In its five years as one of Chicagoland’s longest existing music conferences, MOBfest (the “MOB” for “Music Over Business”) struck some major blows this year for genres that were not dominated by the melanin deficient, considering that it is primarily geared toward rock. Hip-Hop popped up in some of the most unusual places and situations Jun. 21-23 between the panel discussions at Metro diagonally across from the Cubs’ “friendly confines” at Wrigley Field and showcases at participating venues scattered about the more bohemian and experimental North Side (with the tourist trap exception of the House of Blues sandwiched between Marina City’s two grayish corncob skyscrapers downtown in the North Loop-River North).
That was a far cry from the first MOBfest in 1996, when hip-hop and no distant cousin enjoyed a presence at the music conference, and 1999, when West Side music retailer George Daniels was the token hip-hop authority on an urban music panel before a hip-hop showcase, which were both hastily added at HOB. And lest anyone forget that much of MOBfest’s early staff comprised refugees from a short-lived rock-oriented alternative music conference based at Columbia College that in its waning days provoked a mic-controlling and DJ-turntabling walkout by insisting that hip-hop acts performance on a house music showcase in Randolph Street Market.
During its annual cocktail party Friday at Metro’s Smart Bar kicking off MOBfest 2001, Jeff McClusky & Associates urban entertainment marketing firm attempted hepping a vanilla heavy crowd to superb rarified hip-hop with rotation of its Breakthrough Best of Unsigned Chicago compilation LP (hit up email@example.com or visit www.jmapro.com for a copy while copies last) and a 30-minute Molemen Inc. showcase. Either because of cluelessness or the free drinks and sumptuous servings of risotto cakes, rosemary chicken, smoked salmon, guacamole, cheesy jalepeño poppers, and roast beef with horseradish sauce, the MOBfesting masses were not particularly moved by Breakthrough’s bouncy “Challenge Me” featuring Mr. Metaphor, Breez Evahflowin and C. Rayz Walz, or extra funky “B-Boy Bravado” by Tshurhad The Pharise. The compilation’s hard rock extracted the most rise out the crowd.
The Molemen showcase was unable to substantially infuse flavor among the MOBfesters beyond the bar and hors d’oeuvres table after some rock band member bogarted one of the mics set up for the mic-controllers to run on about music conference fraternity before touting his group’s performance at one of the participating clubs. Despite not formally introducing themselves anywhere in their performance, Verbal and Prime at least persuaded a couple of Jack and Jill groups to nod heads, wave hands in the air, and break into some Pewee Herman B-kid moves to PNS’s turntable work (and the rock folk kept talking to him and foisting their tapes and CDs in his face as he sampled and spun).
With Precyse on turntables, Mass Hysteria’s three salt-and-pepper mic-controllers could not move the crowd beyond some subtle head bobbing among a couple of people in the very front. The crowd was not any more fazed when Mass Hysteria not too subtlety dissed it as wack and void of flavor.
Molemen’s hermana por la causa Sonia gauged the MOBfest climate best minutes before show time by when she said, “We’re under a lot of pressure we’re doing hip-hop for a crowd that’s not into hip-hop and more into rock. This is new for us, and we don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Some folk might remember Prime as the former Optimus Prime who was a finalist in the last Blaze Battle and Precyse as a former regional DMC champ. Mass Hysteria is also reportedly among the favored acts for an in-progress Chicago-meets-New York hip-hop compilation commissioned by Common and overseen by prolific, gold hit Hickory Hills, Ill. producer Xtreme that would be shopped to Rawkus Records (check IE’s “Studiophile” column in print and on the web for more info about Xtreme). To check out the tunes Verbal and Prime and Mass Hysteria performed at the pre-MOBfest party from the current Moleman compilation LP Ritual Of The … (Molemen), contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.molemen.com, or (773) 427-5593.
Verbal and Prime managed to tape an interview and drop with the one-hour “Kit Kat Scrunch Klub” show that airs from 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Central Time Sundays on CAN-TV19 of Chicago’s cable access television network. The show spent all three days interviewing various figures attending MOBfest, including Napster’s Greater New York City lord protectors The Rosenbergs and a contributing writer for Illinois Entertainer and IE Weekly (www.illinoisentertainer.com) who also happens to be the “Haymarket Riot” columnist for Hip-Hop Hot Spot. “Kit Kat” has evolved during its three years into a variety program of rock interviews, music videos, a Top 10 countdown of national and regional music, and views of bikini-clad strippers.
Contact “Kit Kat Scrunch Klub” via producer Charles Nelson’s pager at (312) 359-4539. Snail mail music videos, electronic press kits, performance and interview footage, etc. to the show at P.O. Box, 57087, Chicago, IL 60657. Nelson estimates that “Kit Klub” reaches 1 million viewers. Ninety-five percent of those viewers are the show’s target audience, or supporters of rock and other urban genres.
For the MOBfest showcase at Joe’s in the aptly named Weed Street shopping and entertainment district of the Gold Coast, Los Marijuanos ended up headlining behind several folk pop rock and hard rock bands. For those who are not hep to John Mancow’s shock jock pets at Chicago rock radio station Q101 FM, Los Marijuanos is a chicano-borinqueño union of mic-controllers from Milwaukee, South Chicago, and Gary, Ind. that prefers a live-band backup. The group’s borinqueño suave mic-controlling label mate, Disco, provided drum licks as part of that back up (a few might remember Disco showing up a reticent producer-promoter on the “Jenny Jones Show” who coldly received him before the mic-controller won over Jenny and her in-studio crowd).
The marijuanistas ended up rocking their herbal ditties on a one-sided mic, considering that Joe’s crowd had virtually emptied out from that part of the oversized sports bar by the time of the group’s set. But that did not put a damper on the tokies and munchies that occurred in the green room before the performance. Immediately after leaving the stage, Los Marijuanos and their entourage hooked up some production from the chicano drummer with rock band Rubber and resumed the herbal merriment in the green room down to the very last root. Check out Los Marijuanos and Disco at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.wickedentertainment.com. Also contact Disco at www.disco69.com, email@example.com, or (773) 393-5284. Support Los Marijuanos’ sponsor Uncle Poo cigar papers at www.unclepoo.com and (866) POO-GEAR.
Absolutely no hip-hop went down at MOBfest Friday, unless you remotely count the Latin rock showcase at North Beach in Weed Street, known for its water-ringed putting course and indoor beach with volleyball net. Some peculiar authorities popped during the one day of industry panels Saturday at Metro. Chicago-based Jive A&R Wayne Williams was heartily celebrated on the A&R Q&R panel for signing R. Kelly and soul rebirth chirp Syleena Johnson, a native of south suburban Harvey, Ill. and now resident of downstate college town Normal, Ill. who also happens to be the daughter of blues legend Syl Johnson—although he missed the boat on Twista back in 1996 until Creator’s Way Associated Labels that the West Side rapper was signed with was close to inking a joint venture deal with Big Beat/Atlantic (which is around the time Jive ordered Wayne to court Twista and CWAL).
For the marketing, promotions, and new media panel, J Records’ urban promotions chief Allan Cole made an overgeneralized observation that Chicagol and urban crowds were succinctly divided between hip-hopheads and those who strictly prefer house. That attempt at music marketing sociology ignored the rampant diversities and dichotomies among urban music tastes from Northwest Indiana to Milwaukee. For example, Chicagoland’s B-kid purists might reject house, while more eclectic hip-hopheads tend to prefer more traditional soul house and hoodcore hip-hopheads back a ghettotech house. In an informal cross examination of Cole after that panel, some enterprising reporter determined how much the promotions operative needed to get out of the office and a commercial radio station and incognito into a broader ranger of Chicagoland clubs and hip-hop nights.
The panel itself alluded to or mentioned in passing free Internet resources for indie acts but failed to go in extensive detail about them. Some free and for-fee resources worth checking out include Xingmail.com and Streetteam.net.
The demo-demolition panel at Smart Bar was star-studded enough with the likes of IE editor Mike Harris, Metro owner Joe Shanahan, Metro talent buyer Sean McDonough, Q101 local music director Chris Payne, Grammy-nominated producer Steve “Silk” Hurley, and Griff Morris, Central region director for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Why the panelists hesitated to summarily gong some of the worst of the rock is just one of those mysteries, and a lilting piece of light funk by an unidentified group was among the cuts that passed full muster.
Look into booking a gig at Metro or Wicker Park’s Double Door by hitting up Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris says she is open to hearing any and all urban music, so hit her up at chris@Q101.com, (312) 245-1234, fax (312) 527-9591, or WKQX-FM/Q101, 230 Merchandise Part Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654. Check out Griff at email@example.com, (312) 786-1121 fax (312) 786-1934, or National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Inc., 224 S. Michigan Ave., No. 250, Chicago, IL 60604.
By the time the revelers from the Cubs game had cleared off of Clark Street, MOBfest showcases were in effect again, with an early all-ages show at Metro featuring the jailbait metal band Slitheryn. A group of Hare Krishnas promoting a Sunday evening open house (featuring among other things musical performances) for their temple in the city’s northernmost neighborhood of Rogers Park struck up wind and percussion that turned out to be the funkiest sound heard up to that point in Wrigleyville since MOBfest’s demo-demolition panel. The Madison, Wis. brasshop band Youngblood Brass Band settled in for a late show of mostly pop folk rock down the street at Cubby Bear Lounge, where they longed from the green room for hip-hopheads among the already sparse crowd.
Returning from Wrigleyville’s reggae club district anchored by the Wild Hare and Exedus Lounge with his Spearhead road manager Albert “Papa Pretty” Cooke (the “pretty” is pronounced Pre-TAY) and bass guitarist and Gary, Ind. native Carl Young on discovering that the Back Of Yard Jamaican cuisine restaurant was closed for good and its space available for lease, a barefoot Michael Franti kicking around a soccer ball made Youngblood’s night and day by personally delivering salutations to the Madison group’s lead mic-controller and snare drummer D-Cipher (Dave Skogen) in front of Cubby Bear.
D-Cipher informed Franti that the band plans to enhance its fortunes by relocating among Yankees in New York City. Perhaps the Gothamites will see fit to book Youngblood for better than experimental rock gigs. In an email Monday after hearing Youngblood’s current album Unlearn (E Pluribus Bumpus), Franti proclaimed the band and its music “hot.” It features guest appearances by Frank Zappa’s longtime vocalist Ike Willis, Talib Kweli, spoken word poet Mike Ladd, and DJ Skooly of Chicagoland’s Platter Pirates, considered the Midwest’s most feared DJ-turntablist crew. Youngblood’s 1998 debut album Word On The Street (E Pluribus Bumpus) ain’t bad either. Get up with Youngblood at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.youngbloodbrassband.com, or by
phoning (608) 575-8055.
And now for some related lore … Franti’s brother lives in Chicagoland’s and was once a North Shore suburban roommate of Rubberoom’s Spo, or more formally Savior Power Cipher. With the exception of business establishments that required covered feet, Franti stopped wearing shoes two years ago. Franti is also becoming a sort of senior citizen in hip-hop, his son, who born when he was 19 and inspired him to track down his natural parents from a doomed interracial relationship turned, 14 during the Chicagoland stop (“I’m almost a grandfather,” Franti acknowledged in a beaming smile). One mic-controller from the North Side rap group Mad Faal is bouncing at Cubby Bear while working on his music. The last time an active mic-controller worked at Cubby Bear was a decade ago, when Earatik Statik’s Abstruse Tone (Seth Rich) replaced Keith Kendall for a couple of years as production manager while Kendall was promoted as lead guy for Cubby Bear’s exclusive talent buyer Conroy Productions.
After shopping Earatik’s music in New York City for a two-month stay-over there with fellow mic-controller C-Lo (Carlos Polk), Abstruse is working a corporate night gig in the norther suburbs while the two collectively shape, mold, and shop their new album expected for release by at least autumn. Kendall got the boot from Conroy after booking a slew of unprofitable shows at Cubby Bear and then lost his gig at KMA Marketing when that North Loop firm phased out its urban department after losing the account of its biggest client Salem (allegedly for overcharging the cigarette company, former staff KBA urban promoters say the proceeds of those cost overruns did not trickle down to them). He now works with CPM Productions Inc.—formerly Chicago Party Masters and now responsible for the Hip-Hop 2000 concert series—in what appears to be some lapdog role with the lead CPM principal Domingo Neris (who made an estimated $15,000 in damages from Mobb Deep in a 1999 Illinois Appellate Court decision in a breach of contract lawsuit against the Queens, N.y. group when filed when the duo failed to make up a concert they went AWOL on).
Franti and the rest of Spearhead’s tour staff were initially under the impression that the group and the two future music bands it was half-time for at Metro was part of a late MOBfest showcase. “This show was sort of arranged at the last minute, and this was the largest venue we could find,” Franti said on the band’s tour bus affront Metro between strumming on an acoustic guitar. But then two many other urban events were going on around Chicagoland as the showcases wound down—including a party for the hoodcore group Snypaz at the 50 Yard Line in Harvey and the closing MOBfest at Alien Arts and Sounds in the Near West Side’s Pilsen community (Snypaz also threw a picnic earlier in the day somewhere on the South Side, either in Hayes or Washington parks, to thank those who bought their new album).
In any case, Franti and Spearhead’s performance was worth anybody’s music conference and then some with its soul rebirth fire and magic. Franti and the band have never appeared happier. Franti’s solo Live At The Baobab LP (Boo Boo) Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Stay Human (Six Degrees) are worth checking out via stayhuman.org, or email@example.com. Perhaps Franti and Spearhead’s brilliance will rub off more on the hip-hop end of things for MOBfest 2002. Get in the loop for next year’s installment of the music conference by visiting www.mobfest.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARK FITZGERALD ARMSTRONG
11706 SOUTH THROOP STREET
CHICAGO, IL 60643