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For Hip-Hop Open Mic, Back to Where It All Began

bb44Courtesy Corey Lima. Corey Lima, a.k.a. iLLspokinn.

While other hip-hop open mics have come and gone, Freestyle Mondays has been one of the scene’s staples for over a decade. Launched in 2002 at the now defunct Sin Sin, its doors were open to any rapper who wanted to grab the mic and perform, with a live band supplying the beats. When the club closed in 2010, the party migrated to Bar 13 and then to 116 MacDougal Street, until noise complaints resulted once again in the search for a new venue. Tonight, Freestyle Mondays returns to the East Village with an inaugural 16-MC battle at Ella Lounge at 9 Avenue A.

We spoke to co-host Corey Lima, better known as iLLspokinn, about coming back to the neighborhood, the challenges of having a weekly hip-hop event in New York City and new plans to broadcast online in high definition.


How does it feel to return to the East Village where Freestyle Mondays started?


It’s kind of nostalgic to get off on the same train to hit Freestyle Mondays again. I used to live in the East Village, so I’m hoping it brings out my East Village friends who just like to walk up the stairs or down the street. Read more…

A Son of the Nuyorican Returns, Drag Queens and Marching Band in Tow

DSC_0057Courtesy B. Dolan B. Dolan in full regalia.

This Sunday, the Church of Love and Ruin Tour returns to the East Village, bringing with it a kaleidoscopic array of acts ranging from independent rap sensation Sage Francis to a marching band to the gender-bending practitioners of sissy bounce. The tour’s headliner and mastermind, B. Dolan (Bernard Dolan), hopes to get the New York audience – “which can stereotypically be very stoic and non-responsive,” he said – wiling out with the help of a new host, a drag queen by the name of Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova. “I predict that she is about to become a hip-hop legend,” he told The Local, adding that “what she’s going to do to these audiences will be remembered by their children’s children.”

You heard it here first. Mr. Dolan recently sat down with us to discuss his East Village origins as well as the significance of bringing the tour back to where he got his start.


What inspired you to make a name for yourself in the East Village?


I grew up in an old mill town outside Providence, R.I., and hip-hop culture was nowhere near me really. I discovered rap via an older cousin, and then scavenged for what I could find. I knew shortly after that I wanted to be a writer-rapper and that my favorite hip-hop came from New York City. So that’s where I headed in 1999, as soon as I finished high school. I discovered the scene in the East Village and started performing there. Read more…

Buckwheat Groats: A Viral Sensation With a Leg in the East Village

Screen shot 2012-07-23 at 10.23.24 AM Clip from “Million Dollar Menu”

The latest hip-hop act to bust out of the East Village didn’t come out of the Bowery Poetry Club, the Pyramid, or any of those other hallowed spots. Buckwheat Groats emerged from… McDonald’s?

The comedic rap duo’s “Million Dollar Menu” is a tribute to the decadent rap videos of the early 2000s: members Lil’ Dinky (a.k.a. “Def Janiels”) and Penis Bailey, who asked that their real names not be printed as a condition of an interview (they’re shy, see), traded the imagery of the mansions and yachts of yesteryear for something significantly more accessible to most viewers.

Shooting at McDonald’s locations all over the city, the two found some of the best footage emerging from the fast-food chain’s East Village locations. The outlandish, not-safe-for-work video kicks off with the duo striding into the McDonald’s on 14th Street.

“The East Village held it down for the Groats, and we appreciate that,” said Bailey. Read more…

Michelle Obama Sneakers? Pop-Up Shop Is Kickin’ It Old-School

Want to sport Michelle Obama sneakers while sipping Barack-branded coffee? Here’s the place to go: Hip-Hop U.S.A, a Harlem-based company that puts on sneaker-art competitions, has opened a pop-up shop at 343 Lafayette Street, between Bleecker and Bond Streets. The Local stopped into the store’s opening to check out sneakers painted by graffiti artists in the style of their train murals from the 1970s and 80s. Seems subway artists are making a comeback.

After Nearly Five Years, Hip-Hop Showcase Ends Its Run

bondfire2EMA Photography/Elizabeth Allen. TastyKeish and Bronx Uber Villain

For almost five years, Bondfire has served as a monthly family reunion for New York’s hip-hop scene, but the open mic will end its run tomorrow night at the Bowery Poetry Club.

After starting the event in 2007, musician Ausar Paumam’ki handed the reigns to current co-host Tony Walker, a veteran of hip-hop open mic circuits better know as The Bronx Über Villain. “We made Bondfire warm,” said Mr. Walker. “An inviting, but still no nonsense place where one takes pride in being on our stage. We’re actually a listening, encouraging, true community.”

Co-host TastyKeish (born Keisha Datés) was asked to become a permanent fixture after hosting the first annual all-female Bondfire. She said that the monthly’s non-judgmental vibe meant that it was more diverse than most. “Anyone can come through and rock, and you won’t be scared to come back,” she said, “but you will get some criticism.” Read more…

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.