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‘Time Travel’ tribute brings out Rhymesayers A-list for Metro concert

MC Slug DJ Ant Atmosphere

MC Slug and DJ Ant of Atmosphere

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Time Travel Reunion

♦ 9 p.m. April 13

♦ Metro, 3730 N. Clark

♦ Sold Out

When indie hip-hop luminaries including Atmosphere and Brother Ali headlinethe April 13 “Time Travel Reunion” show at Metro — a sold-out concert honoring the influential college radio program “Time Travel,” which aired on Northwestern University’s WNUR-FM (89.3) for nearly a decade — they’re writing the latest chapter in a mutually-beneficial saga that began almost 20 years ago.

The performance features a phalanx of big names from Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers Entertainment (RSE). “Time Travel” was crucial in popularizing the trailblazing indie label’s artists well beyond Minnesota.

“Chicago was the first big market for Atmosphere outside Minneapolis because of my radio show,” says Kevin Beacham, aka Formless, originator/host of “Time Travel” from 1995 to 2002.

Beacham, who will emcee the reunion concert with “Time Travel” co-hosts J Pratt and Foster Garvin, grew up an “Army brat” with an abiding passion for rap. The future Formless lived in the North Chicago/Waukegan area during high school, and Evanston-headquartered WNUR “was the only station I could tune in up there that played hip-hop.”

After first trying his hand at rhyming and beat-making, Beacham became a radio-promotion man for indie and major rap labels, drumming up airplay primarily at Chicago’s college stations. Evanston was the last stop on Beacham’s regular promo trips to and from the city, and he started hanging out at WNUR; his encyclopedic command of hip-hop history earned him frequent on-air guest slots. Beacham secured his own shift in April 1995, Thursdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“Time Travel” went on to establish a unique foothold in urban radio, making “the education of Hip Hop culture…as important as the musical selection,” Beacham later wrote in his Internet chronicle, “The Chicago Hip Hop [sic] Story.” His program made an indelible impact on young rap devotees like Far South Side native and North Side transplant Keter Darker, who assiduously captured “Time Travel” on cassette every week as a Mather High School student.

“The show traveled through hip-hop and revisited classics — transforming what due to the industry becomes disposable commodity, into valued cultural artifact,” says Darker, a Chicago emcee who recently hosted his own WNUR show, “Sun Moon Radio.” Formless and company “completed the circuit as older brothers transmitting the roots to a younger generation.”

It was on a New York trip in the late ’90s that Beacham and co-host Pratt were given a copy of Atmosphere’s arresting RSE debut, “Overcast.”

“We started playing Rhymesayers artists a lot,” says Beacham, noting that it led to continued reciprocity between “Time Travel” and the RSE crew: “They’d drive down from Minneapolis to freestyle on the air, do a quick interview, then head right back — a 12-hour round trip.” (Beacham was eventually hired in 2002 by Rhymesayers, where he continues to work in marketing.)

Former co-host Garvin, a hip-hop authority whose scholarship rivals Beacham’s own (as Formless readily acknowledges), credits WNUR with “giving me a positive outlet.” Now an artist manager raising two young sons in Ohio, Garvin observes, “If not for ‘Time Travel,’ I don’t know what I would have been into.”

Moira McCormick is a local free-lance writer.

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