Remember how hard it rained last Sunday?
Well I’d been invited to a day party in Bed-Stuy called the Payback. It was presented by B-Sides, a new music collective — focused on “underplayed albums, mixtape joints, and underrated singles” — whose goal is to “party with a purpose,” using proceeds from its events to benefit a charitable cause. In this case, the $10 door tickets raised money for the Women’s Prison Association, the first national organization dedicated to helping women who have been impacted by incarceration.
“It’s giving wet and wild!” said one of the hosts, Herrana, a 24-year-old community organizer and advocate, when I arrived on the rainy rooftop. She’d invited me, and she was not going to let a little precipitation get in the way of having a good time for a good cause. “I grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in a little town named Bela,” Herrana told me. “My childhood and my experience being a Black woman immigrant impacted my passion and drive to advocate for our community.” But just because the cause was rather serious didn’t mean Herrana and her co-organizing girlfriends, a consultant and a paralegal for a Brooklyn public defender, didn’t know how to throw a fun party. As a tattooed hottie smoking a cig observed later: “Everybody’s making the rain look real good.”
5:37 p.m. | The party has been delayed from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., in an attempt to duck the weather. I arrive a little late at the designated building, one of those massive, too-shiny Brooklyn apartment complexes on a quiet street off Broadway. Across the street, people are lining up outside a COVID testing site in the downpour. Upstairs, I meet Herrana, who, despite the fact that we’re outside and the sky is actively dumping water on our faces, looks immaculate, in vintage white Versace pants and sunglasses that appear to be designer, but, as she tells me, are actually from the bodega. “I’m not hating the rain, but I’m not taking this do-rag off,” she says when she greets me. Elsewhere on the roof, a small group of people who braved the weather for the party rip their hookahs and pass around a bottle of Lambrusco. “It’s for charity, you can’t be mad!” Herrana says playfully as everyone shields themselves with their leather jackets and attempts to light wet cigarettes.
6:07 p.m. | It’s the rare type of event where everyone is kind of insanely hot, but despite their good looks, people look largely unhappy, standing together under a slatted trellis, grimacing and hunching their shoulders against the drizzle and the wind. Eventually, the dozen or so partygoers take it to the tiny stairwell landing, crowding in a circle with a speaker and a round of shots. “Not us partying in the stairwell!” Herrana screams, and then, half-seriously: “Thank you all for coming for the incarcerated community.”
7:02 p.m. | Turns out no one who organized this party actually lives in the building, but a resident finds us on the roof and invites us to a plush lounge with pool tables and flat screens on the floor below. “One thing we always do is make it work,” says a girl with a baggie of shrooms she’s eating like popcorn. Word about the indoor change of plans must have spread quickly, because before long the lounge is filled with dozens more universally pretty people, in great mules, even better knee-high boots, and fabulously tight summer dresses. Under an awning where a big group of us are passing around a few joints, a boy in a Nike T-shirt tells me his stomach is starting to hurt, because he’s been chasing straight rum with a mango seltzer. A sleek French girl in pink tie-dye joins our conversation and tries to give us her drink. “A man offered to get me this, but I’m insulted,” she says, with a laugh. “This rosé is not fresh.” When the boy accepts the drink, he flirtily kisses her lipstick stain on the glass.
7:30 p.m. | There’s only one bathroom in the lounge at the party, which means the line is viciously long and a few people have resorted to peeing at the bar across the street. While waiting in line, I watch a pink-haired girl walk up to a trio of friends and say: “This has been in the cards for a long time: me meeting you guys.” They don’t seem to know who she is, but before it can be cleared up, the pink-haired girl continues: “Everyone’s here for a serious cause so I’m gonna ask you guys a serious question: What are your thoughts on Black Lives Matter?” None of them say anything for an uncomfortable amount of time. “I’m very much supportive of it, and I’m very much a part of doing the work for it …” one girl manages to articulate, before Pink Hair interrupts, asking, “Knowing that some of the people who started it are, like, millionaires?” But the girl doesn’t get caught off guard, replying quickly, “I know. I heard about Shaun King and his million-dollar house in Jersey, duh duh duh duh. But like you said, the Black Lives Matter org is different from the movement. It’s about the idea and what people are bringing to it, not necessarily all these people.” With that, Pink Hair flutters away, taking her serious party questions elsewhere.
8:20 p.m. | There’s a very chic boy in the room in cargo pants and a bright-blue pleated shirt, which is attracting some attention. “Maybe it’s Commes,” a girl eating a cupcake says to me. And then, a few minutes later, I hear someone else in gold hoops ask her friends, “I don’t mean to be that girl, but is that Issey Miyake?” The organizers remind the room exactly why we’re here, half-jokingly repeating the phrase that has been on everyone’s lips anytime they do something a little naughty tonight: “But it’s for charity!”
8:22 p.m. | Back in the bathroom line, I run into the pink-haired girl again, who has abandoned her party questions. “Not me shakin’ my ass for a cause! I love to shake my ass for a cause!” she says. When I let a desperate guy in a Givenchy shirt go ahead of us in line, she looks me straight in the eyes and commands, “Anytime we have the opportunity, we should give men less.”
8:40 p.m. | Finally, the rain has let up, and someone yells, “GET THE FUCK UPSTAIRS,” sending everyone scrambling from the lounge back to the roof. “I’m gonna go up and shake my ass for money,” Herrana says. But soon enough, the rain begins again. By now everybody is lit enough that it doesn’t seem to matter much. People line up to buy spicy jerk chicken served over couscous, and fresh oysters being shucked in the stairwell. The hookah smoke mixes with pot smoke and grill smoke and the misty rain, and the crowd of sculptured crop tops and slinky slip dresses dance on, to Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Lift Off,” and then Drake’s “Over My Dead Body.” I eat with a girl who watches a guy check out her ass. When he walks away, she says, perplexed, “I don’t even have the yams out tonight. It’s the Lord’s day.”
9:02 p.m. | The DJ yells into the crowd, “You’re not gonna hear ‘No Scrubs’ tonight. No shade, that’s it,” and Herrana keeps grooving on the dance floor, still looking miraculously dry as I start to feel like a shaky wet dog. “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she says, looking up to the sky in a moment of existential joy. “It’s love. It’s giving love.”
9:28 p.m. | In line for oysters, I talk to one of the organizers. “I love to have fun. I’m a party girl. I love a good vibe, and I love great people and great energy,” she says. “We’re going to party with a purpose. Because we’re all genuine people, we attract that as well.” A boy in a baseball cap stops to tell her, “I’m not dipping. I just want to let you know: When the weather gets better? This is going to be the party of the year. You know why I like this so much? Everywhere that’s dope vibe-wise, the music is off. This is what I listen to, underground Brooklyn rap. That’s why I fuck with it so much.”
9:39 p.m. | Suddenly, the music stops, and everyone looks up from their dancing and their drinks to notice three police officers combing the roof, one of them sucking on a Juul. They say they’ve been called by the building’s super. “That’s what happens when people of color throw a party. Why do we have to deal with this?,” Herrana asks, upset that the party is going to end this way. But a friend reassures her, “Y’all flowed really good tonight! Y’all flowed inside when it was raining. This is what happens when you’re doing good.” Another girl, who’d previously seemed rather blasted, pounces into action and yells into the crowd: “If they search any of you, please say help. I have my friend on the line who is an attorney in Brooklyn. I know all the lingo, and I have permission from her to be her proxy.” The guy next to me shows a big grin, and yells in support, “Fucking go off!”
9:50 p.m. | After they’ve witnessed the dismantling of the DJ equipment, the officers leave and everyone else starts making plans to head to other bars and parties, to ensure that this is not the end of the night. “I just have to find one person with Hennessy out here before I leave!” a girl in a leather jacket screams, before accomplishing her mission and pouring a few shots down my throat as well, for the road. As one of Herrana’s friends told her: It was all worth it, because … it’s for charity. “I’m still lit, and happy.”
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