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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.

The Day | On Expansion and Sin Sin

EV taxi cabsGloria Chung

Good morning, East Village.

On Monday, The Local’s Kim Davis wrote about NYU’s expansion plan. This morning, the Washington Square News describes the debate a bit west of our neighborhood where many residents questioned the plan at a Community Board 2 meeting Monday night.

Another one of our Monday posts offered a patron’s perspective on the closing of the Sin Sin lounge. EV Grieve reports on another sign that the end is near for Sin Sin: the club’s website is down. (Grieve also has a humorous item demonstrating that concerns about noisy students are hardly a new development.) And Bowery Boogie has a post about the neighborhood’s star turn in a new Samsung commercial.

Sin Sin Lounge Was Source of Solace

Chaz KangasChaz Kangas.

Last week, The Local confirmed reports that the Sin Sin lounge would be closing at the end of the month and revising its format. Sin Sin, the scene of a fatal shooting in August, has been a source of complaints about noise and violence in the neighborhood. Chaz Kangas, a frequent patron of Sin Sin, offers his perspective on the club and its closing.

The absolute safest, most welcome and happiest I’ve ever felt in my adult life was at a bar in the East Village called Sin Sin. It’s a spot I’ve been loyally attending for almost five years. It’s where I’ve brought close friends, classmates, dates, co-workers and visitors, and they’ve all been given a lasting memory that will stay with them the rest of their lives. The end of October will see its doors close permanently, and in a climate where New York’s landscape is changing more than ever, I feel like I’m losing another connection to what first made me fall in love with the city. This is what Sin Sin means to me.

I began attending the club during my sophomore year of college in November 2005. I had always heard about their “Freestyle Mondays” Hip-Hop open mic since even before I had moved to the city a year prior. Word-of-mouth around the NYU campus was that it was next-to-impossible to get into. It wasn’t until the evening’s host iLLspokinN extended an invitation to me after he heard me rap at an NYU event that – after promising not order from the bar until I turned 21 – I made my Sin Sin debut. Stepping into that dim red room with a live band reinterpreting classic rap instrumentals next to a lineup of MCs eager to perform awakened a feeling inside me that was as exciting as it was validating. Here was a room full of people, whether performers or listeners, who felt the exact same passion that I did, and they’d been meeting there for the past four years for the same reason – the love of rap music.

The vibe of Freestyle Mondays at Sin Sin would remain the same from its 11:30 start-time until the lights came on at 3:30. I began attending every Monday and, after I moved to the East Village, would often stop by there to cap off other nights for its pleasant feeling of familiarity. Over the years, its accessibility and safe, comfortable atmosphere has allowed me to take countless friends, acquaintances and associates to Sin Sin for their first rap show. As a child I was always taught the importance of including others in things I loved and my time at Sin Sin was the adult realization of that virtue. More importantly, my experiences under those red lights really shaped me as a person. Most of the close friends I’ve ever had in the city, some who’ve moved away and even some no longer with us, have stepped through those doors. While Freestyle Mondays will continue and thrive at another location, the East Village will have lost a historic and important venue for young artists.

Chaz Kangas is a resident of East Harlem. He blogs at

Club Set For Overhaul After Shooting

DSC01920Timothy J. Stenovec The Sin Sin Lounge, where a clubgoer was fatally shot in August, will shutter its nightclub operations later this month and re-open as new type of venue.

The Sin Sin lounge is undergoing a major makeover.

The Local has confirmed reports that the lounge, the scene of a fatal shooting of a clubgoer in August, will close its doors at the end of the month to undergo renovations and re-open as a new type of venue with a different theme.

Sin Sin had become a focal point for neighborhood complaints about violence and noise at bars after the shooting death of Devin Thompson, who was 43, outside the club on Aug. 22. No arrests have been made in connection with Mr. Thompson’s death although the police want to question two men who were at the club the night that he was killed.

A post Tuesday on EV Grieve was one of the earliest indications that changes might be coming to the bar. Posts on other blogs offered similar reports.
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The Day | A Sister’s Pain

Manhattan in Color on the BoweryC.C. Glenn

Good morning, East Village.

More than 150 people attended Tuesday night’s Community Council meeting at the Ninth Precinct where the talk was all about the charged atmosphere outside some of the neighborhood’s nightclubs.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to our post by NYU Journalism’s Rachel Morgan, who reported that many residents who live near the Sin Sin Lounge – where Devin Thompson was fatally shot last month – say the nightclub is still a source of problems with noise and violence.

Asia Thompson, a sister of Mr. Thompson, attended last night’s meeting and told NYU Journalism’s Timothy J. Stenovec afterward that she hopes more can be done to improve security at nightclubs like Sin Sin.

“My reason for coming here tonight is so my brother’s death won’t be in vain,” Ms. Thompson told Mr. Stenovec. “He was a father, he was a brother. I just want this tragic incident not to happen again to somebody else’s loved one.”

The owners of Sin Sin, which is located on East Fifth Street near Second Avenue, said that since the shooting they have put new security measures in place, including the use of handheld metal detectors.

Still, Ms. Thompson said that she hoped more could be done in the future and she wondered why more wasn’t done sooner to improve security at the club.

“My brother would still be here today,” Ms. Thompson said. “Because there’s a lot of complaints going on, so how come those steps weren’t taken before this happened?”

Residents: Nightclub Still Troublesome

DSC01905Timothy J. Stenovec Makeba Thompson, 41, holds a photograph of her brother Devin Thompson who was fatally shot outside the Sin Sin Lounge Aug. 22.

It’s been a month since the slaying of Devin Thompson outside the Sin Sin Lounge, and speaker after speaker at the Ninth Precinct Community Council meeting tonight told the police that things aren’t getting any better.

Of the more than 150 people who attended the meeting – residents and business owners – at least 25 indicated they had come expressly to urge the police to act against continued problems with noise and fighting at Sin Sin, which is located on East Fifth Street near Second Avenue.

“They have carefully crafted a bar where anything goes,” said Bill Koehnlein, who is in his early sixties. He lives down the block from the nightclub. “They cater to people who aren’t from this neighborhood to do what they would never do in their own neighborhood.”
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