The State of East Village Hip Hop

Chaz KangasChaz Kangas.

Passing by the corner of Second Avenue and Fifth Street on a Monday night has become quite a different experience in the three months since Sin Sin closed. The former home of Freestyle Mondays, the vibrant, laidback epicenter of one of the country’s longest lasting hip hop scenes, now sits in silence with the tinted windows whispering to passersby about parties past. Sometimes I’ll even stop in front of the windows and peer inside for a brief moment of nostalgia. When I do this for more than 10 seconds, a local resident will approach and say something to the effect of “that place is closed, the party is over.” While it’s hard to deny the first half of that sentence, the latter portion couldn’t be more wrong.

For many involved in the East Village hip hop scene, “Freestyle Mondays” is the center of our musical solar system, and it would take more than an eviction notice to eclipse such a brightly shining community. When it was announced that Sin Sin would be closing last October, there was tremendous interest from different venues offering to inherit the event and keep things continuing as usual. Eventually, hosts iLLspokiNN and Mariella chose Bar 13, (13th and University) as Freestyle Mondays’ new home. Since then, even amid the numerous snowstorms, the loyalists have returned.

But this move doesn’t mean a complete migration of hip hop from the East Village. Brown Bag Thursdays, a bi-weekly rap showcase at Voodoo Lounge (First Avenue and Second Street), is currently in its second year and is becoming something of a landmark for rap enthusiasts to visit.

Organized by local favorite rhyme collective the Brown Bag All Stars, the event has become one of the area’s premiere hip hop attractions, pairing local acts back-to-back with independent rap artists from all over the continent. This international appeal has resulted in events such as last December’s benefit for the family of Minneapolis rapper Michael ‘Eyedea’ Larsen who died suddenly in October. It’s this outreach and togetherness that exemplifies what makes the scene so special as Brown Bag Thursdays joins long-running hip hop open mic End of the Weak (Sunday nights at Club Pyramid on Avenue A) as another staple in keeping the underground rap scene in the East Village alive. In a genre with an ever-changing sound, perhaps it’s fitting that the walls surrounding it change too.

Chaz Kangas writes about the hip hop music scene at his blog.