Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Live Review: Kendrick Lamar/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

It’s no easy task closing out a weekend-long festival, but tonight Kendrick Lamar proved why his name continues to be so highly regarded in hip-hop circles. Sure, he’s a profound storyteller, but that’s something we can take for granted; the true strength of Lamar’s set came from its crossover appeal. Kendrick Lamar was the only hip-hop artist to make use of a live band this weekend, guitar-shredding solos included, and his pacing across the stage and within his set list was expertly executed. Performing in front of a video triptych with scenes of his Compton hometown drawing the crowd in, Lamar blazed through a surprising number of hits for a recording career that’s relatively young. Whether prompted to light up their cell phones, or celebrated for lighting up something else, Lamar had Chicago in the palm of his hand, with festival-goer’s arms held high in response. Like he says, “Kendrick have a dream.” Even if this isn’t the exact dream he’s talking about, it has to come close. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Schoolboy Q/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

When the festival gods decided to bestow Schoolboy Q with a slot that immediately followed Earl Sweatshirt’s, they might not have anticipated the effect that a back-to-back bass-thumping can have on an audience. The people were fatigued, but Schoolboy Q soldiered on, successfully reorienting the festival grounds toward a club-vibe with track after track of radio-friendly hip-hop. He’s a crowd-pleaser, Schoolboy Q is, and few sets outside of Kendrick Lamar’s will inspire such widespread dancing and Instagramming. If you were worried about having a photo to remember the weekend by, fear not, there’s a good chance you’re in somebody’s from the Schoolboy Q set alone. Even Earl Sweatshirt couldn’t resist—he spent much of the set dancing and laughing on the side of the stage, the feel too fun and infectious to miss. Schoolboy Q’s DJ deserves special recognition for expertly handling hype-man duties without stealing the singular focus that his frontman deserves. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Earl Sweatshirt/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

For some fans, the favorite moment of Earl Sweatshirt’s set comes down to what they enjoyed chanting more: “I’mma fuck the freckles off your face, bitch,” or “Hot soup in my motherfucking bowl.” No matter which side of the divide you fall on, there wasn’t a person in the park who didn’t appreciate Earl insisting on a massive singalong to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” before he would even bother to launch into a song of his own. This was the crowd-participation performance of the weekend, with Earl even taking the time to badger one unfortunate far-removed fan to chant along to his set, or be doomed to public mockery for life. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess which route the fan chose, along with everyone else, who simply couldn’t resist Earl’s irreverent sense of humor, the calling card for one of hip-hop’s most significant newcomers. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Pusha T/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews, Rap No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

In contrast to the tight, rehearsed set Clipse put together in 2007, Pusha T strolled on stage a leisurely thirty-five minutes late this year. One wonders what he was thinking, standing on the very same stage as before, now without his brother Malice; perhaps the church steeple in the distance serving as a constant reminder of the moral obligations Malice now embraces. Or maybe not. Pusha T’s mid-set medley of “Runaway,” “Mercy” and “I Don’t Like,” absolutely crushed the enthusiastic crowd, at least the parts of it that were still visible through the consistent smoke haze. Hip-hop shows can sometimes suffer when an artist raps over his own tracks, their voice sounding weak in comparison to the studio recording, and Pusha T suffered this routine setback, but not without a fight. The object of his derision? Lil B, who he targeted more than once to a crowd who had fawned over The Based God last year. It didn’t seem to matter, not much did, except a bunch of kids hungry for street raps to blow smoke to. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Twin Peaks, Ka/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

After spending most of my time at the Blue Tent on Friday, I had my fill of drum machines for the moment, so starting out with Chicago’s Twin Peaks was a breath of fresh air. Their brand of fuzz-drenched, melodic garage rock was a perfect start to a sunny Saturday of music and beer (even though no one in the band is quite old enough to have one yet.) I really don’t want to belabor the they’re-just-out-of-their-teens angle, but it’s always a thrill to hear such confident, mature rock ‘n’ roll coming from musicians so young. The thrill of playing a Pitchfork crowd (on the eve of their second LP release, no less) was evident from their charmingly awkward stage banter to their equally awkward, yet very rock ‘n’ roll guitar smashing.

On the Red Stage, Brownsville rapper Ka shifted the mood from sunny power pop to gravelly-voiced hip-hop, fraught with the kind of introspection and regret that comes from age and experience. Ka is a wordsmith and storyteller at heart and uses sparse, ambient loops to anchor his lyrics and demand concentration from the listener. Definitely not party music, but an oddly fitting counterpoint to the youthful punk energy of Twin Peaks. (Keidra Chaney)

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2014

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, R&B, Rock, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor

All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lauryn Hill/House of Blues

Hip-Hop No Comments »


Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks may be hailed as some of the most talented female hip-hop artists in popular music today, but these hard-hitters would have nothing to build on it if it wasn’t for Lauryn Hill. Hill changed the game for female MCs with her work in the Fugees and with her Grammy-winning, absolutely venerable solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” As it tends to go for the hyper talented, Hill ran into some problems with fame, including what many sources speculate to be a “mental breakdown,” and fizzled out for a while. She remained largely out of the public eye for several years until last year when she was sentenced to three months in federal prison for tax evasion. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Die Antwoord/Riviera Theatre

Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Hip-Hop No Comments »


Known for a steady output of eyebrow-raising viral music videos, Die Antwoord has been rather quiet in the last year. This seems odd with the release of their third album “Donker Mag” fast approaching (same day as this show, y’all). In 2008, the group formed out of South African rapper Ninja, his freakish sidekick chick Yo-Landi Vi$$er and well-respected hip-hop producer DJ Hi-Tek. As artists, their images precede them. Whether performing in skivvies with Sharpie-drawn dollar signs across their genitals, blacked-out contacts, or a full-body Pikachu costume, their shtick arises as an exaggerated depiction of their egos. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Talib Kweli/Metro

Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »


The rap music being manufactured today is more often than not stripped of its storytelling origins and injected with monstrous bass-rattling beats in place of substance. Talib Kweli, unlike some of his more mainstream peers, has never exchanged narrative for glitzy instrumentals. And even if he did, he’d still kill the mic. In the course of his twenty-year career, he has proved himself of two things: that he can rap over any beat, and that his rhymes are valid. Dubbed as a “conscious hip-hop artist,” Kweli’s raps have always been weighted in truth—shared experiences of community and history. Even when the story is not his own, it is told with a strong pretense bidding you to see things from a different perspective and always set to music that carries a proper head-bopping groove. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Bailar En La Cueva” by Jorge Drexler

Afro-Cuban, Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Cumbia, Forró, Hip-Hop, Latin, Merengue, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Samba, Tropicalismo/Tropicália, World Music No Comments »


On his most diverse release to date, Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler—best known Stateside for being the sole composer to date to win an Oscar for a non-English song—goes into various musical styles to convey his message. The title song mixes electronic and folk elements with a syncopated beat and a catchy chorus, while “Bolivia” blends forró and cumbia. A berimbau (a Brazilian instrument commonly used in capoeira meets) leads the beat.

Legendary Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso makes a cameo appearance toward two verses in Spanish with a melody that goes against the song’s entire form. “La Luna de Rasquí” is an upbeat tune with Afro-Caribbean elements that is sure to get you moving. “Universos Paralelos” is arguably the most inventive track–it begins with an easygoing samba-like feel and the vocals of Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (who seems to be all over Latin pop lately) comes almost out of nowhere to give her bit on the topic of star-crossed lovers. Read the rest of this entry »