We’ve now gotten the chance to write in a sphere of Chicago centered blogs which  holds a more supportive community.We look forward to our new partnership with ChicagoNow which is under the same entertainment umbrella as the Chicago Tribune. (But don’t be confused I work with ChicagoNow not the Tribune!) All that to say, Hey We’ve Moved. And we’d really love it if you check us out and read us on our new site:


And remember, you keep reading, we’ll keep explorin’.


Vonnie Coleman


4-Star Explorer


Living It Up In La Villita! 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade

Chicago has been separated into ethnic quadrants for as long as I can remember. Only in our city could you literally go around the world in 80 days in respect to a multitude of cultures and food. But 4-Star’s destination was a little closer to home as we visited La Villita or the Little Village area, which forms a perimeter from about 31st and Cicero and then moves eastward ending at about Western Ave. In this capsulized version of Mexico many of the traditional constructs can be seen from the terra cotta found decorating many of the buildings as well as the welcome sign once you enter into the area. You can also find these signs of tradition in many of the shops selling authentic costumes and especially in the food offering centuries old recipes that always whet this blogger’s appreciative appetite.But as the area expanded there was a sort of marriage between Mexican and American cultures. And as with any marriage there has to be a mix of old and new, examples of this can be seen in the expressive graffiti murals of symbols such as the Virgin Mary that can be found throughout the area.

I, Vonnie Coleman along with Chris Thompson, on behalf of 4-Star Explorer kept all of this in mind as we parked and began to walk towards one of the biggest celebrations in Little Village, the 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade! As we stood near 26th and Kedzie, we got a chance to take in the array of colors and sounds. As the parade rolled on there were more than a few popular floats making their way down the packed lane.

A local Latino motorcycle club, the Pulaski Boyz, were one of the first floats/attractions to show up and show out as they made a spectacle with their constant revving and tricked out rides. Sporting the mantra Death or Glory these riders were real cool despite the fact that it was really hot out. Parade watchers also delighted in the many Spanish radio stations that were in attendance. Radio Personality and DJ, Jesse El Grandote, kept the parade live mixing for La Que Buena 105.1 FM float. Speaking of plenty of music acts there was a plethora of Mariachi! Mariachi, which can refer to either the music or the collective band, was one of the customary performances that popped up the most during the festivities. Sporting ladies and gentlemen decked out in traditional garb these prominent floats were numerous among the parade. It was hard to pick just one favorite. One of the other types of attractions that made up the vast majority of the parade were the different equestrian groups in the parade. Club Ruramuri Chihuahua was a noteworthy float that showcased the history of the majestic art of horse ranching. Modern tastes also rang through in the parade offering several troupes of the local Boy Scouts as well as some more “adult” tastes. Adult beverage purveyors like Miller Lite and Corona held floats filled with ladies dressed in “charming” costumes that got more than a bat of an eyelash from some of the men in the crowd. Regardless the float or attraction there was a unifying quality among them as they all rang out the popular chant “Viva Mexico!”

The 26th Street Mexican Independence Parade has lots of pros to its credit. One of the things I absolutely loved is the amount of children participation. From the yelling mouths in the crowd to the fanciful participants riding floats, kids really made the difference. There were young horse riders, beautiful teens sporting glittery Quinceañera gowns, tiny Bachata dancers, as well as junior volunteers who helped pass out flyers and information for causes such as voter registration and free safe cps bus rides for children. Another great attraction was the swag! I’m not talking about style, I’m talking about the almighty FREE. There were many free treats, trinkets, and gifts tossed into the awaiting crowd. This blogger was lucky enough to score a pack of chocolate chip cookies and a pink water bottle, my high school softball coach would be proud.

I have always appreciated the preservation of the rich history of the Latino culture. The proceedings always brought it back to their mother country Mexico. Mayan costumes were displayed as well as vibrant Puebla dresses for women and Charro suits for the males. Another of the mounting merits for the day’s exhibition was the efficient take down and clean up of the event. The parade ran from noon precisely and ended about an hour and a half later. The event organizers did a good job of dispersing the crowd and getting the roads back to drivable condition. Dare I say, it ran much better than another famous parade the annual Bud Billiken Parade which we as Chicagoans know can unofficially run all night thanks to constant patron flow at all times of the day. Lastly, and most importantly were the bountiful booths that parade goers could purchase various wares. Also sold at these wondrous booths, FOOD, glorious food. Horchata, mango sprinkled with chili, and the heavenly creation known as Mexican corn consisting of either Parmesan cheese, butter, mayo, chilli, or a concoction of two or more. I had never before tasted such a filling and amazing treat as this. After a day of taking in so much it was nice to wind the day down visiting the neighborhood, Lalo’s, and having their famous Blue Margaritas.

I just wanted to take a minute to give a real note of thanks. Let’s be real Chicago, we know there’s certain neighborhoods where race is still a very prevalent issue. There’s certain places where “black folk” aren’t allowed but when I say I felt so welcomed, it was very gracious. I’ve always come from the belief that we as minorities and people in general should never undercut each other because we struggle with the same hurts. I, as a black woman, appreciated the overall experience of the fiesta. That’s all from 4-Star.

Did you like the article? Have any other cultural festivals you want us to visit and review? Contact us at fourstar.explorer@yahoo.com. Also take a peek at our Facebook page at facebook.com/4StarExplorer and don’t forget to “like” us!

26th St. Mexican Independence Day Parade
On 26th St. from Albany to Kostner
3100 W. 26th St.
Chicago IL 60623

4126 West 26th Street
Chicago, IL

Pennjamin Bannekar 31/31 v.6 Verses Series

4-Star has been giving you the very best in fresh Chicago artists and this month is no different as yet another lyrical contender graces the mic. Illwrite Music Group’s, Pennajamin Bannekar, shows us mixtape innovation with his 31 verses in 31 days for the month of September, essentially giving us a deal of 30 verses, get one free being that September only has 30 days. And we at 4-Star Explorer can appreciate a great deal! Many of the instrumentals used are currently popular songs like Meek Mill’s Amen and Watch the Throne’s Ball So Hard.

Making his start with the group Project: Fr3sh, Penn, worked on his writing skills as well as the inception of his playful moniker Pennjamin B. He eventually went solo and worked tirelessly to expand the Chicago music scene going on to grab MTV’s Album of the Month recognition for the success of his 2011 titled compilation Heartbeat.

Enjoy a sample of this talented artist with the latest in the 31-n-31 series with Sweater which borrows it’s inspiration from another pioneer in Chicago music, Kanye West’s Get ‘Em High from the College Dropout album. I must say that this song goes hard, creating a strong 70s like vibe with drums and cymbals ringing strong throughout. It’s gritty, flowy and cool. Please give a listen to today’s verse as well as take a gander at this week’s recap of the series. Happy Friday!

Day 7-Sweater:


31/31 Week 1 Recap:



Have any new music you want 4-Star Explorer to review? Contact us at fourstar.explorer@yahoo.com. Also take a peek at our Facebook page at facebook.com/4StarExplorer and don’t forget to “like” us!

Rejoice for the Voice! Marcella Jones’ 15th Year In Gospel Radio Anniversary Celebration!

For 15 years now, Marcella Jones has held many roles in the city of Chicago. She has played radio personality for both WKKC 89.3 and Inspiration 1390. She has hosted gospel events including covering the Stella Awards. She has been a guest speaker at many a church function, speaking words of devotion on the goodness of the lord. But her role in my life has literally hit home closer for me, for you see, I am Marcella Jones’ niece. And while I’ve always known her as my mom’s bigger-than-life younger sister, this night she was noticed all her own. For one night, all of Chicago got to recognize my aunt’s contributions to gospel radio and the city as a whole. Marcella Jones’ 15th Year Gospel Radio Anniversary Celebration was definitely a cause for rejoice and I, Vonnie Coleman, on behalf of 4-Star Explorer was there to witness the spirit.

Upon arriving to the event we were welcomed by one of the event coordinators, Yolanda Williams, who kindly ushered us to a VIP reception which was held before the event for family and friends. With me, my mother, and my grandmother (who was decked out for the evening I must note) in tow we made our way to the designated area. There we got a chance to see longtime friend of the family and one of the greeters for the evening, Emma Childs. The reception wasn’t pretentious, instead offering a good ole family style gathering. Before any choirs started singing I already felt sanctified in the form of fried chicken and mild sauce. Amen! All jokes aside it was a nice spread and imagine my surprise while chomping down on my meal who should walk in but the 17th Ward Alderwoman, Latasha Thomas who I found out is personal friends with Marcella. Who knew? The faith was strong as the reception turned from a light dinner to a revival as some of the church’s members joined together in an impromptu hymn.

Once the event began there was a procession of accolades from coworkers and fellow admirers. Among them were Dennis Snipes, WKKC 89.3 FM’s station manager as well as another Dennis (of no relation I’m sure) president of the Chicago Area Gospel Announcers Guild, Dennis Cole. Alderwoman Latasha Thomas did more than play audience member. Standing to give thanks and personal accounts of the work that Marcella has done in aid of community issues and events. More colleagues and entertainers gave rousing speeches as well as amusing anecdotes of Ms. Jones’ journey through gospel radio. (I recall an especially hilarious mention of one of Marcella’s early nicknames, “Dead Air”) As if there couldn’t be enough of Chicago’s finest singers, announcers, and community workers things really got prestigious as the president of Kennedy King college, Dr. Joyce Ester,  stood up and just gave the most wonderful recollection of Marcella’s talents as well as her kind and welcoming demeanor.

Now a “Marcella Jones” event just isn’t an event without booming performances and let me tell you the show was chalk full of them! There was so much talent there the show ran over nearly an hour. Rev. Bryant Jones and Chosen proved to be an energetic and charming act who performed their popular song Walk This Road to Glory. They then performed a new song based on Rev. Jones’ father’s saying He Loves You and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It. Another standout performer, Phil Tarner, livened up the crowd with his own one man show. He even mused the lady of honor out of her seat to join in the praising. One Body, an all male quintet  were especially appreciative of Marcella’s support of their budding musical career. There is just something about five Christian brothers singing out strong about their faith in God that makes you wanna shout! But the highlighted performance had to be the reuniting of Love Unlimited Core Ministries originally led by Pastor Wesley Hayes. The group had not performed together in nearly 20 years and it was a treat because I remember being a rugrat running around spying on their rehearsals and meetings often stationed in my grandmother’s basement.

In between the star-studded performances the diva finally took the stage and spoke to the audience. There were many thanks made to her cohorts, family and fans. In a truly gracious action, Marcella took an opportunity to pass on her blessings by awarding two special participants in her growth in radio and faith. The first being Pastor Kevin Brown who acted as sort of a founder of the station. Those in attendance got a chance to learn that in a time of great tribulation in Pastor Brown’s life there was no gospel radio at Kennedy King College. He would go every week to the station and play inspirational music if for no one else’s ears then his own. Because of his persistence, WKKC has grown to the station it is today. Pastor Wesley Hayes was again recognized and given a plaque for aiding in Marcella’s career by laying the foundation of her faith in Christ. She then gave the history of how she started her career at WKKC.

While singing with Love Unlimited Core Ministries she would call into the station asking the announcer to play their album…there was just one problem…it didn’t exist at that time. She hoped that this would make the station more interested once their music came was released. After many calls and a rather frustrated DJ, the album was finally released and Marcella was asked to bring it to the station. Never the one to be described as apprehensive, Marcella continued her goodwill by showing up weekly bringing donuts and coffee to show her thanks. The more she came to the station, the more jobs they found for her to do. First it was answering phones. Then it was working the sound boards. She acquired more training and education. And finally, she was asked to become an announcer

The night proved to be one to remember. I appreciated the quaintness of the surroundings. It didn’t try to be this over extravagant show. It was a close celebration for those who “love them some Marcella.” It was a good-natured service that let people feel comfortable in their level of faith. I found it kind of haunting seeing the show of appreciation from the immense groups of supporters and listeners who look to my aunt for guidance. I sat in awe as she transformed from one of my caregivers, sometimes stylist, and overall life coach into a wonderful entertainer. I couldn’t help but think as my aunt Marcella took the stage, “wow, she really makes a difference. She really is famous.”

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TreStyle *Dark Days, Bright Nights* Mixtape Review

If you’re like me, then listening to the radio today is like a personal challenge of endurance of just how long I can listen to a station without having my brain turn to putty and ooze out of my head. The new industry formula for creating a song by constantly worshiping: sex, money, and other vices paired with tinkered tailored sounds on beat machines has turned many a music fan away from contemporary rap and hip-hop. Even R&B is becoming a nuisance thanks to monotonous, dancy pop tracks of artists like Usher and Chris Brown. So what should appear before my very eyes, well actually come across my inbox, but an invitation to listen and review Chicago artist TreStyle’s, debut mixtape Dark Days, Bright Nights.

The 24 year-old Chicago native, West-side born and bred, records out of the “The Jungle” recording studio where we also interviewed fellow Chicago artist WhoisCHI in our previous article An Interview With A Chicago Artist. Rapping verses to himself since he was counting times tables, TreStyle got his professional start early joining the group F.A. The Squad just in his sophmore year of high school. The group members consist of Rel, The Boy Illinois, Rip the group’s manager, as well as TreStyle himself. While working with the F.A. family, TreStyle has contributed to 4 music projects, the most recent being a mixtape entitled “The Pilot.” Though all the group’s members are still very much a unit, they contionusly work on solo projects which leads to our listening pleasure TreStyle’s first solo endevor Dark Days, Bright Nights. As per the artist himself, the musical collection really appeals to “the emotions of everyday people” as well as “the hard issues that need to be highlighted in today’s music.” And I would have to agree that this compilation is driven, fun, and uplifting.

Though the mixtape as a whole is very focused and underground, honing on deep universal messages and a cleverly crafted sound, there were a few standout tracks that I wanted to mention.

*Stand-Out Tracks*

P.O.V.-this is the mixtape’s opening track and does a good job of setting up what the project is all about. If you couldn’t tell from the mixtape’s cover there’s definitely traces of early Kanye West and other local artists like Consequence. It’s a very conscious piece and in my opinion displays where music should have gone after albums like Graduation. This track stamps itself and clearly defines the rest of the project as true hip-hop.

H&H– a very catchy song and the beat does a nice job of supporting the lyrics. H&H, which stands for Hoodies and Headphones, highlights the universal attire among urban music lovers. I especially enjoyed some of the wordplay in the song, lines like “I ain’t say kill yourself/just go take some suicide lessons” are among the humorous, witty hooks that deal with the hating tendencies of naysayers.

What You Sippin–  upbeat but not necessarily a dance song. But, hey, can you really go wrong with a drinking song? The song rings very true to the going out lifestyle but doesn’t make it sleazy. It’s a good song to bob your head to on the way to the club. Guest artists Spud and 3 Tre do a very good job of elevating the sound of the track. It sounds radio ready to spin.

Like Kings– upon first hearing the track I couldn’t shake the feeling that it sounded very familiar to me. After a few replays I pinpointed the sound. In my head, it sounds loosely reminiscent of Drake’s Underground Kings but the beat and song in general hits a lot harder with strong drum tones throughout. Again, TreStyle displays a clever lyricism not seen today. I mean who else has tried to fit The Office‘s “Dundler Mifflin” reference in a song?

The Jungle– this track may be my favorite of the bunch. Once the beat drops you just instantly get the all-too-familiar Chicago custom of bobbing your head while waving your right hand in the air. If someone would have played this for me I would have never thought it was a mixtape. The sound is so professional and clean, especially the staccato drum machine beat which can sometimes sound amateur. The unmentioned singer on the track does a good job of complimenting the easygoing feel of the song.

Struggle Vs. Relief– Now if the previous track, Like Kings, is reminiscent of Drake I’m gonna go ahead and dub this with one of my favorite sayings, “this that Drake shit!” And what I mean by that is it invokes that all too familiar habit of staring longingly out of the nearest window and thinking deeply about your life.The song itself is very introspective and allows the listener to use what music is intended for, which is getting lost in the ideas and sounds which the artist has created for you.

Green Room– a euphoric racy track that comes across almost as hip-hop “trance” music. It really took me to another state of mind. This is what I dub “zoning out” music for those of you who use different methods, both legally or otherwise, at reaching a “high”-er mental state. It’s also a cool song just to chill and ride around exploring the city to.

Bright Night– I thought Green Room was a riding song, but with Bright Night the lyrics are practically a step-by-step instructional for hanging out on an especially chill Chicago evening. I couldn’t help but gush over the retro feel of this song. It was if I had been transported back to my junior or senior year of high school when I didn’t even think about the possibility of clubbing. When riding around the city blocks or general area of your residence in your best friend’s mother’s car that she managed to steal for the night was the highlight of your night. (Or maybe that was just my life?) The Boy Illinois is a great addition for the closing of the song and gave me some Andre 3000 realness.

Overall, this mixtape is a heartfelt and thoughtful piece of work but it’s not without fault. There really should be more upbeat and dancing songs you can bop to but with all the dancy dribble out today I won’t hold it against him. Tre Styles does a good job of not selling us a fabricated, non attainable image of opulent lifestyle but real poignant words. The mixtape gives us what we should expect from music artists, which is a very deep, authentic account of an artist’s life. It calls out to a lot of the great hip-hop we got from artists in the early 2000s while still remaining quite modern. It’s what Chicago music needs, moving forward from violence and injustice by recalling a better day, a better sound. This mixtape undoubtedly gets 4-Star’s gem of approval!

Don’t take our word for it listen to F.A. The Squad‘s artist, TreStyle with his debut mixtape Dark Days,Bright Nights by clicking the link:

Support Our Local Aritsts!!!!



Follow On Twitter @TreStyle3


Are you a Chicago artist who’d like to get their work reviewed? Have any suggestions for future articles? Then contact us at fourstar.explorer@yahoo.com and check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/4StarExplorer and don’t forget to “like” us!

Chicago Fashion Fest 2012

Paris. New York. Milan. Chicago? There are many things Chicago is known for, unfortunately, a booming fashion scene is not one of them. What many don’t know is that the Chicago fashion industry is picking up. Insert our latest exploration, the Annual Chicago Fashion Fest. Starting in humble beginnings at the bar Moonshine, also located on West Division, the festival is now branching out to its own outdoor area next to bar and grill The Anthem who also sponsor the event. Now going on its 4th year, the fest has grown and spread its opportunities to many fashion and fashion related workers in the city. I, Vonnie Coleman, on behalf of 4-Star Explorer marched out to the event with 4-Star’s photographer Christopher Thompson as well as that day’s travel companion, former model, and good friend, Ashlee Robinson.

While 4-Star explored the fest and all its workings, we got a chance to view the event’s fashion show and had a chance to pick up some of the hottest trends for the fall.

1. Add a pop of color!

This fall is all about mixing colors. A pop of bright color with a dark color can really add to an outfit. Adding maybe some lime green to your look can redefine the little black dress making it more modern. Even patterns like plaid can be added with fun colors like purple to take it from stuffy to funky.

2. Cut It Out.

A clip here, a snip there and you can forget all your cares…of being fashionable for the fall. But don’t go cutting the midriff out of your old dress, subtle cut-outs are the way for a tasteful ensemble. This style usually comes in the form of bared shoulders, tiny slits at the waist, or as the “wow” effect at the back of a shirt.

3. Collar necklaces make a “statement.”

Chunky necklaces can add “oomph” to any outfit and can instantly attract attention to an outfit without trying too hard. Styles like teardrop stones and layered chains are the favorites for fall.

courtesy of James Jeans Blog

4. Guys…spread your jeans.

A lot of guys think their style is limited, not having as many accessories or outfit options as the ladies. Don’t worry guys, jeans will save your style. Guys are really making a statement with different denim looks for the fall. Whether their faded, bleached, cut up or even pop colors like teal or green…jeans are a man’s way of getting noticed.

5. Neutrals and Navy.

I have been seeing neutrals paired with navy practically everywhere! When looking for something to pair with the color nude, navy is this season’s winning combination. You can pair a nice nude pair of shoes with a navy dress or maybe your style’s more nautical with with a nice navy and cream striped shirt? Neutrals and navy give a touch of sophistication to your wardrobe.

After the fashion show we made our way to some of the local clothing stores who occupied booths to display their designs. Le Thrift, a local consignment shop, offers previously owned but well taken care of garments and focuses on an overall vintage style of clothing. Not only can you buy designers like Coach, Chanel, Gucci and others for a steal, you can take your own gently used valuables, because you know you’ll never fit those Prada strappy sandals again, and trade them in for cash.

We continued our rounds and eventually made our way to the So Ness Boutique booth run by young stylist Vanessa Betance and her mother. For the hottest in edgy accessories and clothing you can’t go wrong here. Could she interest you in a spiked cuff bracelet? Or maybe you’d like to go bold with a spiked nail ring? Then So Ness Boutique is sure to make you look fierce.

One of the standout booths Elevenzees, offered a more zen-like approach to style. Offering enchanting jewelry designs and natural oils, Elevenzees gave a calming demeanor. But don’t let the bluegrass roots fool you, the store flaunts many a spicy number for brides-to-be.  I especially enjoyed speaking to Elevenzees spokesperson, Patty Johnson, about some of the ways they cater to different clientele from ladies planning a “girl’s night out” to the bridal industry. They don’t just sell clothing they also have an entertainment space in the downstairs area of the store. Here, they offer different event options that best suit the host including snacks and bubbly. If this wasn’t enough, they even have free monthly yoga and spiritual enlightenment events. I’ve never seen one store do so much!


My style assistant Ashlee and I didn’t just search the racks we got to meet, gab, and question some of the shop owners, the question we asked, what style tips do you have to give the Chicago fashion beat? Sarah Sabastian, of Jojo and Sofia emphatically believes you should “show personality through accessories!” For the ladies she says “necklaces are a way to be bold with out overdoing your outfit.” And for the fellas she thought sporting necktie clips can take you from guy to gentlemen status in no time flat. “It’s a fun and easy way for classing up a man’s look.”

Alicia Rogers of CocoNutU, says “less is sometimes more.” “Choose one thing to focus on,” she says, “You don’t need big earrings and a glittery necklace. Choose one piece as a statement of your outfit so an onlookers eye knows where to focus.”

But the general consensus on advice on style is to be original. We got a chance to meet up with Duble “R” Da Great, from the Hustle My Flow article, once again at the King Lizzy booth. Their belief “whatever you see in the magazines, do the opposite.” According to the King Lizzy philosophy “if everyone’s going right, you go left” and this state of mind seems to work for their team as they gear up for their September 12th relaunching of their clothing and sneaker store. Boasting brand new designers and an interactive experience you can be sure that 4-Star will be there to cover it!

As we departed from the fest we stopped across the street at Noir, who weren’t officially apart of the festivities but kept their doors open to its stylish patrons. Inside their walls are filled with cool, campy duds that sport a retro feel. While perusing the brightly colored racks my fellow fashionista Ashlee R. couldn’t help but laugh and muse on why everyone should want to dress like this to which she added, “yea instead of wearing pink lace leggings.” Oh 79th street girls, will you ever learn?

All and all Chicago Fashion Fest was small in stature but huge in potential. I look forward to Chicago growing in fashion notoriety in the next five years but we as Chicagoans need to get out and support these stores!

Did you like the article? Want to know more about Chicago Fashion Fest? Want to see all the exclusive pictures from the event? Then drop us a line at fourstar.explorer@yahoo.com and visit or facebook page at www.facebook.com/4StarExplorer and don’t forget to like us!

Support our local business!!!! These stores are 4-Star approved!!!!

CocoNut U
Hand Crafted Jewelry

1901 West Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622

JoJo & Sofia

King Lizzy
2540 West Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622

Le Thrift
1754 West Division St
Chicago, IL 60622

1726 West Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622

So Ness Boutique

Notable Fashion Fest Booths Which Were Not Mentioned

Lauren Cheri
Fashion Illustrator

Gabrielle Zwick Designs

Viva La Femme
2048 North Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647


Navigating Chicago Part 1: *My Hero Zero, Zero*

Though I consider myself a native Chicagoan, living near the South-side since birth, there’s a secret this self-acclaimed explorer has been carrying around for some time now…I never learned directions. It’s true! For shame! When most urbanites were sent off into the world with a bus card, maybe a map, and the simple directions “find your way back in two hours,” I was unfortunately born to an overattentive mother who wouldn’t let me walk up the block let alone ride a bus. I was thus denied this rite of passage and some twenty odd years later, I was finally getting rid of my “exploring training wheels.” I, Vonnie Coleman, on behalf of 4-Star Explorer set out find an easy and helpful way to navigate the city. But where to start? Chicago is so vast….bring in my hero zero, zero.

A little history first. Chicago is set up on a grid system that is, streets run like longitude and latitude lines on a map. Some run up and down, some run left to right. In Chicago, major streets are counted at every four blocks or half mile. In the heart of this grid system lies Madison and State, the zero point of Chicago, where all city block measuring is started. Madison running East and West, while State runs North and South.

So what exactly does all that mumbo jumbo mean…is exactly what I was thinking as I was reviewing maps. Which brings me to “helpful tip” number one for navigating Chicago, Do Your Homework. Work with mapping websites, I suggest Google Maps. They have a helpful app that is a lifesaver if you’re ever lost. They even have a walking GPS! Giving you turn by turn walking directions for what I term, us directionally challenged individuals. After perusing some of the major downtown streets I came up with an acronym system to group some of the streets together that almost guaranteed my memorization. I started with State-Wabash-Michigan giving it the oh, so appropriate “Sexy-Wet-Men.” Now I don’t know how your mind works but nothing is more unforgettable than a soaking wet man fresh out of the shower. Now if you’re a fella and that wordplay is something you’d like to keep far from your mind I came up with “Soliders-Win-Merits” for all you Call of Duty fans.

Next was Madison-Washington-Randolph given the phrase “My-Wild-Rabbit.” Then there’s State-Dearborn-Clark-LaSalle with the phrase “Silly-Dogs-Cuddle-Lovingly” and lastly there were the parallel streets Madison-Monore-Adams-Jackson paired with the saying “My-Mom-Answers-John

Once my research was over I was ready to pack up and explore but like the catchy Expedia handle “helpful tip number two” suggests you should Never Roam Alone. If you’re a newbie to downtown directions I would suggest sticking with the buddy system, at least until you have a working knowledge of where you are while near the Loop. Not only is it easy to get turned around in the swell of a crowd but not to mention the safety precautions. With this in mind I called on 4-Star’s interim photographer, Chris Thompson to act as my inside man.

After riding the Red Line up to Monroe we stopped and had a small “awe-filled” moment as we took in the hustle and bustle that is downtown Chicago. The plan? Walk around the Madison and State parameter while collecting useful insights to help the GPS junkies out there LEARN the streets, not just mapquest ’em.

While walking with Chris I learned that there is a “100 block series” measurement system that lets a traveler know their location in relation to another street. For example, If I were waiting for Chris at Millennium Park on Michigan and he was located on Madison and State getting ready to travel towards me, I would in fact be 200 blocks East of State Street or simply I’d be two blocks over to his right. I can feel some of the seasoned Chicago explorers’ blasé stares in my general direction but what is your long forgotten history is my latest revelation.

There is an exception to this, some streets which is the case with the above picture of Garland are counted as half of a city block and thus do not fit into the 100 block series count. Garland Court is in fact placed between Wabash and Michigan but these half blocks, places, and courts are mostly used as alleyways for local businesses.

Continuing my journey, I did whatever I do when taken to a new or scary place that I’m not sure I’ll return from, make mental note of my surroundings. For example, while walking towards “The Lake” or going East on Madison one of the first things I noticed once I got to Wabash was a high hanging Tilted Kit restaurant sign. So, “helpful tip” number three, Peep Your Surroundings urges you to do just that.

After taking Madison, over to Michigan and then eventually walking down to Randolph I tried to think like the average lost out-of-towner. Who is the first person I’d go to in crisis? As I made my way on Randolph past the Chicago Cultural Center, yet another visual landmark, I happened to see a group of Chicago’s finest and slightly less finer police officers and security guards. Of course, as luck would have it I happened to ask the most stubborn security officer of the group. After some time I got him to reluctantly answer some questions on what to do if you ever get lost.

His advice was to seek out policemen, bus drivers, and taxi drivers for directions. “Helpful tip” number four Uniforms Friendly! is a proclamation of our fine fitted workers of the city.These people are put in these position to be able to work with the public. Quite frankly, it’s their jobs to know these streets. And even if you catch a traffic control attendant or the Starbucks guy you’ll get a reasonably helpful and friendly response.

Another oasis for the lost explorer is one of the many Metra Information Centers. Every bus or train at the very least has a mapping system chart with the different city routes carved out. Some of these train and bus stations even have attendants or officers stationed on them which again, these friendly uniforms offer a guide to a helpful direction. Beneath the Chicago Cultural Center, holds one such information center. Boasting one of the more extravagant information centers than most in the city, the Chicago Cultural Center’s Metra Information Center holds six different restaurants and stores for the weary traveler needing to replenish their supplies and achy soles.

While looking around the underground safe haven I noticed a compass Chicago Pedway Symbol and decided to research some facts on this passageway. Constructed since the 50s this underground walkway system is connected to over 40 downtown area blocks, specifically occupying the central business district. It connects to many shopping areas, restaurants, city buildings, as well as different CTA (Chicago Transit Authority works with bus services) and Metra (works with train services for those who don’t know). This tunnel system is a godsend to a lost explorer seeing as many times it can lead you straightway to the business or building you are looking for. So “helpful tip” number five encourages you to Look for the North Star. These compass star designed symbols can be an explorer’s salvation, so keep an eye out for these. And remember a lot of local stores and restaurants are connected to them as well like this picture of the pedway sign on the side of the State street shopping center Block 37.

Wrapping up the trip and all its grandeur would be a cathartic experience for anyone so of course, me being me, I had to go and ruin it by putting myself through what I can guarantee is one of the most terrifying things a person can do; walking blind and being lead by someone around the downtown area. Considered crazy by most, extreme by some, but for us at 4-Star Explorer it’s just a day at the office.  Trust me, there is a method to the madness. I had Chris blindly lead me to different streets in the area to quiz me on identifying the intersection, giving the correct “100 block series count” from Madison or State, and lastly knowing the proper direction of either East/West of State or North/South of Madison.

Once the first of my quizzes was administered after being told I could open my eyes I looked around and noticed we were near the business district. I made my way to the nearest intersection which read Dearborn and Adams. From there I was able to determine that the location was 200 blocks south of Madison and 100 blocks west of State…and of course I was correct. Riding high off my first win I felt a little more comfortable as I closed my eyes again and was spun unceremoniously around then lead to the next challenge. Once again I was told to open my eyes and after peering around the area I noticed the Wabash and Adams sign to which I gave the correct answer of being 1 block east of State and 2 blocks south of Madison. After urging Chris to give me something more challenging and not located on Adams…he spun me around and off we went. After what felt like hours and what must have been countless confused stares I was told to open my eyes and was instantly met with the familiar musings of Millennium Park . I looked up and found the intersection of Madison and Michigan. Being stationed on Madison we were on the Zero Point and thus only 200 blocks east of State.

Soaking in the glory of all three quizzes I inquired on the proper address formation of our last intersection. I was confused because though we were on Michigan the address said 200 E. Madison. Chris filled me in on why that’s the case. When you are at intersecting streets the dominant street, or the street that naturally runs in the direction you are traveling, gets the placing. For example, if you were located on the intersection of LaSalle and Randolph the address would read 300 W. Randolph because Randolph naturally runs East and West whereas LaSalle runs North and South. But LaSalle isn’t completely forgotten with the “300” letting travelers know it is 3 blocks from State.

Well in a day filled with triumphs and terrors (the whole time I had my eyes closed I just knew I was gonna hit a curb and face plant so hard for the whole world to see) I can definitely say it was a trip I’ll never forget and cherish as the first of many Navigating Chicago series. Here’s some of my favorite pictures from our outing, we got a lot of great shots!

Wanna see all of the 70 photos we took on our Navigating Chicago Part 1 Trip? Any suggestions on what we should explore next? Drop us a line at fourstar.explorer@yahoo.com or go to our Facebook page facebook.com/4StarExplorer to see extra pictures or leave notes, don’t forget to like us!

Don’t Knock the Hustle! Hustle*My*Flow Music Showcase

Now as Chicago residents-especially if you’re from either of the South and West sides- you’ve been exposed to some sort of hustle. Whether it be the famous “bucket boys” beating their plastic percussion beats or multitude of “hood vendors” selling anything from candy to cold water on hot days. Or maybe its the Shea Butter man who sells his wares faithfully on the corner of 79th and State. Regardless of the scheme we’ve all been aware of the grinding tendencies of the urban underground. Imagine my excitement when I got a message from comedian/actor Real Shannon D about a place that hosts the ultimate hustle. Rappers and singers from all around the Chicago-area gather in one place to not peddle dime-store products but to distribute their lyrics and skills at Club Jags monthly event Hustle My Flow. Shannon D, who plays host to this frequent event, assures me the event goes hard. The event which is often standing room only let’s artists sign up to perform at 9pm and come 10:30 its showtime! And the last artist to perform is sort of the headliner of the event. I, Vonnie Coleman, on behalf of 4-Star Explorer came out to witness these performers do their thing.

Once I arrived at the location of event I thought I was lost being that the structure of the bar looked very modest. After a short time I ran into Real Shannon D and he was instantly warm and welcoming in demeanor. I got a chance to ask him a few questions about the event before it started.

Vonnie Coleman of 4-Star and event host Real Shannon D

4-Star: How long has the event been going on?

Real Shannon D: The show has been going on about once a month for about ten months now.

4-Star: How long have you hosted?

Real Shannon D: This is my second time hosting so about a month now. I’ve hosted a lot of shows like this before and once I voiced my opinions they liked me. They brought me on the team and now I’m doing a little bit more behind the scenes.

4-Star: Give me a breakdown of the event.

Real Shannon D: It’s a hip-hop showcase. Artists come in between 9 and 10 o’clock to sign up. The DJ begins spinning about 9:30. We give as many artists as we can a 5-minute slot. Each show we have a featured artist and after the featured artist performs we announce the new featured artist for the next event. Whoever is picked to be the featured artist gets a V.I.P. table and gets more time to perform than the other acts.

Ah…what the allure of V.I.P. won’t make some people do. Once my travel companion, Kalise Anderson, and I entered the event I got a chance to get some shots of the performance space.The showcase is actually held in the rear room of the bar and though small it still seemed spacious and tastefully decorated. The registered spin doctor DJ Batman stood reserved as he culminated and transformed songs blending them one into another. As I sat waiting I noticed that I was only one of a few patrons of the event. The host assured me they always got a packed house. I worried if the also vastly popular music event Lollapalooza had not conflicted with the attendance.I also noticed that the dress code was very casual as I sat with high heels and cocktail dress (which is not my preferred attire mind you, I’ve very much a jeans and blazer girl)

Rap Mouth the Genius and manager Lynda Payne

Rap Mouth the Genius Performs

Once the audience swelled and the performers began I noticed the different talent level. The first few acts were very underground….I mean extremely underground….I mean basement party level. And I love my city but some of the artists were very “bounce and break yo back-ish” if that makes any sense. And while that level of music talent is very nostalgic most of us have outgrown it and I for one am not here for it. But every cloud has a silver lining, every rose has its thorn and any other nonsensical idiom you can come up with and for me, there was a rapper who stood above the rest. Local artist, Rap Mouth The Genius, was the standout performer for me. He took me back to a time when a rapper’s words outshone their beats. When there was no gimmicks required but just raw talent and flow. He even killed it A Capella and had the crowd hanging on his words.

Duble “R” Da Great performs as the featured artist of the month

Also very much the crowd-pleaser was the event’s featured artist, Duble “R” Da Great, self-proclaimed greatest Puerto Rican Rapper in the Chi. His set was very rousing and energetic as he took his shirt off eliciting a boisterous reaction from the crowd. But I just couldn’t hold back my surprise at the mention of what he reported was his latest hit to drop a lovely song entitled “Cock You Down.” While the crowd waited between sets I was pleased to make the acquaintance of a great Chicago urban fashion designer Rowan Richards who is owner of the King Lizzy t-shirt and sneaker line and subsequently sponsor of both Duble R Da Great and the Hustle My Flow event.

Rapper, Duble “R” Da Great, and King Lizzy owner Rowan Richards

So what’s the rundown of this event?

-Very casual dress

-Affordable only $5 each event

-You might want to bring something to do because with the Open Mic layout of the event you may be waiting some time before people sign up to perform and start the show. May I suggest beating that Temple Run score?

-Great for true hip-hop heads. DJ Batman does a good job of playing to old and newer music lovers.

-Local Chicago artists should take advantage of this chance to hone their skills in front of an audience without being harshly critiqued.

-Be wary, you have no control over the amount of talent that evening. You might hear the next great hip-hop emcee or….you may get your next headache.


Does this sound like an event to remember or forget? I’ll let you be the judge but what I can definitively say, this event is great for city dwellers not interested in the nightlife scene but looking for a low cost, chill night out.








Jagiellonia “Club Jags”
3634 West Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60618


Support Our Local Talent!!! These People are 4-Star Approved:

Real Shannon D
Comedienne/Actor/Event Host
@RealShannonD via Twitter

Rap Mouth The Great
@RapMouthFlow via Twitter

Rowan Richards of King Lizzy Apparel


Did you like the article? Any suggestions? Email us at fourstar.explorer@yahoo.com and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/4StarExplorer

Just a reminder folks that tomorrow, August 16th, WE’RE BACK!!! 4-Star has come off it’s break, got a little sun, and is back and ready as ever to explore our great city! We’ve got exciting new articles and events for you all to peruse so get your backpacks on and join us to explore the best in urban Chicago. We’ve got pictures up on our facebook page already of the latest event we reviewed and tomorrow you can read the full article, where else other than 4-Star Explorer. Thanks so much for the wonderful birthday wishes! It was truly a blessing.

courtesy of Big Cartoon Database Online


Shavon “Vonnie” Coleman

The Big E-I-C


4-Star Explorer

Now Hear This…Around here you may not know it but majority of the pieces posted are conceptualized and written by our big E-i-C (that’s Editor-in-Chief) Vonnie Coleman. We hope you’ve enjoyed a few of the articles we’ve posted so far. We are dedicated to exploring all that the city of Chicago has to offer for the urban population. But everyone deserves a break at times and nothing can be truer as the E-i-C prepares to celebrate her 25th birthday on August 7th!!! Please continue to send your well-wishes and greetings. While our hardworking Editor is enjoying her special day and subsequent vacation we ask that you remain patient as there will be no posting during that time. We will make a boisterous return Thursday August 16th with a new article! So take this time to do a little exploring of your own and email us those ideas at fourstar.explorer@yahoo.com. Wherever you wanna go, we’ll follow. Thanks for all the support and stay tuned explorers!

courtesy of FantasyStock on deviantART