Boomboxx Chuck heads out when there's high-volume foot traffic. He grabs a boombox or two, pops in an old-school hip-hop cassette—maybe some Public Enemy—and cruises past onlookers who, for the most part, are happily flabbergasted by the walking '80s flashback crossing their path.
“It takes a lot of courage, though,” Chuck says, standing outside Queen Bee's in North Park, where an all-ages b-boy competition is going down. “I'll tell you that much—a lot of confidence. Sometimes I'll think, Man, is this embarrassing? But I very rarely get any negativity.”
A few of Chuck's boomboxes are set up on the stage inside, and even the 10-year-olds in the crowd seem to show reverence for the archaic music-makers' significance. Chuck himself is a dedicated boombox devotee, even though, at 28, he's too young to have experienced a culture that was born in the '70s, peaked by the mid-'80s and was eventually killed off by its more convenient cousin, the Walkman.
Chuck began hitting up flea markets and thrift stores in search of old boomboxes because he wanted to listen to hip-hop from the '80s and '90s—considered the genre's “golden age”—on original cassette tapes as well as make and share music of his own. Chuck's an MC and a poet at heart (Words Intense is another of his pseudonyms), and he liked how easy the boombox made it for him to throw on some beats, plug in a microphone, put in a blank tape and hit “Record.”
“It's like a portable studio,” Chuck says. “I find that real unique, you know, and very inspiring. I can play something all over the city just hours after I laid it down.”
Chuck's guerilla-style marketing campaign seems to be catching on. People see him cruising down the street with a boombox in hand and they end up wanting one of their own.
He refurbished his first boombox about a year ago. He finds a box, fixes it up, sometimes adorns it with his own artwork or art by one of his friends, then sells it for between $100 and $300. And every now and then, he'll stop by with a handful of cassettes he thinks his boombox clients might like. He even hooks them up with mixtapes.
“I'll include good songs from the boombox era, and I'll sneak in a few of my own exclusives,” Chuck says, “just to blend it in slowly, you know, so it kind of just sneaks up on you. That's just my approach with it.”
Boomboxx Chuck's boxes will be on view at the Stick 'em Up Sticker Swap & Graff Art Show, opening at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Visual Art Supply, 3254 Adams Ave. in Normal Heights.