restricted access Champ’s Town
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377 ı t’s a Tuesday night at Bev’s Backstreet topless bar, a dim, living-room-warm east-side den. The handful of house girls are bored and sitting at the bar chatting up a few middle-age gents nursing sour marriages or holiday cheerlessness—the kind accustomed to walking out of places like this alone, down a C-note, and smelling like vanilla. There’s a couple bikers in boots and denim. A sylphlike white dancer in crack-revealing lavender hot pants moves across the small kidneyshaped stage slowly, languidly. She caresses the center pole with bored indifference. Taking long, self-obsessed glances at herself in the mirrored back wall, she could be Christina Applegate’s porn-star kid sis.She spins slowly on her heel,bends backward, and takes a quick tally of the men in the room. It’s still dead. It’s still early. James “The Blackman” Harris is DJing tonight; it’s a gig he’s had for three months. He’s been DJing in one form or another for more than two decades. He spins Snoop, 50 Cent, Talib Kweli, Blondie, Guns N’ Roses and his own custom retooling of a Doors tune. He’s thin and graceful, dressed in black, a single gold chain around his neck, sports specs and a thick, sculpted Fu Manchu. Brian “Champtown” Harmon, the brusque veteran Detroit rapper and head of his own Straight Jacket Records label, scans the room. He’s looking for girls to include in a booty video he’s keen on shooting for an artist on his label. Squint your eyes,and the thickset Champ might resemble LL Cool J—block-jawed and round, darkbrown eyes, warm-up jersey. Listen to him converse, and it’s obvious he’s been rapping since he was eight years old; sharp comments shoot from his lips in concise, percussive blips. Every nuance of every word designed to hit. His choppity-chop argot is constantly on, day and night—there’s no off switch. He’s shrewd and witty, drips the gravitas of the east-side streets he grew up on. He has a remarkable capacity for incendiary, outspoken opinionating. The braggadocio is thick, and well it should be; rap was built on hyperbole and the art of the crow. And Champ can crow. And why not? It’s said that Eminem gleaned bits of Champ early on (Eminem’s music-video debut was in Champ’s 1992 clip for “Do-DaDipity ,”images from which turned up in the earliest Eminem vids). There’ve been rumors that Insane Clown Posse nicked Champ’s early jester shtick and ran with it. He influenced Kid Rock. As 50 Cent bursts from the in-house woofers, a zaftig Nubian with an impassive expression steps onstage and soon completes a miraculous gravitydefying twirl on the pole. She slows her spin to a drop-stop on the stage floor as the music yields, finally, to its inevitable fade-out. Champ shakes his head. Nope, not that one. Two comely dancers take a seat at the end of the bar. Champ moves in and strikes up a conversation. “I own Straight Jacket Records,” he says, offering his hand. Champ’s Town Brian Smith 378 Hıp-Hop, GheTToTech, DonuTs, and Techno Dreams A bespectacled fortysomething white guy standing close by—who says he “works in medicine” and is here for his “chocolate fix”—overhears Champ’s video rap. He chimes in. “What, you couldn’t afford a business card?” “I don’t need no business card,”Champ says in a swift quip. He leans in closer to the dancer and stays on the video tack. The stripper nearest Champ, a wide-eyed black beauty in full-length sheer pink with a whisper of visible nipples, blinks once slowly and nods. She works her hair. She’s heard lines like this before but listens attentively. Soon she asks Champ a few questions. A moment later she scribbles her phone number on a torn piece of paper and hands it to the rapper.The other dancer follows suit. Champ can work the angles. Some local backbiters dismiss him as an audacious charlatan. Many say he’s a brilliant talent scout, a gifted emcee, andarecord-mogul-in-waiting.Butthere’ssomething about Champ that draws people to him.It’s an innate charisma, not some fabricated rap persona assembled for street cred, as would be first guess. If anyone, this rapper/label owner and this strip-bar DJ...

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