Thursday night. Funk Night. Management used to think it was hilarious to make me cocktail at the upstairs bar. A punishment shift for anyone else, it was a source of endless amusement having the big awkward white guy serve up some Courvoisier Cokes, Hennessy OJs, and appletinis. It was about as far from Fargo as you could get in 1988, and it’s a part of First Avenue that no longer exists.
My Generation: Sixth in a series. Previous installments: (1) Minneapolis music memories; (2) When First Ave was an underage hipster farm club; (3) The world’s last record store; (4) First Ave’s lesson well-learned; (5) Simon LeBon’s cup
Funk Night was a five-hour Rob Base remix interspersed with the occasional Tone Loc, Salt-n-Pepa, or J.J. Fad. “It Takes Two” and the accompanying James Brown whoops became an endless transcendental mantra that was burned into my brain; it’s still there, ingrained in my sense memory along with “Pump Up the Volume” and “Paid in Full.” Other people lie quietly in the dark and hear the ocean between their ears. I hear “Joy and Pain.”
This was also back when First Avenue hosted actual rap concerts attended by actual black people. I saw Base & EZ Rock, Kool Moe Dee, Kurtis Blow, EPMD, and a Stetsasonic / Public Enemy package tour that illustrated the evolution of hip-hop in a single evening. Stetsasonic was a holdover from the earliest Brooklyn genesis of rap, with a live drummer and about a dozen onstage dancers in oversized Mickey Mouse sweatshirts. They promoted the scene, the community, and positive black consciousness. People danced. They had a good time.
Public Enemy was another story. The promoter was required to provide additional security so this genius had the brilliant idea to hire ASiA to police the event. That’s “ASiA,” as in “mullet-headed, Zubaz-wearing white weightlifters from the Met Center.” Imagine a phalanx of those mooks circling the stage while PE pranced around with their little plastic Uzis. The irony was not lost on those of us standing quietly at the back, trying hard to be a little less pale.
It turned quickly from a street dance to a political rally, with some uncomfortable fascist undertones straight out of Triumph of the Will. And then the fights started, over scuffed sneakers and spilled drinks on rabbit coats. Sonically, PE demonstrated a level of production sophistication that was revolutionary, like a rap version of Dark Side of the Moon. Professor Griff’s anti-Semitic Black Power sloganeering and paranoid Nation of Islam conspiracy theories, however, shifted the theme from black awareness to black revenge. I remember feeling exhilarated and scared at the same time—but not too scared to pick up a t-shirt afterwards.
I am reminded of a laughable screed City Pages published a while back about how 89.3 The Current doesn’t play enough of what falls into their incredibly narrow definition of “black music.” They don’t play our indigenous polka music either, but I don’t see City Pages demanding 40 acres and a mule on behalf of the Chimelewskis.
Anyway, I worked for City Pages a while ago but not as a music writer, since I didn’t qualify: while I am white, I did not graduate from a public university in Wisconsin and I am not obsessed with hip-hop. It’s hard for me to stomach the white, middle-class, Midwestern, fresh-out-of-college lefty stink and self-loathing that constitutes their fetishistic focus on all things urban. I am reminded of a laughable screed they published a while back about how 89.3 The Current doesn’t play enough of what falls into their incredibly narrow definition of “black music.” They don’t play our indigenous polka music either, but I don’t see City Pages demanding 40 acres and a mule on behalf of the Chimelewskis.
First Avenue still has rap shows, but they’re of the non-threatening, Robyne Robinson persuasion, like Busta Rhymes or De La Soul. It wasn’t Whitey that killed them off; rather, it was insurance, skeevy promoters, and unpredictable artists. Into the place of that scene has sprung a more personal, less topical hip-hop scene easily embraced by white college kids. I found myself at a show a while back featuring Doomtree and a group having something to do with Mel Gibson’s pants. I don’t know. Anyway, it reminded me of Stetsasonic; not musically, but because of the inclusive vibe. Nobody had to feel bad for being who they were, including 40-year-old white guys.
I grew up in rural Minnesota where the only minorities were bewildered Hmong refugees spirited to our barren wilds via the good intentions of the local Lutheran church. I don’t need to be ashamed that Minneapolis is a “white city” any more than I need to be ashamed that the zoo has animals. Saying the Cities are “too white” is like saying Norway is too Norwegian.
Legal restrictions compel Almostred to write under an assumed name. His identity isn’t a big secret but you don’t know him anyway. He is survived by a daughter who doesn’t appreciate his esoteric musical sensibilities and a bank account residing with his ex-wife. His massive record collection is currently very hip with the young people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.