How churches, community organizations created safe spaces for South Side teens via hip-hopon March 31, 2021 at 11:00 pm

When promoter/mogul John Monopoly would throw parties and other events as a 13-year-old, he would lie about his age in order to enlist a venue to be the host.

And what was the lie he utilized to secure South Side venues such as Hyde Park’s Blue Gargoyle Youth Services, a space founded by University of Chicago divinity students?

Monopoly, who later became the manager of Chicago hip-hop legend Kanye West, and local fashion designers Don C and Virgil Abloh, told venue officials he was working on a class project.

“When I was getting these venues, I was always lying, to be honest,” said Monopoly. “When I saw that worked, I would always make up some kind of fictitious organization. … “It was always a finesse. I’d say: ‘I gotta do this thing for school — blah, blah, blah,’ and by the time it came over that some child had conned them, it was too late.”

Here’s one of the filers/posters promoter/mogul John Monopoly utilized when he threw parties at Hyde Park’s Blue Gargoyle in the 1990s.
John Monopoly

The Blue Gargoyle, which closed in 2009, was one of the handful of spaces hosting South Side teens — and kids from various neighborhoods — who were hip-hop aficionados (breakdancing, graffiti writing, MCing and DJing). Longwood Manor’s St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, the South Shore Cultural Center, Hyde Park’s Promontory Point Field House and the United Church of Hyde Park were some of the other venues utilized.

“I think it was oftentimes easier for people to get access to facilities via their parents because it gave kids something ‘constructive’ to do,” said Jua Mitchell, a senior finance and accounting advisor for entertainment, e-commerce, and cannabis companies. “Parties back in those days, we were breakdancing and DJing — those were actual activities. It wasn’t a ‘party’ per se. I don’t think our parents thought it’s a party [laughs].”

Did these churches and community organizations know what was going on?

It’s tough to say, especially since Catholic churches often cycle out employees and clergy members, and many of the folks in charge of the organizations are no longer around, according to the groups the Sun-Times reached out to for comment. And some of the organizations shuttered over time, as the Blue Gargoyle did.

But party promoters weren’t the only folks who hosted events.

Euphonics, Nacrobats, 3993, and Ill Nature, were among the number of “crews,” “cliques” and “nations,” including the Chicago chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., that threw South Side parties.

Nacrobats MC Pugs Atomz says he was upfront with his intentions when securing spaces for events by providing a “mission statement” to venue officials saying his crew are artists who are college-bound high school students.

“Me and my mom would talk to people to convince their parents that it’d be cool because they’re dropping their kids off to Englewood,” said Atomz, who says his first party was at Englewood’s Boulevard Arts Center. “You were desperate to find hip-hop at that time. The flier culture was so big back then; it was a competition who had the best fliers for their events.”

A flier for a party Nacrobats hosted at the Promontory Point in 1996.
Pugs Atomz

During the rise of Chicago’s hip-hop underground party scene, many teens — particularly South and West Siders — believed they had to choose between hip-hop (a scene some viewed as homophobic) — house music and gang culture, creating a culture clash.

“House was gay-friendly — hip-hop wasn’t,” said Mitchell. “The house scene was very inclusive, whereas hip-hop is the exact opposite way — very crew-based and competitive.”

Duane Powell, a house music DJ who grew up in Roseland, also saw the clashes play out. He believes impetus had to do with gay stereotypes of the genre and the lack of girls/women at hip-hop parties.

“It was definitely a thing,” said Powell. “A lot of people don’t realize house culture — and its inception — was actually a revolutionary act that happened among the Black queer community because Chicago segregation kept them out of spaces.”

South Side-based rapper Ang13 grew up in Rogers Park, and says she attended parties all over the city. She remembers the importance of hosting spaces for Black kids who weren’t a part of the city’s dominant scenes.

“It was important for young Black kids to have those spaces because everyone didn’t like house — or gangs,” said Ang13. “[The parties] kept us out of gangs; it gave us a pass from gang bangers who would say: ‘Oh, he/she on that rap s- – – — they cool; let him/her through.’ “

Chicago rapper Ang13 says she remembers the importance of hosting spaces where for Black kids who weren't a part of the city's dominant scenes. 
Chicago rapper Ang13 says she remembers the importance of hosting spaces where for Black kids who weren’t a part of the city’s dominant scenes.

South Side native and New York-based Renegade Performance Group artistic director Andre Zachery attended some of those parties, and he, too, echoes Ang13’s sentiment on Black ownership of comfortable spaces.

“I don’t think people realize how liberatory that space was for us to have that experience,” said Zachary. “For those elders and parents to agree, they were saying: ‘We know that this is a necessary part of their development.’ ”

Why did the parties stop? Systemic issues? Teens aging out and discovering different interests?

Euphonics member “The Architect” DJ Phonz says he saw a “shift” in what partygoers wanted in terms of music. This era existed in concurrence with the aftermath of the alleged East Coast-West Coast “beef” which some believe resulted in the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

“I saw a shift when people were coming back from college, getting jobs and wanting to show off what they have,” said Phonz. “When the change happened, the DJs started to follow suit. … This new era forced DJs to play new music in order to get booked for shows.”

And what’s the legacy of this era?

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) says he felt a sense of belonging when he attended South Side parties as a North Side battle rapper — a feeling he carries into his time as an elected official.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (left) chats with Ald. Roberto Maldonado during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall in 2019.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (left) chats with Ald. Roberto Maldonado during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall in 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“The reason why I am the vice-chairman of the reparations subcommittee, and the reason why I find such an alliance to the Black Caucus and other groups stems from my experience,” said Vasquez, who was known as “Prime” back then. “A lot of the people I met are the same kids that were kicked out of Navy Pier and Grant Park when we’re trying to sell our mixtapes. That is the bedrock of where I come from, and that is what my perspective is when I’m looking at City legislation and trying to find solutions.”

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