#45: Spiritual Hip-Hop, Porn and The Dark Knight Rises

August 10th, 2012

“Spiritual hip-hop! Spiritual hip-hop!” the man with the stack of CDs yelled outside the Jewel on a gray August day.

“Movies,” he said, quieter.

I normally would have breezed past the man, but the elderly bagger had put my yogurt in what I consider the wrong bag. Not that she would have known, but I still say grocery-store clerks dealing with mismatched canvas hippie-bags should pick the strongest ones for the meat, beer and other heavy stuff. This yogurt was well over-bagged.

I gave my usual one-hand-up “Sorry” to the man hawking his CDs outside the grocery store, but my pause at the side to re-bag my goods gave me a chance to watch the man work.

He was good. Life in Chicago gives a weird view into the world of men who sell their rap CDs to strangers on the street. Some men give off an air of desperation as they stand on the corner or in street medians selling their art. He didn’t. With his baggy shorts, baggy T-shirt and stack of plastic-wrapped CDs, he sounded happy and confident, like you would be lucky to buy his music as you walked out with your frozen pizzas and corn.

The evening was darkening, soon to turn into a 20-minute downpour that would flood the streets and evacuate Lollapalooza, but the man’s brash did not fade.

That confidence, however, did not translate into sales.

“Maybe I need a shave,” he joked, walking over to me and turning his head a few times to show off his lightly bearded face.

I noticed his teardrop stick-n-poke prison tat. I didn’t say anything.

“Might not be the right neighborhood for hip-hop,” I said as a big-glassed hipster girl walked by.

At that, he started working me. I didn’t mind.

“I’ve got Batman,” he said.

“The one that’s out now?” I said.

He nodded, holding up a CD Sharpied with “Dark Knight Rises,” “The Savages” and a war movie I can’t think of. “Hurt Locker,” maybe?

Hell, I wasn’t even sure if the “The” in “Savages” was supposed to be there. “The” would make it a 2007 indie. “Savages” no “The” would make it an in-theaters action romp.

Either way, I shook my head.

“I just saw it,” I said about the new Batman.

Looking down and flipping through his stack, he named a few more movies as he came across them. I shook my head each time.

He paused at one point, looked up to catch my eye.

“Porn?” he asked, quietly and conspiratorially.

I shook my head.

“Got Internet,” I said.

Making a polite “I’ll be back” hand gesture, he walked away then to sell to a few more folks coming out of the Jewel. Although my yogurt was now properly bagged, I still stayed to watch him. He was very good.

After a few botched sales, he walked back to me asking, “Hip-hop? Spiritual hip-hop?”

“How much?” I asked, now charmed.

“Anything you want to pay.”

“OK, because you’re working,” I said, still not knowing why I said it that way. “A dollar?”

He smiled and said yes.

“How about two?” he added as I pulled the buck out.

“OK,” I said, now the one smiling. “Because you’re working.”

“Any more?” he asked.

Beyond being out of singles, I was no longer charmed. We ended the transaction politely and happily. I walked on, quickly to get home before the storm.

When the downpour came, I didn’t think of him or his CD. I was safely tucked in my first-floor flat, listening to the downpour and drinking the beer I was putting in the strong bag the lady originally put the yogurt in.

I’m listening to the CD now. It’s quite good. Very good, actually. I’m sure the bootleg movies and pornos would have been good, too.

He’s one of 1,000 or more in Chicago, selling their rap on the sidewalks, the medians or the supermarket parking lots of Skunkwater, Illinois. His was good.

Others I’ve bought weren’t. But I still bought them.

I bought them because, like I told this guy, they worked. Artists across the world, from rappers to folkies to intellectual horror novelists, seem to have a business plan that involves music execs or book editors turning to crime, breaking into the artiste’s laptop, finding the just-right file and saying “Daaaamn.” This fella was an artist on the hustle. For some reason — interpret how thou wilt — I related with him.

At least enough to give him two bucks.

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