Crunk and Disorderly

Every Saturday night, East St. Louis explodes with one of the wildest parties you've never seen

When he drops "Do That," by Baby (a.k.a. the Birdman), on Cash Money Records out of New Orleans, everybody starts chirping like birds along with the chorus. These pitched coos and warbles erupt from the mouths of dancers throughout the night.

"I took a Haitian-voodoo class at Webster [University]," says Staci Static, "and we were watching tapes of the ceremonies -- and it reminds me of a ceremony, a ritual, because they really get into it, and it's really emotional. I love it, for real."

In the back, a hole opens in the crowd. Shirts fly off backs and, from afar, you can swear you just saw a pair of legs sprout where heads are supposed to be.

Jennifer Silverberg
Action on the dance floor heats up. Says Terrence, owner of the Monastery: "If you can go over there and push and shove and jump around and scream and shout in somebody's face, when you're done, you feel a lot better."
Jennifer Silverberg
Action on the dance floor heats up. Says Terrence, owner of the Monastery: "If you can go over there and push and shove and jump around and scream and shout in somebody's face, when you're done, you feel a lot better."

You did.


At most clubs, the bouncers are easy to spot. They're the guys standing on the periphery, big and bold, arms crossed, glaring, eyes scanning, at the edge of the action, looking like lifeguards at a swimming pool.

But at the Monastery, Terrence has learned to protect his crowd by putting his crew in the thick of it. They're in there bouncing, dancing, patrolling, mediating.

"That's what I like about us being involved," says Debo. "When everybody else sees us relaxing and having a good time, they're, like, 'Ah, these guys are cool. They ain't here to beat us up or throw us out.' So they party with us, and it helps us keep a basic grasp on what's going on in this side of the club. If we standing all the way up here and they down there, it's hard for us to say, 'Don't knock her over.' But when we're down there with them, we push them away from the girls. It makes it easier to control. It's like a little riot, and you gotta be able to ride it."

Watch Debo -- six-foot-five and 380 pounds -- at 3 a.m., and you'll see his adrenaline start to rise as he's standing and watching, water bottle in hand, Sideshow Bob hair jetting out all over the place. You'll see his torso move front to back with the beat. You'll see him start leaning, as though he's on a precipice, getting ready to jump. And then, when the moment's right and the floor is moving hard, Debo will make the leap, and the crowd shifts as if he's Moses parting the Red Sea.

This is Debo, after all. You'd best get out of the way. He struts straight to the middle of the floor, where the thugs are the thickest, and starts dancing, howling. He takes a huge swig of water, cocks his head back and sprays a fountain straight into the air, then pours the rest on his head. He's gone, but he's wide-awake, and the people surrounding him are fully aware of his place in this system. Others must squeeze through the crowds to walk from one spot to another. Debo walks unimpeded.

"Terrence used to let us have what we called the 'bullring,'" says Debo, smiling as he recalls the experience. "That's when we make a big circle and we let the customers wrestle -- Greco-Roman-style wrestling. I started the wrestling thing because I'm a state-champion wrestler. I just love wrestling, and one day someone pushed me just a little too much, and I knew I couldn't beat on them, because that'd be wrong. So I was, like, 'You wanna get crunk? OK, c'mon.' I just grabbed him and slammed him -- and it just blew way up from there."

"Whoever gets slammed first loses," adds Mississippi. He's got solid, square cheekbones and chin, coupled with a sly smile that could charm a rattlesnake.

Terrence has mixed feelings about the wrestling -- "I don't condone it," he says sharply -- but he understands its role here, which is why he allows it at some times and prohibits it at others. It's an integral part of the celebration now -- although at any time Terrence could order his people to stop it. He and everyone else see its benefit, though, as a pressure valve, a way to channel some of the crazy energy that teen and twentysomething guys have on a Saturday night.

"When I see people come here and they let their hair down, they do it with the pushing and the shoving. Sometimes you can come here and you've got a lot of shit on your mind, a lot of animosity and anger. But if you can go over there and push and shove and jump around and scream and shout in somebody's face, when you're done, you feel a lot better. I think a lot of people need that, just to maintain for the week. If they can maintain for five or six days, it's OK: 'Saturday's coming, and I know where to go, I know what to do, I know where to get that pressure off my chest.'"


Some nights here are more furious than others. Tonight is insane. Every step toward the dance floor is a push, a squeeze, an occasional 'excuse me' when you draw an icy glare. On the other side of the club -- good luck getting there -- over the heads, the headbands, the hats and the hair sculptures, a half-dozen silver and red Mylar heart balloons float over the crowd, carried by a vender. The sweet sentiment is swallowed up, once again, by Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz.

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