Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip-Hop Arts | Live review + photos
When I arrived at WBEZ’s monthly “Off-Air” series.on January 21, at 4pm, the woman stamping hands said 895 people had gone inside. Each was there to take in the fourth annual, free Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip-Hop Arts, an all-day event part of
Easels in the balcony displaying paintings survived the crowd’s push to the front to watch three-on-three qualifiers between area B-boys and B-girls. MCs Skywalker from the Brickheadz crew and Renato Roldan didn’t make it easy to keep track of who was whom, but here’s the important thing: Chicago’s breaking scene is no joke, and impressively diverse in age, race and style. Some heats were well-matched, evidenced by crowd votes where arms shot in both directions toward favorite crews. Others, like the first, between Beast Men and Stylin’ Out Krew, weren’t much of a contest. A round late in the game between Phaze II and an impromptu group assembled to battle them turned into the afternoon’s most entertaining bout.
Finals at 8pm, with Itch 13 on beats duty, drew far fewer people but still a healthy turnout. (The ticketed event cost $15, and was limited to ages 18 and older.) Dancers took turns in two ciphers on the main floor beforehand, and some kept practicing on the sides even after “Legends of the BodyRock: An All-City 3-on-3” began onstage. Clips of interviews from a forthcoming, ’BEZ-produced documentary and an exhibition by participants in the Connect Force program at Alternatives in Uptown highlighted the uniqueness of Chicago’s scene and its importance in community-building.
Giant Robots Crew put a good fight up on the way toward their inevitable defeat by Swagger Headz. After the other semifinal, I thought that Phaze II might take Crooks Crew but judges Black Attack, Waka and Wicked thought otherwise. (I fully respect your decision, gentlemen.) A hurricane of palpable testosterone then raged, as the Crooks tried to best the Swagger Headz for $1,000. But while the Crooks’ cannons loosened, Swagger kept their heads together, clinching the contest with an awesome display of firepower from Evol.
An earlier version of this post stated that “895 people were inside” Metro at 4pm on January 21. It’s definitely possible; Metro’s capacity is 1,150, according to its website, and the venue was pretty well packed. I recalled, however, after publishing this post that I’d actually asked Metro’s staffer how many people “had come through” and thus occasioned a click of her counter. So perhaps not all of these 895 people were still inside when I arrived—the day’s events began at noon. But, hey: Maybe they were all still there. It’s a fairly moot point—like I said, it was packed—I just wanted to provide a little more clarity here, that’s all. Thanks. You’re awesome. I mean, you’re probably not awesome the way Evol is awesome but nevertheless, you’re still awesome in your own, special way. Big hug.—ZW