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Legendary MC Dirty MF Talks Hip-Hop History and Passing the Torch

Dirty MF is a legendary MC and DJ who was a key part of the Blue Groove Lounge and its development of Chicago’s hip hop scene in the 1990s.

Dirty will be returning to the stage to host Winter Block Party 2020: We the People on Saturday, February 8th.

We sat down with him to talk hip-hop history, the blue groove lounge and passing the torch of hip-hop to younger generations.

What was the vibe at Blue Groove Lounge?

Dirty: Definitely underground hip-hop. There wasn’t a lot of stuff going on at the time, there was some things scattered around but we became a consistent Monday night thing. It started out really small, kind of personal but very intimate. You know, we started in the basement at the Elbo Room. A lot of people didn’t really know each other at the time but we just spread it out organically and kind of build it from the ground up. But in the beginning, it was really small. Just several people who love hip-hop, who live hip-hop and who wanted to see it progress.

I know that the open mic was a big part of the Blue Groove Lounge experience. What role did open mics play in the development of the hip-hop scene in Chicago at that time?

I would say open mics were everything. It was kind of new. DJs have been rocking parties in Chciago forever since we’re the home of house music.. So we’ve been around that kind of scene, but to have an open mic that was really a freestyle thing, an off the top of the head type of deal. Everyone wasn’t so courageous back then/ Back then you actually had to be good, and the crowd told you if you were good or not… there wasn’t a second chance to come back up. The MCs took it really, really seriously. And it became a really big part of the night. Some people thought that it was just an open mic type of night, but really it was a hip-hop night because we also had DJs. But the open mic was so important.

You recently got a chance to check out YCA’s Wordplay. How does that open mic culture differ from the open mic culture of the Blue Groove Lounge?

That one’s focus was a lot more poetry. When we came up the spoken word community had their own scene that they were building, now it’s more combined. At Wordplay I saw poetry, I saw singing, I saw MCs. At Blue Groove Lounge it strictly open mic hip hop motivated night. That said it was still Chicago so we were playing some house down there, the guys DJing really focused on being eclectic with different music and trying to fuse all types of music with the night. But predominantly, it was a hip-hop night. YCA allowed a lot more styles of art, and expression into their circle. When we were doing Blue Groove hip-hop was still so small we weren’t even thinking that widely at the time.

What are the elements that make a great MC?

Definitely being spontaneous. You have to be able to deal with everything on the fly. We never planned a night. So I didn’t know what Jesse, Pete or Nonstop was going ot play. They never knew what I was going to say. I never knew when the beat was going to drop. I never knew when someone was going to come and challenge me from the crowd… you never you never knew what was gonna happen. Definitely entertaining, spontaneous, our whole thing was freestyle. So it wasn’t a written thing back then.

The rules are different now. But our style was a freestyle so I always had to be on point at all times. So many different things happen and you have to be in control of the party. So I think being spontaneous, being quick on your feet, being witty, that’s what it took. To be dope every time you stood on stage.

That consistency…

Big time! It had to be.. It was different back then if you did something that people liked one time that could change everything for you.

So what are you most excited about for this year’s Winter Block Party and this historic reunion of the Blue Groove Lounge?

Just meshing everything together. I want to see what’s going on! I think of myself as an old man so I don’t get to go out and see a lot of this stuff. So I’m looking forward to seeing what the kids are doing. I’m looking forward to live showcasing what we do. Seeing some of the people that I haven’t seen perform in a long time, I just want to kind of see and consume, you know, all the art that’s going on. Really tap into what the kids are doing and see a bigger picture of what they are doing.

The theme this year for Winter Block Party is “We the People,” what does that mean to you and to the work that you do?

That’s hip hop. That is one of the best definitions of what we did in Chicago back in the 90s. It was we the people. The clubs weren’t chasing us down. Nobody was like looking for us. It was all organic. We built it up ourselves, we promoted it ourselves. We would not be where we are today without the people who supported us. So it was a “We the People” thing. It wasn’t a big machine or business or record company or club. It was the idea from Jesse.

The people supported that and he added me on, and other people … so people supported us. They enjoyed what we were doing and it was all about the people. Especially back then. It’s so different now than it was back then. Because you can go anywhere now and listen to hip hop, any restaurant, elevator, etc. Back then it was unheard of, especially in Chicago.

Who are some of the staples of the Blue Groove Lounge that will be returning this year?

DirtyMF Jesse, Pumpin’ Pete, Me, DJ Nonstop, Ang13… It was all people from different places that just came together and consistently made this Monday night just grow and grow … I can’t wait to just get back together with all these people and see them perform again.


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