Contact High

He's collaborated with Lil Jon. He's opened for Young Jeezy. He's worked at the same record store for eight years. For North Side rapper Contac, hip-hop dreams are just around the corner.

We pull into an industrial-looking lot, and Sandman's car, following behind us, comes to a stop nearby. Out of a building with a glass door walks a woman with a round and pretty face.

"Hey, honey," says Contac, suddenly sounding proper and stately. "I'm dropping the car off to you because I have to go to sound check."

"You look nice," she says, kissing him through the window. "Hope it lasts."

Daniel Corrigan

Contac begins moving a few things from one car to the other, and I join Samantha Sharp inside the office of the printing company where she works.

"He's a good-hearted person," she says, gazing out the window. "A big ol' kid, if you ask me. He likes to have fun. But who doesn't like to be happy? He's pushing himself all the time. That's one of the things that everyone admires, is his determination."

Contac pokes his head in and looks at her. "I know you ain't in here lyin' about me," he says.

"Whatever," she replies. When he's gone, she shakes her head. "I don't know if I could do it, personally. I don't have his drive."

CONTAC'S MOST DISTINGUISHING trait as an MC is the odd timbre of his voice. It sounds a little like Larry Blackmon doing a Donald Duck impression, or Twista possessed by the ghost of Howlin' Wolf. Contac calls it "the Waggle," and it couldn't be more different from his speaking tone, which is deep and luxuriant. His dad, Don Anderson, says young Londell started using the Waggle when he was a kid, imitating his father. The b-boy had been dancing in the park from the age of four, but was slower to pick up the mic.

"He got into rapping when he was 16," remembers Dad. "It was his older cousin, L.P., the one that got murdered, that had 'em all into it."

Lyrical Poet, born Armell Antonio Pate, learned rapping from Londell's older brother, Gary Robinson, but ended up being the one to push Contac and his friends to stay focused on music.

"Rapping was their answer to the gangs," says Don Anderson. "Londell's age group was getting into gangs, and his cousin formed a little clique called the Mackilot. They used to throw parties every week so all the gang-bangers didn't mess with them, 'cause they liked coming to the parties. That kind of kept Londell out of the gangs."

The elder Anderson, who recently organized a benefit for Katrina victims at the Red Sea featuring rappers from the North Side, remembers the hole left behind in the community by L.P.'s death. The two cousins appeared together on an AIDS awareness CD in 1998. When L.P. was murdered the same year--allegedly for disrespecting his killer's gang--everyone involved in the project felt adrift.

"L.P. dying was like a message for our whole family," Contac told me at the time. "We've got to come together. And I feel I've got to be the one to bring us together."

Within a year, Contac had recorded "I Can't Talk," his first solo CD single, spitting rapid verses over a sample that sounded like air escaping from a bass cabinet. "Y'all 'd rather see me crying, singin' the blues, man," squawked the young rapper. "I lost my cousin in '98/That just gave me more ambition to bust some heads with the microphone and continue on with the mission."

Contac performed the song at the Juneteenth festival, where he shared the stage with Sandman, and has since built a career mostly on decadent party music--he still shouts out L.P., but never calls for vengeance, as Sandman did on 2000's "Dear LP." (Contrary to rumor, the shooter is still behind bars.) In some ways, Contac is a dose of mainstream fun in a city known for inspirational serious types such as Brother Ali, another North Side rapper who couldn't be less crunk. Contac even tried to move to Atlanta in 2001 to blend in better, but returned six months later, missing his family. He scored a Lil Jon guest vocal (purchased by the local rapper's then-label, Wild Side Records) for 2004's "Do Something," but that hasn't done much. (Resurrected in remixed form on the new album, it's a rare moment of Contac seeming to feel obliged to act tough.)

Contac's low profile might also reflect the growing isolation of the North Side, the heart of black Minnesota, from the rest of the scene. Local hip hop was born here, with a legacy stretching from the Minneapolis Body Breakers to the Northside Hustlaz Clic. Yet you only had to attend Digital City's recent in-store rap battles, where every participant was black, to notice how cultural segregation persists. "We treat it like it's its own city," said rapper Unknown of the North Side, speaking through a mouth full of diamonds at one bout before handing me a flyer for his next gig at the 200 Club.

"When people say 'North Side,' they go, 'Oh my God, I don't want to go over there,'" says Chuck Chizzle. "But it's really a loving community. We look out for each other and we support each other. Because pretty much that's all we got."

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