Back in 2007, 5 Mag did a cover story with Jojo Baby. It was the first story, he told us, that ever included his last name.
Jojo was a club kid, though that’s understating it quite a bit. Jojo was THE club kid. He was a host at the best club residency in Chicago, Boom Boom Room. And now he’s the host at the best club residency in Chicago at Smarbar’s Queen!
It’s not a coincidence that the “best club residency” at any given moment is basically where Jojo is at the door. He has that power because Jojo is, as he described himself in that story, “living art.”
He is also a living artist. I got to experience it how I wish everyone could: total immersion in Jojo’s world. After we published our story, it was up to me to return a bunch of photos — I mean big, oversized, printed-on-paper photos, which is sometimes how pictures were still distributed back then. Jojo invited me upstairs to his (old) loft in the Flat Iron Building. I’m at a loss to try to visually describe it, and I don’t think photos would do it justice. It was spilling out the door and in the hallway, like a menacing bio-mechanical entity from a sci-fi thriller. Jojo’s wonderful dolls presided over a table full of old timey clocks inside domed glass jars and other raw materials for some future project. Jojo’s studio was the only living space in the city of Chicago that could have a cover charge and still have a waiting list.
After ushering me inside, Jojo excused himself to make a phone call to Sal E, and without saying hello he uttered two words with gravity, as if they were nuclear codes:
The following Monday I saw Jojo at the door dressed as Big Bird, and the rest of Boom Boom Room’s hosts as exotic and surreal versions of other characters from the PBS kids’ show.
This was of course just his “night job.” He’d had others. In the mid-’90s he was coloring — more like “designing” — the most famous head of hair in Chicago, the totemic dome belonging one Dennis Rodman. As recently recounted in the Netflix series The Last Dance, the skull of the Chicago Bulls’ power forward had gone from simple colors — a shock of green, screaming pink — to a kind of hieroglyphics of symbols and patterns.
“I once was in an elevator with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Larry Bird,” Jojo told 5 Mag in that issue, “and Jordan said to me, ‘You’re the one that does Dennis’ hair. My son wants hair like that.’
“So I offered him my card and he said ‘Uhh, no.’”
Jojo is also a superhero. He’s defeated cancer twice. Like all supervillains, though, it has returned for another bout. Last month Jojo announced he would be beginning chemotherapy.
“Yes I’m scared, but I want to hit this head on because I’m tired of being in as much pain as I’ve been in,” he wrote on Facebook.
People have been asking how to donate, because even icons have bills to pay, and America is just fine seeing you sick and poor rather than just sick.
This Saturday, Smartbar and Metro are hosting a special event to raise funds for Jojo’s treatment, called Cancer Is A Drag and featuring (in alphabetical order) Czboogie, Diz, DJ Heather, DJ Lady D, Garrett David, Jesse De La Pena, Madeline, Mark Grant, Michael Serafini, Psycho-Bitch and Ralphi Rosario, with hosts Bambi Banks Couleé, Denali Foxx, Dida Ritz, Kahmora Hall, Kenzie Couleé, Laila McQueen, Miss Toto, Saint, Sigourney Beaver, Tenderoni and The Vixen.
Photo: Czarina Mirani from 5 Mag‘s archives