Posted tagged ‘self-indulgence’

A Tribute to SinSin

October 12, 2010

...where everybody knows your name.

Not unlike the closing of FatBeats, this piece is going to divert from the norm of how we typically do things around here. SinSin is a nightclub in New York City that has a very special place in my heart, and its closing is due to unfortunate circumstances that aren’t for standard economic reasons, but rather something else that I don’t want to cloud this tribute with. Buy me a drink in person some time and I’ll gladly fill you in. Until then, this is my tribute to SinSin.

As I write this, it’s Monday October 11th at 7:34 PM. I’m in-between interviewing possible subletters to take over for a roommate who isn’t able to finish out a lease we renewed for our apartment. Along with the fatigue that comes from playing tour guide, my mind is a bubbling septic tank of stress. Thoughts currently flying through my frontal lobe like a sitcom food fight include preparing a curriculum for my next year of teaching, getting these next few reviews done before my editor chews me out, prepping the proper promotion for my new album, getting to the post office to mail a birthday card for my Grandma, missing someone in another country, assembling questions for a rapper I have to interview on Wednesday about an album he’s so concerned with leaking that I’m unable to hear a single song off it or even see a tracklist, delivering something fresh and worthwhile for a pilot for a children’s show I’ve just got backing for, getting the timing just right so I can buy a new shower curtain from K-Mart and still catch Jesse Abraham’s performance at his record release, pinpointing the dates to fly home for Thanksgiving, calls I have to make, calls I have to return, figuring out what I’m still doing in New York, trying to remember if I have Advil or not and if I really, on all the worst possible nights, just heard the beginning of a thunderous downpour. In a few short hours, I’ll be covering all of these topics and more at a spot on 2nd Ave and 5th Street known as SinSin.

SinSin/Leopard Lounge as rarely seen during the day.

Yes, SinSin. For the past nine years it’s been the host of Freestyle Mondays, a Hip-Hop Open Mic where a live band performs classic rap instrumentals as MCs/Rappers and singers freestyle (as in spontaneously think of and recite) about anything and everything. It’s the last connection to a bygone-era of Washington Square cyphers and tape-trading where rappers would get together and rap for no other reason than that they loved to rap. While it was a great place to make a name for yourself, make friends or network, the main allure always has been the chance to rap or listen to rappers. The nature of Freestyle Mondays and its revolving door of regulars and visitors made each Monday night a completely different show and ridiculously addicting. The band was always excellent, the rappers ranged from brilliant to magnificently bad, and a good time was always had.

Co-hosts Mariella and iLLspokiNN

I know for a fact that if it wasn’t for SinSin, 90% of you wouldn’t know who I am or be reading this right now. I moved to New York for the 2004-2005 school year and while I always knew it was around and revered, I never tried to get in as it was notoriously 21+ with no exceptions. It wasn’t until early sophomore year when I was matched against iLLspokiNN, a rapper I grew up watching bootlegs of his battle performances but never met, at a battle at NYU. After having my mic cut off two bars in after making an suicide joke (NYU had the nation’s highest college suicide rate at the time) and getting boo’ed by the audience, iLL whooped me but still saw something in me and extended an invitation to come and rap at SinSin sometime. I accepted, but never made my way out there until the Monday before Thanksgiving that year when I was supposed to meet-up with BrokeMC of MINDSpray who was going to bring me the gloves I left at the MINDSpray open mic the previous week. I needed the gloves because a recent breakup had killed my plans of being with my then-girlfriend’s family for Thanksgiving and, stuck by myself in New York, I was going to go to the Macy’s Parade. As the fates had it, the bouncer wouldn’t let me in because it “sounded like a lie” so I waited outside for an hour hoping to catch Broke. Just as the downpour picked up, iLLspokiNN arrived and asked me why I wasn’t inside. I told him it was an age issue, so he told the bouncer I was cool and then made me promise I wouldn’t buy a drink from the bar until I turned 21. I agreed, stepped into that red lit room, heard Mariella singing and felt my whole world shift.

I’ve always been something of a loner and, although I’ve always had good friends and hangouts, seldom felt like I really belonged anywhere. SinSin was the first time I felt that comfortable that quickly somewhere. Here were a group of people who loved the same thing I love enough to just get together and do it once a week for no money just because they love to. I was hooked. I started going every week and it wasn’t until about five weeks in that I got my first real crowd reaction, and to finally get that was an incredible feeling. Monday night quickly became the highlight of my week. I arranged my classes at NYU to have Tuesday off just so I could arrive there at 11:00 PM and rap until 3:30. Because of the NYU TA-strike at the time my classes were not in the actual campus buildings but all over the city, and whenever I passed SinSin, I felt like Clark Kent with a heartbeating beneath-that-red-S-beneath-that-business-suit just a little bit prouder. I soon became tied publicly with SinSin as my tremendously talented former roommate Donald A.C. Conley shot a documentary loosely about me, but really focusing on SinSin and its importance in the New York Hip-Hop scene –

Thanks to iLLspokiNN spotting me six bucks, I made my Freestyle Mondays Off-the-Head Gameshow Battle debut in March, 2006 on the night Kirby Puckett died. The battle is a 16-MC Tournament where a wheel is spun and whatever topic it lands on is what the MCs duke it out over. I won that night, and the $5.00 cover and open bar gave me the perfect incentive to begin inviting my college friends to my performances. Once YouTube arrived, my battles started being posted and word about me began to spread. By the end of my sophomore year I began getting coverage, offers to perform, and recognized through all five boroughs and beyond. I spent the next two years purposefully living in an NYU dorm four blocks away just to ensure I could maintain maximum performance consistency week-in and week-out.

But more than just a safe and fun environment to be seen and share what I love with the people in my life (including once when I was surprised by my entire intermediate creative writing class, including my professor, showing up to one of my battles in October 2007), SinSin became the definitive venue for my time in New York. An oasis, soapbox and sanctuary, it’s where I got to weekly stand in front of two dozen friends and 20-100 strangers and vent about math class, student loans, relationships, moving, being under-21, being over-21, being homesick and whatever random pop culture reference(s) popped into my head. I learned how to play to a crowd and still hide obscure nods while rhyming that would result in at least one person walking up to me afterward with their mind blown that they heard someone say “Swift the Fox” at a rap show. Outside of my own performances, I have so many important memories tied to there. From where I took countless visiting friends in the city, to landing my first ever paid writing job by proposing a story on it , to knowing if I wanted to really date a girl by testing her reaction to it, to my first mention in my Minnesota hometown newspaper the Star Tribune via a story on New York Hip-Hop , I can’t imagine how radically different the last five years of my life would have been without it. It’s the first place I went after I cut off my hair, the first place I performed after my grandma and best friend died, the first place where I had my midnight album release party, the first place I resurfaced after getting my nose broken and countless other important firsts I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Coole High, Hired Gun and Rabbi Darkside having a good time at SinSin

While Freestyle Mondays WILL CONTINUE AT A DIFFERENT LOCATION IN NEW YORK CITY, it’s still hard to say goodbye to that second home. People make a place special, but once that place is special it’s special forever. As truly devastated as I am about this turn of events, I feel tremendously fortunate that I was able to have SinSin as a part of my life. No one place has influenced me or shaped me as a person over the past ten years as SinSin has, and while the next three Mondays are going to be a difficult goodbye, they’re still going to be Freestyle Mondays and that means they’re still going to filled with rapping, a lot of fun, and memories that I’ll never forget.

MY EVOLUTION AT SINSIN: A YEAR-BY-YEAR LOOK AT MY HEIGHTENED RAPPING ABILITY AND SHORTENED HAIR

September 2006

March 2007

April 2008

October 2008

March 2009

December 2009

Things I Reference All the Time – Volume 1

May 6, 2010

Do you understand the words that are coming out of my blog?

Oh, Hi Readers. Over the 23-and-a-half years I’ve been on this planet* I’ve come to discover that I like certain funny things to the point of repeating them whenever possible. This has allowed me to stretch the amount of laughs in one sitting to absolute capacity. Sometimes** I’ll make a reference that will go over the heads of everybody in the room, leaving me alone on stage mid-battle staring at the crowd as if to say “No trust me, this gentlemen I’m disrespecting looks JUST LIKE that unflattering celebrity I’ve compared him to.” So, in the interest of you getting maximum enjoyment out of this site and me in general, here’s five things I reference all the time.

Hamburger!

Alonzo “Hamburger” Jones was introduced to me last August by the homegirl Marni and my life has never been the same. Where to begin? His entire “act” is a serious of jokes bridged together by the word “hamburger.” No rhyme or reason to his train of thought, just jokes randomly bridged together by the word “hamburger.” Research tells me he’s on the Christian Comedy circuit and uses “hamburger” in place of other comedians’ cuss words. I can respect withholding the swears for whatever the reason, but how can one be a CHRISTIAN INSULT COMIC? He’s also wearing a vest and cowboy hat that he never once makes reference to. Hamburger.

HEY, YOU LIKED ‘CARNOSAUR!’

Siskel and Ebert have always been heroes of mine, and The Critic was one of the first television shows I really became a fan of. Their guest appearance is one of the series’ highlights, and since age 8 their summoning of movies they can’t believe the other liked acted as my step-by-step guide to arguing***. Girlfriend upset with you for forgetting her birthday? Roommate angry you ate all his Funyuns? Just turn to them and yell “HEY, YOU LIKED CARNOSAUR!” Argument won.

Oh, Hi (your name)

For the five of you out there not familiar with The Room, it’s a motion picture that fires its awfulness engine on all cylinders. A running “joke,” that nobody involved in the film in any way shape or form is in on, is how just about every entrance of a character on screen is met with “Oh, Hi Mark” or any variant thereof. This has become the absolute only way I greet people. I suggest you do the same.

People Come Up to me and they say “Paul?” And I say “What?” And they say…

Dear Starchild is one of my favorite YouTube series. Pat Francis’ hilarious impression of Paul Stanley from KISS has always been an enjoyable part of the ‘Never Not Funny’ Pardcast. When he moved it to YouTube as an advice column, well, let’s just say it was awesome. The opening “…and I say ‘what’…” bit has been summoned countless times on this site. That’s just how I put the ‘X’ in ‘Sex.’

WE’RE LIVIN WE’RE LIVIN WE’RE LIVIN IN EXTREME DAYS!

As the old adage goes “All good things must come to an end involving Christian Rap-Rock.” TobyMac, one-third of rap-rock pioneers DC Talk, has always been ahead aware of the curve. If you’ve ever seen the Gospel Music Channel documentary on the man, you would know he takes full credit for the idea to put singing in the middle of verses on rap songs****. By picking up the aged white Christian rap torch where Carman left off, the TobyMac debuted as the rapper on “Jesus Freak” before breaking solo eventually leading to the TobyMacsterpiece “Extreme Days.” A paint-by-numbers late 90s nu-metal jumpoff from the excess usage of the word “Extreme” to the melodic “deep” part in the middle***** to the acting scene in the middle describing the artist as dangerous and pursued by bad actors the government, it’s some sort of awful perfection. Next time you go to a party, just jump in the room and scream “COMIN AT ‘CHA LIKE A WHIRLWIND!” You may have heard this song in the post-apocalyptic XBox360 game Crackdown where, when you steal a car from futuristic cyborg thugz, it’s the first song that plays.

Scene from 'Avatar' (2009)

So until next time… let’s agree to agree!

*EARTH, which is NUMBER ONE! SUCK IT NEPTUNE!

**And by “sometimes” I mean “just about every time.”

***Meaning if you and I are on an airplane, I will probably have an outburst debating with you over the merits of this.

****Seriously. He really said this. Must be part of that “school of Hip-Hop 1979” where “Sugar Hill had the skill” that taught him to steal rhyme.

*****HE WAS ONLY E-LEV-EN!