Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Knowledge Drop: At Midlife, Aesop Rock Sheds His Privacy

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By Craig Bechtel

The Shakespeare of hip-hop, Aesop Rock, turns forty this month (he shares a birthday with Kenny G, he notes on the track “TUFF”), and although he may be growing more contemplative as middle age approaches, he’s not slowing down. The rapper born Ian Matthias Bavitz has just released his seventh solo album, “The Impossible Kid” (Rhymesayers), but he’s also kept busy as a collaborator, being a member of the Weathermen and Two of Every Animal (both with rapper Cage), having worked with Kimya Dawson as The Uncluded and formed Hail Mary Mallon with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz.

Given that he’s touring the West Coast (with the aforementioned Sonic) at press time, he provides some insights into the new record and where he’s “at” via email from an L.A. hotel room. Aesop says “The Impossible Kid” has received a great response, and the shows have been really good so far: “I never really know what to expect, but by and large it seems like the people are digging it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: The Evolution of Del the Funky Homosapien

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By Craig Bechtel

Hip-hop fans in Chicago have one responsibility on May 12: see Del the Funky Homosapien. Teren Delvon Jones has been around for a long time; he was born and raised in Oakland and was writing rhymes for his cousin Ice Cube’s crew, Da Lench Mob, at the tender age of seventeen.

In contrast to the extant “gangsta rap” forces at the time, on his first two records, “I Wish My Brother George Was Here” (1991) and “No Need For Alarm” (1993), Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (as it was then spelled) revealed himself to be a philosophical rhyme-sayer who possessed not only his cousin’s forthright strength on the mic, but also questioned and skewered reality and popular culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: A Gangsta and A Scholar

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Afrika Bambaataa

By Craig Bechtel

The night before Kevin Donovan turns fifty-nine, he’ll be in Chicago providing a performance as his better known alter-ego, Afrika Bambaataa. The original soulsonic force from the South Bronx, he introduced “Planet Rock” to the hip-hop community and provided rap with its musical motivation. Drawing equal inspiration from disco and electronic rock, he’s been going full-tilt since 1977. Although Bambaataa is known for “Planet Rock,” his positions as “The Godfather” of hip-hop, the “Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture,” a forefather of turntablism and the father of “electro funk” are unassailable.

He started as a gang member and leader in the Black Spades, but his story took an amazing turn when he won an essay contest and a trip to Africa. He came back a new man, changing his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim (inspired by the name of a Zulu chief) and transformed what was a violent gang into the renamed Universal Zulu Nation, with its aim of spreading peace through music. Bambaataa is one of the originators of breakbeat deejaying, harnessing the breaks of his record collection to propel his beats, and was the first to organize a tour of hip-hop artists outside the United States, back in 1982. He recently completed a three-year stint as the Cornell Hip Hop Collection’s first visiting scholar, after which the university announced that it has acquired his archive of 20,000 records. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Magix King Conjures Up a “Sick Summer”

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MagixKing

By Craig Bechtel

The calendar has just turned to April, but Magix King is promising that “it’s gonna be a hell of a sick summer.” That’s how the hip-hop artist born Myron Ford Jr. on Chicago’s South Side kicks off his next project, “Sick Summer,” due to drop on May 28.

Magix (he says the ‘x’ is pronounced like a ‘c’ both to protect his brand and it makes him easier to find on the Internet) has already released the first single. “Hi There” is a great entrée into his positive message, rapid-fire raps and heavily layered (but never too busy) production. Toward the end he inserts an aside that “I entertain and empower through the sounds of music,” before he raps that while “they sleep, we grind.” Read the rest of this entry »

Liz Phair, Steve Albini & Me: The True Story of 1993, the Greatest Goddamn Year in Chicago Rock History

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Funk, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Industrial, New Wave, Post-punk, Prog-rock, Rock 6 Comments »
Liz Phair 1993/Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

Liz Phair 1993/Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

By Bill Wyman

Every few years, it comes back.

Back in 1994, I had a weekly music column called “Hitsville” in The Chicago Reader. In early January of that year, I put together a top-ten list of albums from 1993 with an accompanying essay. It was all maybe 700 words. Strikingly, two entries by Chicago acts—Liz Phair’s debut, “Exile in Guyville,” and Urge Overkill’s first record for Geffen, “Saturation”—topped my list.

Steve Albini, then as now, was an iconoclastic music producer on the underground rock scene. He was pissed off by the piece; and in full dyspeptic mode he sent a letter to the paper. It was printed under the headline, “Three Pandering Sluts and their Music Press Stooge.”

The pandering sluts—his words—were the two acts I just mentioned and another Chicago outfit, the Smashing Pumpkins.

I was the stooge!

The letter was long and vituperative and hilarious: “You only think they are noteworthy now because some paid publicist has told you they are, and you, fulfilling your obligation as part of the publicity engine that drives the music industry, spurt about them on cue.”

Back then, the Reader was a huge institution. The paper came out on Thursday, stacked like bricks in walls three-feet high in stores and cafes. “Hitsville” was on the front page of Section Three. Albini’s little missive set off a letters war of seemingly unending scorn and heat that played out week after week in the paper, with rafts of responses, insults, counter-responses and counter-counter-responses.

In later years, after the Internet took hold, the letter was endlessly cited in adoring profiles of Albini, or histories of the Chicago music scene of the time. Ten years later, Ana Marie Cox wrote a hefty piece about it for the Reader itself, and just a few weeks ago—twenty-two years later!—the Reader’s music editor, Philip Montoro, brought it all up again amid news that the Pumpkins and Phair were going out on the road together. (They’re playing the Civic Opera House April 14.). Albini’s letter, he said, had torn me a new orifice. And he concurred with Albini’s judgment that I was there to promote popular bands: “Like many music writers, Wyman clearly considered the size of his potential audience when deciding which artists to cover.”

On examination, I was grateful to se that I had the requisite number of orifices, but even so, Montoro’s column got me feeling all misty. I started to remember what the scene was like back then. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: RIP The Shrine, But Chicago Hip-Hop’s Fine

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Biz Markie

By Craig Bechtel

The back half of March offers a plethora of hip-hop-portunities (sorry) that run the gamut from old school to new school, racing across the timeline from early rap to danceable modern beats injected with a healthy dose of R&B, and there will be sizable injections of weirdness along the way.

But first, Knowledge Drop would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the passing of a local venue that became a hip-hop institution in its regrettably short lifespan, The Shrine (2109 South Wabash). The venue was originally scheduled to close at the end of March, having been purchased by a real estate development firm which plans to demolish the building and erect a mixed-use complex that includes a hotel, apartments and retail, and finale events were scheduled to include Mya on February 27 and Busta Rhymes on February 28. Those plans were scuttled when two people were shot outside the club around 2am on February 21, after which the club immediately shut its doors. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cameron White of Gurnee has since been charged in the shooting that wounded a security guard and critically injured a woman. The Busta Rhymes show was canceled outright, but Mya was rebooked at Promontory (5311 South Lake Park) on February 25, and ended up doing some Chicago-area appearances throughout the weekend as well. But neither its violent end nor the loose ends left behind should obscure the legacy of The Shrine’s nearly seven-year history. Founder and owner Joe Russo did not respond to a request for comment prior to deadline, but to underscore the club’s significance, it’s sufficient to include a partial list of hip-hop performers that graced the stage: 50 Cent, Common, Mos Def, De La Soul, KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Rakim, The Roots, Ginuwine, Kendrick Lamar and Brand New Heavies, among many others (in addition to luminaries within the R&B and reggae genres). Prior to closing, a statement from Russo indicated that they hope to reopen in another location. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Mickey Factz, Logic and MC Lars Spark an Early Thaw

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Mickey Factz

By Craig Bechtel

Hip-hop heads are marching out of hibernation to kick off March and here are three to check out on various sides of the equation, all of whom are touring behind quality albums released in November.

Marching militantly into town to promote his “Y-3,” Mickey Factz will be spouting a lot of food for thought from when he hits town this month. Born Mark Williams in 1982, Factz hails from the Bronx and went to the same high school Afrika Bambaataa attended in the 1970s. He got his start with the “In Search of N.E.R.D.” mixtape in 2006, drawing music and inspiration from that Pharrell Williams (no relation) group. Since then Mickey Factz gave up a spot at NYU Law School to focus on being an MC. He has collaborated with Drake, Yelawolf, B.o.B, The Cool Kids and Bambaataa, and in 2009 appeared on the cover of XXL as part of their Freshmen 10 issue. Mickey Factz has headlined the Rock The Bells festival (he cites LL Cool J as a big inspiration) and has toured with Chicago native Lupe Fiasco (he hopes to support his next tour). Lyrically, Mickey Factz refers to Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Magic Johnson and Derek Jeter in his giddy earlier composition “The Rush,” but “Y-3” is a darker affair. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Psalm One Rates Dre & Promotes Polyamory

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PsalmOne

Psalm One

By Craig Bechtel

Psalm One and Awdazcate host the eighth annual Dre Day at Double Door (1572 North Milwaukee) on February 19; it’s a celebration of Dr. Dre’s birthday and his music. Andre Young made the beats that put gangsta rap on the map with N.W.A. and has gone on to produce a veritable who’s who of rappers, as well as his own music, most influentially, “The Chronic.”

Psalm One, born Cristalle Bowen, and who also raps under the alter-alter-ego of Hologram Kizzie, is looking forward to Dre Day again this year. She describes Dr. Dre as “quite influential in music as a whole, because before him I don’t think producers were so adamant about good mixing, good arrangements, good production… Rap has come from very humble beginnings,” she continues, “where you literally take the breaks from a disco record, sample that and loop that and that would be the blueprint… Dr. Dre changed all of that in the eighties and nineties.” Psalm One says she thinks he “might be the best hip-hop producer of all time,” but she’s not big on absolutes. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Warming Trends On Winter’s Live Music Scene

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, R&B, Rap, Rock 1 Comment »
Lume

Lume

By Keidra Chaney

Now is a decent time to get back into the live-music swing of things this winter, with upcoming album releases, the return of monthly live music events and more.

Definitely bring your earplugs to check out Chicago’s three-piece Lume when they come to Subterranean (2011 West North) on February 19 to celebrate the release of their album, “Perennial Phase.” (You can also preview and purchase the album on Bandcamp.) If you’re into brooding, rough slowcore then you’ll be into Lume; they combine fuzzy riffs, melodic, understated vocals and lush production. The seven-minute opus “Rattleback” is the new album’s centerpiece; it floats from an alternating loud-soft dichotomy to a dark, almost dreamy breakdown that builds up into a chaotic, feedback-laden outro. It’s a song that will definitely translate well live, since Lume has been known to bring an intensity to their stage shows that doesn’t always come through in recordings. Check them out on the heels of their Southern U.S. tour, with fellow feedback slingers Estates, Sough, Droughts as openers. Tickets are $7 and the show starts at 10pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Redefinitions and Second Chances for Kid Cudi, Pell and Pete Rock

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Kid Cudi

By Craig Bechtel

Kid Cudi disappointed many of his loyal fans when he pulled the plug at the last minute on his December tour dates, citing “production and personal problems.” He posted a lengthy note via Twitter, saying among other things, that things “weren’t together production wise and I need a bit to make some changes,” and “I got a lot im [sic] dealing with at this time in my personal life too and in order for the shows to be the best experience possible as well as keeping my sanity intact, I need to regroup.” The disappointment from his audience most likely began when he released “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,” a rock album brimming over with distorted guitars and grunge-era angst. Kid Cudi may be a talented rapper and have come by his hip-hop bona fides honestly, but this record was not hip-hop. While Hot New Hip Hop gave it a balanced and nuanced review, they couldn’t award it more than a sixty-eight percent, whereas the website’s Fan Rating merited a lackluster twenty-one percent. (Then again, the fans on a heavy metal website would probably have savaged the latest outing from Jurassic 5.) Taken on its own merits, and disregarding genre, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven” is an extraordinary record, and it’s not like Cudi doesn’t recognize the rules he’s breaking. He even enlists MTV icons Beavis and Butt-Head to provide occasional commentary throughout the double album. Read the rest of this entry »