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.)
Even when the cops show, shortly before Boogie's planned set, his mood remains light, and so does the crowd's. Police say they've responded to noise complaints--something about a truck's subwoofer outside--but no other incidents are reported tonight, despite the massive throng, the heat, and the frequent power outages. The shirtless young man who jokingly greeted us outside with "Evening, officer," on the way in now quietly takes in the real thing outside. Cherry-lighted cars are parked at every intersection on the block, and a cop approaches the overwhelmed bus stop to say, "Why are you all sticking around?"
"We're taking the bus," says one girl, appalled.
"No, you're not," the officer responds, sneering in disbelief.
A few minutes later on KMOJ, an on-air caller is ecstatic. "I was just at the Freak Nik," she says. "It was so positive. Nothing bad happened, but the cops came anyway."
"When I first came up here," says Boogie one July afternoon a few weeks later, "I did a party, and I was praying for people from Chicago to come." The DJ is sitting with the three members of Freak Nik's LIS crew, two of them Illinois émigrés, chilling in the basement studio Tune Town below the East Lake Street clothing and hip-hop boutique Tomorrow's Trendz.
"I did house," continues Boogie. "And everybody looked at me like I was stupid. Now, people come to me and ask, 'Hey, you going to do some house?'" Boogie estimates there were some 500 Chicagoans at Freak Nik, and the deep-voiced rapper Billa, whose crew Boogie plans to remix for a new single, nods his agreement with a laugh.
"Springfield, Chicago, Indiana..." Billa says. "You got people from other towns here. No one's from Minnesota anymore; everyone's from Chicago." The music, in other words, might be finding an old audience rather than creating a new one.
Given the influx, it's no surprise to hear other public practitioners of ghetto house--DJ Sluggo, DJ Deon, DJ Milton, Waxmaster, DJ Funk, DJ Chip--playing in, say, the deep-fried food joint down the block from Tomorrow's Trendz. But the phenomenon, as the largely word-of-mouth Freak Nik indicates, is still thoroughly underground. Even in Chicago, where the house that Trax (and other labels) built has spawned a hundred pop variants, techno's down-and-nasty cousin is often treated with derision by house DJs, whose sleek sound evokes middle-class upward mobility as surely as Motown once did. "House fans look on ghetto like Jurassic 5 fans look at Master P," sums up City Pages contributor Michaelangelo Matos. Indeed, Boogie loves speeding up P's "ugh" beyond recognition. And, yeah, there's a distinctly country grammar in ghetto's flagrant obsession with fornication; sample Boogie titles include "Bang Skeet," "Skoochie Rat," and "Smack It."
Perhaps all this has something to do with why house, normally thought of as the purview of gay men, would gain popularity among the street-dressed, avidly hetero likes of LIS's teenage crew members.
"I started listening to house when I was 12 or 13 in Chi," says Billa, who like many in this set moved to Minneapolis with his family. (As recently as 1998, the Twin Cities' ultralow unemployment rate made this area the prime Northern destination for black economic migrants.)
"It's just like rap music sped up to a dance tempo," adds his fellow MC, Menace, standing up to give a rapid-fire demonstration.
"It's straight-up bouncing, booties everywhere," adds Boogie, making a spanking motion. Everyone breaks into laughter.
Boogie himself takes pride in his craft. Perhaps now rounding age 30, he started DJing way back in 1986, learning from such Illinois luminaries as Farley Jack Master Funk, Hot Hands Hula, Jack Master Scratch, and scene godfather Frankie Knuckles. (The LIS rappers nod approval at the mention of the latter, as Boogie lists his influences aloud.) Chicago legend Derrick Carter was the first to teach him to blend the records, and Boogie went on to make his name on the south side. "Everybody loved DJ Boogie," says Billa.
Since relocating to the Cities five years ago, Boogie has made the necessary trips back to Chi-Town hub Barney's Record Shop to collect the latest singles. Over the years, the DJ has produced a slew of his own out-of-the-trunk releases--including some 15 CDs and 30 tapes. One snippet of bouncy house played during Freak Nik was lifted from his latest disc, Born Freaky. The disc's liner notes announce, "Proceeds of this cd goes to HELP Boogie buy a Cadillac Truck," and given the guy's regional name recognition--ravers in Wisconsin sing me his praises--he may not be far from that fundraising goal. Yeah, I said ravers. Since playing his first party four years ago, Boogie has found a fertile suburban fan base for this blackest of urban dance musics, though he finds the vibe entirely different. "Ravers are freaks too," he says, "but they're not so explicitly sexual."
When I point out to Boogie that if he started in 1986 that means he's been doing music for 14 years, he laughs, "So that means I was like six when I started." Boogie, who holds forth on just about every other topic without hesitation, remains cagey about his age. (He also prefers I not use his civilian name.) "Just say I'm in my 20s," he says. "I done told some girls I'm 22, 25, 27--depends on how old the female is." (True, the driver's license on his album sleeve gives his birth year as 1978, but then it also gives his home address as "69 Deez Nutz.")
Boogie reports that he's working on a dating book--"what the ladies should look out for when people like me come up to them." And when I bring up photo possibilities for this article, suggesting he make good on his Minnesota Luke image by inviting some women to pose, he doesn't miss a beat. "I can get some rats together," he says. "I can have them hootchify." (Later Boogie is disappointed that this never comes off: "The hos didn't show," he laments.)
"Let me ask you a question," says MC Menace to Boogie. "Do you think you'd be doing all this if you was married?"
"Uh, probably. Because my wife would have to be understanding."
Another gale of laughter fills the room. Boogie's fiancée and their baby also appear on the sleeve of Born Freaky. "I've been engaged for four years," he admits. "That's the one I'm with now. But like I said, if anybody asks me, I'm on my own. I'm single until I'm twenty-five...hundred."
Later that night, at 3:45 a.m., I walk into the backroom of the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, worried that I've missed Boogie's three o'clock set. But I hear some familiar samples as I open the door: "Ass. Ass. Titties. Titties!" Nope, he's still on.
A phat-panted raver swirls a glowstick light sculpture in the air, and others do that familiar backward jig across the floor. This is a pre-party for the Tricknology IV rave on the following night, and the music couldn't seem more anomalous for the occasion. What does the cuddly sense of eros that ravers normally cultivate--keeping a safe distance from each other's asses and titties--have to do with raw, aggressive scratches and samples that issue commands like "Let me see your pussy/Let me see your dick!"
Yet the kids seem swayed by what sounds more and more like America's homegrown version of drum 'n' bass: hip hop given the techno treatment, but with no perceptible Jamaican influence. They simply follow the kick-drum and occasionally smile at lines like "Take it off. What? The clothes, girl, the clothes!"
After Boogie takes a small bow, a dancer with an upside-down visor cap and wigwam-like jeans asks the DJ to pose with a young woman who says she's been a fan since the Midwest All-Stars rave last year. These white kids, with their chaste moves, couldn't be more eager to snap their photo with the Minnesota Luke. Maybe when you're a star, there's nothing wrong at all with feeling your race.
DJ Boogie spins at Sabathani Summerfest on Saturday, August 12, and every Saturday this summer at the Sabathani Community Center; (612) 539-1725.
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