WICKER PARK — A hip hop open mic night that has been part of the Wicker Park music scene for more than 20 years returned this week after being on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tuesday’s open mic brought together the members of 606 Chicago, a collective of emcees who normally perform that day at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave.
The emcees took to the stage 7-9 p.m. in a series of performances streamed via Facebook Live and Instagram Live. They performed without an in-person audience as venues are not yet allowed to reopen under Gov. JB Pritzker’s five-part Restore Illinois plan.
Simeon Norfleet Sr., whose stage name is Shadow Master MC, has been performing hip hop since he was 12 years old. The Lawndale native said hip hop saved him from what could have been a life of violence.
A 606 Chicago organizer, Norfleet said he was grateful for the opportunity to return to the stage Tuesday. The group plans on getting together again next week for another night of livestreamed performances.
Hip hop “is the safest way possible that we as artists can demonstrate, protest, rebel,” he said. “We do it because we got so much to say. It’s self-help therapy. … This is our therapy.”
Before Tuesday’s show, Norfleet wasn’t sure exactly what he’d say in his performance — but he knew current events would play a role.
He said he has been angry at the division between the city’s Black and Latino communities. The hip hop community is diverse across races, genders and ages, Norfleet said.
606 Chicago was founded in 1998 by a Philipino group called The Pacifics, Norfleet noted.
“They want this type of anarchy. They want all the minorities fighting against the minorities … [forgetting] why this started, which was the killing of a Black man by a corrupt police officer,” he said. “We’ve been catching this hell from them for so long, it’s coming to a head.”
During a time of great division in the city, Norfleet said he hoped Chicagoans would be inspired by the diverse “cast of characters” taking stage at Subterranean. Tuesday’s performers included Black and non-Black men and women.
“This is our rainbow coalition and we’ve been together for years,” he said. “We break bread together. We are family. If I can call anybody outside my race family because of hip hop? I think every f—— somebody needs to learn something from hip hop.”
Audiences can watch the show via Subterrenean’s Facebook Live or Instagram Live, as well as 606 Chicago’s Facebook Live.
Viewers can tip performers via Venmo at @subtChicago. Any surplus of funds will be donated to Circles & Ciphers, a restorative justice organization based in Rogers Park, said Subterrenean owner Robert Gomez.
Though Subterranean has been closed for months due to COVID-19, Gomez said he wanted to bring back the open mic night for the hip hop community.
“We realize how important it is for these voices to be heard. These cats got something to say. It’s time for them to grab the mic and speak their mind,” he said. “I wanna hear what they have to say, and I think everyone should hear what they have to say.”
Gomez, who also owns Beat Kitchen in Roscoe Village, was a founding member of the Chicago Independent Venue League, also known as CIVL, which is trying to help small music venues. Indie venues across Chicago have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re gonna be the last to reopen,” Gomez has said.
RELATED: First To Close, Last To Open: Will Chicago’s Independent Music Venues Survive The Coronavirus?
Pritzker’s plan for reopening Illinois says theaters, venues and similar businesses won’t be able to open until the state enters Phase 4 — which is only possible if the city and suburbs see a continued decline in new coronavirus cases and if hospitals in the area have space.
Even then, gatherings will still be limited to 50 people or fewer, and businesses that reopen would have capacity limits.
Large gatherings, including concerts, won’t be permitted until Phase 5, which won’t happen until there’s a vaccine, widespread treatment for COVID-19 or no new cases at all — which experts predict is months off.
Chicago entered Phase 3 last week.
You can donate to Subterranean staff here.
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