, and about how guys liked me. I called myself Sweet Tee at the time, so it was like: "I'm Sweet Tee and I'm five foot three/All the boys just look at me/Some say I'm cute, some say I'm fine/Some I rapped to, I blew their mind."

I teach fifth grade now, and I still show off for my students, because they think they can rap, too.

Freddy Fresh, DJ: It wasn't like rap music was on the radio. The record stores had barely started carrying it. The black community was hip because they had family in New York, Chicago, and Florida, and they would send mix tapes to each other. You had these 10-year-old kids with the hippest music in the world on cassette tapes.

Gage, promoter: At that time my family lived in Brooklyn Park, and that's funny, because that'd be a shameful thing to say as far as the whole street credibility thing goes. But keep in mind, Brooklyn Park has a lot of apartment complexes. Back in the '80s, with the welfare system in Minnesota and all the jobs that were available, you had families that were coming from California, New York, Chicago. And they were all coming to Brooklyn Park. There was this subculture of kids coming from all these different places in the country, and they would bring the fat laces, the Kangols. But because there was no place for black kids to hang out in Brooklyn Park, we would go to north Minneapolis where there was hip-hop parties being thrown by DJs like Rocket T, Ray Seville, and Lazy T.

Brother Jules: Clarky the Whop-Master was another one throwing parties over in St. Paul. His thing was, he would throw all the popular DJs' names on the flyer without their consent, so everybody would think that was the place to be. Then cats would be like, "Dude, you're DJing?" "No." "Well, your name is on the flyer in the 'hood." That was ingenious.

Disco T was notorious for renting hotel rooms and having concert-sized speakers in there, like 10 bass bins and high-mid cabinets for a little ballroom. The ceiling would be shaking. People would come out of there with white dust in their hair.

Disco T: Pretty soon the city was chopped up. I was probably labeled as a north side DJ. Tim Wilson was representing the south side. Whop-Master was representing St. Paul. And Travitron, he could go anywhere. He had humility. Whereas the rest of us probably got into fights.

LST: We actually always got along, but battles made money.

Verb X: Smokey D and Kid Delite, they were the first cats that would take routines off popular songs and commercials. There was this one St. Paul cat called MC Double D. He got them guys a couple times, man, and then they just came back. It was at the Electricians' Hall, packed crowd, and these cats were doing The Brady Bunch, but rapping on it, dude. I was like, damn, these motherfuckers came over to St. Paul to dis this cat in front of his own crowd. It was one of the best things I've ever seen.

Delite: It was basically a dis to the whole city of St. Paul: [to the tune of The Brady Bunch theme] "Here's a story/Of sucker MCs/Who be biting and reciting all the time/They were all punks/Trying to come together/So they could bite our rhymes."

Verb X: It was on a Sunday, too, so everybody went to school the next day talking about it, and I'm sure [Double D] got no peace about it.

Disco T: One time, I was DJing in St. Paul for a Whop-Master function. We rocked the crowd, and afterward we were loading up the gear outside. I put my stuff in the car and I looked up, and there's this guy in a wheelchair rolling around the corner, talking about "There they is! Get 'em!" Next thing you know there's 10 or 15 big-ass St. Paul guys walking around the corner. "Y'all from Minneapolis. What y'all want over here?"

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