Ironside Hex: St. Andrew's

*This piece was edited from the original DCYPHERED photo book because I had to lower my word count. Jenny and I felt it was an important part of Detroit Hip Hop history  here it is in it's entirety.* 

St. Andrew's Hall / 

The Shelter

Now let’s go back and revisit St. Andrew’s. This was where a promoter had an argument with Eminem at an Afrika Bambaataa show and got punched in the face by Bugz for his trouble. This is the spot where Maurice Malone and other DJs  like Whip, Sabotage, Que, Cheeze, Slym Fas, Ro, Dez, Tony Tone, Lacks and Jewels etc. would hold down 3 Floors Of Fun.

It was here in the mid-90s where DJ House Shoes would take vinyl records that he deemed wack and break them against the wall to the crowd's delight, and sometimes to their chagrin. It's where DJs Don Q & Jewels held down WJLB's Friday nights, and Mike Scroggs, Q, and DJ Godfather handled WDRQ night on Sundays. This is where everyone still takes their promo pics right on the steps, even though some of those people have never even been inside. This is the club with the most famous "alley" in Hip Hop. The space between the west side of St. Andrew’s and the building next door is a prime location to shoot videos. The venue next door has changed clientele and names, from thugged-out Club Legends to the weirdo Club Space to the gentlemen's club De Ja Vu, and back to thugged-out Zoo Bar. Now it's a gentleman's club again and called Legends again. You can't make this stuff up. As the spot next door rolled through many new identities, St. Andrew’s remained the same, the Church of Detroit Hip Hop, which is weird because they didn't just host Hip Hop. Back in 1999 when Ritual still owned it, the manager Mike D. produced 500 shows here in a year. All 500 definitely weren't Hip Hop shows. Ritual's owner, Amir Daiza, had been bringing major acts of different genres to different venues in Detroit for years, and they were steadily finding their way to St. Andrew’s. Rock, rap, punk, industrial acts; it didn't matter. It became a destination. If an act was doing a club tour with a stop in Detroit, they wanted to be at Drew’s, and it was all ours. 

The Burns Room was on the third floor. Not much to see there; it was sparsely decorated and looked like a high-school gymnasium without basketball hoops. In the 2000’s Proof would host battles in this room off and on and he would pay the winners $100 out of his own pocket. It was also used as a green room for acts designated for the main floor (depending on what else was going on). After Proof passed in 2006, the battles in the Burns Room stopped altogether. St. Andrew’s made good use of its real estate. There could be different shows or club nights going on simultaneously on different floors. It was crazy.  As a matter of fact, Spin Magazine dubbed St. Andrew’s as "America's Craziest Club” in a 2003 article and it lived up to its billing. Even as Clear Channel bought Ritual and brought in WJLB & WDRQ to host Fridays and Sundays respectively, the clientele changed but the club retained its status as the Mecca for Detroit Hip Hop. A lot of local artists played that main stage in the ballroom. Almost every local emcee worth his or her salt touched that stage and even some who weren't. St. Andrew’s had some classic gigs on that main floor. The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Bob Dylan, Run DMC, Outkast, and Prince all graced the stage at Drew’s. I remember the D-12 Devil's Night release party with The Beatnuts. The "secret" free Jay-Z show that wasn't really a secret. Everybody knew where it was going to be. By the time Eminem joined Jay-Z on stage to do "Renegade," the packed crowd was already in a frenzy. When they saw Marshall I knew that mass hysteria was a real thing. It was a crazy place. All those huge acts that came through there at the very beginning of their careers, all those acts that came through after they had already become legends and everybody in-between all had one thing in common. After the movie 8 Mile, if they hadn't already played there, they all wanted to see one place in particular. It was called The Shelter. 

The Shelter wasn't much to look at. The depiction of its atmosphere in 8-Mile was pretty accurate.  It was the basement of St. Andrew’s; sometimes it was used as a green room for acts that were performing on the main floor. It had two small rooms, two bathrooms, two bars (only one usually in use), a larger room, caged-in DJ & soundman booths. I'm actually making it sound a lot better than it was. The capacity was 226 but Mike D. would pack in as many as 400 patrons (The Shelter was a sweatbox). No AC and the six windows didn’t help things at all. It had a rickety 18-inch stage with an off-center pole in the front and a brick-wall backdrop (nothing special). That stage has seen a parade of Detroit Hip Hop mainstays featuring (the usual suspects): Eminem, D-12, Slum Village, Paradime, Guilty Simpson, Black Milk, and literally everybody else. Performing in the Shelter was a rite of passage but things changed. Of course Proof is gone and Mike D owns a dispensary now. I've been to a couple of recent shows at ’Drew’s and it's different, way more corporate and the feeling I use to get—the anticipation of hearing good Hip Hop and the slight sense of danger on club nights and rentals—is gone. At least the green rooms in the Shelter are nicer. I've been shot at there, lost skin and blood there. Mike D opened this place up at 10 a.m. on the day Proof died. The news came there to try and get a comment on Proof's death. We congregated there, prayed for Proof's soult here. It's pretty much like any other venue in the U.S. now. They still have local rappers perform, but it's not the same. It's still St. Andrew’s Hall though.  It's still iconic, a Detroit Hip Hop historical landmark. White kids probably still call it The Hall and black kids probably still call it The ’Drew’s. It's different, but the spirit of Detroit Hip Hop is still there. It's full of the ghosts of the grimy, hard scrabble 90s and the raucous 00s. They're permanent residents of 431 E. Congress and they'll haunt St. Andrew's Hall as long as it's there.