Hook Up and get down at the Dinkytowner

The bar's weekly hip-hop happening looks back on its beginnings

Keri Carlson

Vodka shots, cue balls and beats – every Saturday night the Dinkytowner guarantees drunkenness, pool and best of all, hip-hop.

This Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of the weekly hip-hop show The Hook Up. Booked by Unicus and DJ Stage One, the show is an important staple in local hip-hop. For a scene with as many emcees and DJs as there are lakes, The Hook Up is one of the very few consistent nights in which hip-hop fans can be sure to get their groove on every week.

And it’s all thanks to Unicus.

As a young teenager living in Connecticut, Unicus heard New York radio stations playing groups like A Tribe Called Quest before they were big.

“My older brother was a radio junkie and he was always taping stuff,” Unicus said. “I tried to listen to my parents who were real religious and they didn’t like it, but honestly, the music was calling me.”

At age 14 Unicus began freestyling and writing rhymes and even recorded short, one-minute songs onto cassette.

“Every day I was finding myself just wanting to write,” he said.

In 1992 Unicus moved to Minneapolis for his senior year of high school. When he lived in Connecticut, Unicus said he was the only one of his friends making hip-hop. But in Minneapolis he found tons of kids rapping and making beats.

In 1995 he and fellow Minneapolis South high-schooler New MC formed Kanser, a group still prominent in the local scene. And after being involved in the hip-hop scene for more than half a decade, Unicus said the transition from performer to booker was not so dramatic.

“As Kanser we mostly throw our own shows,” he said, “and so I’ve seen how you can put together shows.”

Unicus booked a regular Monday night show at the Red Sea for about six months in 2000 and 2001.

Before The Hook Up, the Dinkytowner kept Saturdays established as hip-hop night, but it mostly was a night when DJs spun. Unicus asked DJ Stage One if he could try getting hip-hop groups to perform. The first Hook Up happened Valentine’s Day.

“The idea was that there would be people there to, you know, hook up,” Unicus said. “The name just stuck and now people know it.”

Two years later, The Hook Up has become a hub for hip-hop, mixing up-and-coming young acts with better known locals and adding more and more national acts.