Joie Manda: My first memory of the Tunnel—I went there on a Sunday, when the party was called Mecca. Jessica Rosenblum was the promoter, Funkmaster Flex was the DJ.
Cipha Sounds: Jessica invented Mecca.
Funkmaster Flex: Jessica, who was my manager then, put that night together because she wanted a place to be my home every week. We copied the format from Red Alert and his club Latin Quarter.
Jessica Rosenblum: I created the party for Flex in 1992—I was his manager at the time—so he could get a bigger following. The name popped into my head one day, and it seemed like the right one for the party. At that time, I was one of the few people that could get venues and do hip-hop parties downtown, so it was like all roads lead to Mecca—I had the answer for everyone that was craving hip-hop. The first Mecca party was at the Supper Club. It moved around to the Grand and the Arena [before it got to the Tunnel].
Flex: I met Jessica in 1990. She used to organize the parties that Kid Capri and Clark Kent would spin at. They were making a name for themselves, getting big. I started to ask around: “Who is doing those parties?” Clark Kent did a couple of Jessica’s parties, and then he got a manager; Kid Capri used to do all of Jessica's parties, and then he got a manager. I figured if I could do a couple of her parties, I would let her manage me. She put me in those rooms to prove myself. She brought light to me.
The club worked for a couple reasons: I was the biggest DJ at the time, Jessica was the biggest promoter, and Peter was the biggest club owner.
- Funkmaster Flex
Chris Lighty: Jessica is the original hip-hop hipster. She’s this nice Jewish girl, and you just wouldn’t think she had a love for hip-hop, for nightlife, when you first came across her. She was able to mix it up with everybody, and everybody felt comfortable coming to that party.
Rosenblum: I would say being a woman—particularly back then—was a bigger issue in hip-hop culture than my being white. I would be saying hi to a guy I know on, say, 125th Street, and the girl he was with would be giving me a stank, stank face, like, “Yo, who’s that white bitch you’re talking to?” All they had to say was “That’s just Jessica.” Everybody knew my name; it was like, “Oh, okay. It’s the white girl that throws all the hip-hop parties.” I was the original doorgirl at Nell’s, where I supported hip-hop by letting in people like Russell Simmons and the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J—they loved the downtown scene; they were way ahead of the curve. Then I threw Heavy D’s platinum party in 1989. [Heavy D had] the first rap album on a major label that was acknowledged to go platinum. That party crystallized my credibility.
Lighty: The Supper Club had that cool vibe, but Mecca outgrew the space.
Rosenblum: The party changed and evolved, but any party that runs for multiple years changes. The Supper Club was so pretty, the mix of the crowd, the room, the lighting—you could have every prominent industry executive, every up-and-comer, and you would seat them all at tables, these cool, downtown, hip-hop people. By the time it got to the Tunnel, the venue was so major, I’d say 95 percent of the people coming to the club on Sunday—and the Tunnel was a popular club that had big nights during the week—had never been to the club before. In the beginning, it was exciting, it was epic, it was like no other space anybody had been in. Industry was in the Tunnel heavy, but so were the streets. The artists were in there heavy—not booked or being promoted, they were hanging out.
Lighty: I think when Peter Gatien gave the day and time [Sunday nights] up, he thought he was giving away a dead zone. If something came of it, great, but he had no idea that it was going to become this legendary party.
Rosenblum: Hip-hop wasn’t part of mainstream culture like it is now; it was considered undesirable. On top of that, it was very difficult for clubs to make money on a Sunday night. They obviously weren’t going to give me Friday or Saturday, which were their big nights, so if I could say, “Hey, I can make you money on a Sunday,” they were going to be more open-minded to do hip-hop.
Lighty: The Tunnel was bigger, had more security. There was more money to be made—the bigger bar turned it into a real business, and that’s how Jessica pulled me into the security side of it. We didn’t think of it as “I’m the head of security” or “I’m the co-promoter.” It was Jessica’s thing, and I was her friend. But if you wanted to come into the Tunnel, you were going to have to deal with me. If there was an issue, they’d call me over to resolve it quickly.
Flex: Mecca was a party that never stayed in one space for long, so [the first time it was held at the Tunnel], I thought it would be there until the next space. But the club worked for a couple reasons: I was the biggest DJ at the time, Jessica was the biggest promoter, and Peter was the biggest club owner.
Rosenblum: I had been promoting nightlife in New York for many years, and I had done a lot of events and business with the Palladium, which Peter owned. I had been going to clubs he owned since I was 17. If I didn't have this downtown standing, I would have never got in the door, and there never would have been hip-hop at the Tunnel.
Peter Gatien: Anybody thatʼs been involved in the industry as long as Jessica has—especially as a woman—speaks volumes about her abilities, her talents, her energy. Not an easy gig.
Flex: I think Peter took a chance by putting on something on a Sunday night that had a chance to be super cool, that ended up being super cool. He didn’t have to do this night.
Rosenblum: If Peter Gatien was willing to put up with whatever crap was going on in the neighborhood, with whatever crap the NYPD was giving him, whatever drama was going on in the club, when he already had a successful club that ran other nights of the week with house music, white people, gay nights, whatever, obviously there was a financial reward that made it worthwhile.
Gatien: Even though the talent wasnʼt that expensive, the night was expensive to produce because of the security and everything else that went along with it. We certainly made money from it, but it cost a lot to produce.
Flex: Peter believed in the night. He liked hip-hop, he liked the artists; he understood the artists, understood their personalities. And he was a rock star to them, with his eye patch. He was wielding just as much money as them, so he held his own. The artists had a tremendous amount of respect for Jessica, too.
Gatien: I was a fan of a lot of music, and my focus for nightclubs is that we have to be cutting edge. By 1993, rap was becoming more mainstream—thereʼs no doubt about that. It was important to me, catering to all the niches that comprise New York.