Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Childish Gambino/Riviera Theatre

Hip-Hop No Comments »


Childish Gambino’s latest album, “Because the Internet,” is the first in the span of his five-year career to receive positive rather than predatory reviews. A project of epic proportions—nineteen tracks, a seventy-five page screenplay, and a short film titled, “Clapping for the Wrong Reasons”—Gambino aims to challenge the way we consume music. In conjunction, the three mediums show and tell the fictional story of a man, supposedly the estranged son of rapper Rick Ross, stuck in a rut of emptiness as he drowns his feelings in celebrity gossip blogs, mansion parties and other destructive behaviors. Having scrutinized Gambino for hiding behind gimmicks in the past, critics seem agreeable this time. Most of all, they’re pleased with what sounds like a realized confidence in Bino’s rapping ability. Read the rest of this entry »

Cue the Police Sirens: An Interview with Gangsta Rapper Freddie Gibbs on the Eve of “Piñata”

Hip-Hop, Interviews, Rap 1 Comment »
Photo: Peter Beste

Photo: Peter Beste

By Kenneth Preski

Gang violence, murder, robbery, drug dealing, prostitution: all fodder for Freddie Gibbs on “Thuggin’,” the first single released from his collaboration with Madlib, the world’s greatest beatsmith. The gangsta rapper even goes as far as selling crack to one of his family members to avoid having her go up the street to turn a trick for it. Welcome to Gary, Indiana through the eyes of Gangsta Gibbs, a man who puts the rap in rap sheet. It has to be bullshit, right? Some over-the-top braggadocio to pull one over on record buyers. No one could come through that much trauma unscathed. Given the genre’s many imitators, thug is a costume, and one size fits all. Not according to the man himself: “All that shit is real, man. I don’t have no persona. I don’t have no rap persona. Everything is real and authentic. If I’m talking about it, then I saw it.” Given the criminality of his lyrical content, that’s a chilling confession. Gibbs’ memory is mined for source material during the entirety of “Piñata,” a release which is not just one of the best hip-hop records this year, but one of the best, period. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sidewalk Chalk/Double Door

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul No Comments »


The Chicago-based octet Sidewalk Chalk is far from your ordinary hip-hop group. The band fuses soul and jazz with contemporary beats and insightful lyrics to create original songs and live performances that get even the most conservative of concert-goers on their feet. Their arrangements highlight what each of the band’s members bring to the table. Maggie Vagle (vocals) and Rico Sisney (MC) complement each other on stage as well as they do on tracks, matching energy and emotion note for note. Likewise, while Tyler Berg uses a drum set to keep time, Jumaane Taylor tap dances to add in rhythms and provide a unique flair to the band’s sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Vivid Prize: Psalm One Raps with Science as Hologram Kizzie

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop No Comments »
Photo: Nick Bulanda

Photo: Nick Bulanda

By Dave Cantor

It isn’t easy to pinpoint the heart of hip-hop.

With as many perspectives on the movement as there are practitioners, each point of view becomes a way to propel the music forward. And for about a decade, Chicago’s Psalm One has been combining the culture and a desire to better community.

“To some people, it’s really important that I’m college educated,” the MC says. “To some people it’s important that I’m a black woman. And some people don’t think I’m important at all.”

Taking her passion for knowledge to the recording booth and transitioning into the classroom is a move too few performers attempt. Psalm’s worked with America SCORES, a mentoring program, that’s taken her on a nine-city tour and resulted in the 2012 “Child Support” album—a clever play on words and stereotypes. Her newest release doesn’t include contributions from students, but the release party for “Hug Life” is doubling as a way to raise funds for the MC to visit Haiti and introduce the tutoring program to a new place. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: 2 Chainz and Pusha T/Chicago Theatre

Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »


2 Chainz, known for his ever-ubiquitous guest spots (he even made an appearance in Adidas’ latest Derrick Rose commercial), is not your typical hip-hop star. His uncanny knack for caricature work within the genre evokes the early-2000s surge of brief-speaking hype man Lil Jon, but the reality of one Tauheed Epps is something quite different from what he projects. A 4.0 GPA college graduate, Mr. Chainz’s outrageous public persona is likely more of an industry calculation—and performative satire—than the sort of legitimate homegrown silly-riling that most are buying. Paired with Pusha T, a fellow expert in the parafiction of rap—perhaps the American cultural prism in which authenticity is more scrutinized than any other—with his ceaseless did-he-or-didn’t-he braggadocio regarding a former life selling industrial amounts of cocaine, this Chicago Theatre performance should make for a top-shelf dose of opiate lying on lines between the synthesized and the truly moxie-rich. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nightmares on Wax/Lincoln Hall

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


There’s a lotta club music out there capable of summoning images of greasy-tan women and broheims doin’ rails in the bathroom or folks in shiny shirts grinding on the dancefloor. However we arrived at a point in the music’s history when that’s pretty much the norm is regrettable. But UK producer Nightmares on Wax has nothing to do with that–and in fact, has cultivated a recorded legacy that’s so far removed from those stereotypes, it’s difficult to understand how a lesser strain of the genre exists. Beginning in a time when DJ culture was coming into its own in England allowed for NoW to draw from a blinding kaleidoscope of source material, including soul, Jamaican styles and, of course, now-classic D.A.I.S.Y. Age hip-hop. Since releasing his first disc in 1991 and the pair of quintessential albums following that (“Smokers Delight” and “Carboot Soul”), he’s swung focus from genre to genre, synthesizing it all for the recently released “Feelin’ Good,” which was recorded at his farmhouse on Ibiza. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Shad/Schubas

Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »


He’s included mention of Jay Z in at least a few verses, and reviewed “Watch the Throne” for the National Post. The decided focus Shad, a Kenya-born, Ontario-raised MC, has put on one of the most popular rappers in the world is a bit confusing. Yeah, he’s rich and his buddy’s married to a Kardashian, but neither of those things has made his bloated discography anything other than middling. Shad shouldn’t carry around the desire to be a Jay Z, as he spits out pretty early on his fourth long-player, “Flying Colours.” Jay Z’s “Magna Carta” was another lame recording, and Shad’s apparently been gripped by enough inspiration to issue not just that fourth album, but a collaboration with Skratch Bastid, “The Spring Up,” in 2013. Beyond the guy’s clear ability to select proper production and write rhymes (that might not move too far beyond what we’ve all come to know as conscious raps), his story’s significantly more engaging than that New York MC’s. Shad’s family left Kenya, something he mentions on most of his releases, when he was a kid. But the successes his family’s achieved, cataloged on “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins),” pretty easily trumps bein’ poor, slingin’ crack, and issuing a truckload of boring albums. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Del tha Funkee Homosapien/House of Blues

Hip-Hop No Comments »

10.19 del @ hobRECOMMENDED

Cordoning off the Deltron 3030 project from the rest of Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s work is a tough task. When initially released, Del was about to embark on his Gorillaz odyssey, but was also engaged with his “Both Sides of the Brain”-era material. It was a watershed few years for the East Bay MC. And it’s because of that few years—not to mention raucous classics like “I Wish My Brother George Was Here” and “No Need For Alarm”—that the last decade seems like a letdown. Teaming with Def Jux should have resulted in a classic, but “Eleventh Hour” was a truncated mess. The litany of mixtapes and collaborations didn’t do much either, apart from necessitating trips back to those aforementioned nineties classics. So the news that Del, Dan the Automator and Kid Koala were set to revisit 3030, and in the company of a huge orchestra, came as a comforting bit of news. To have Del and the Automator tell it, “Event II” is better executed than the initial 3030 album. It’s hard to find a hook, though. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Blue Sky Black Death/Bottom Lounge

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10.10 blue sky black death @ bottom loungeRECOMMENDED

Expecting Blue Sky Black Death, comprising Kingston and Young God, to retain sonic gestures referring back to its 2006 “A Heap of Broken Images” is kinda ridiculous. But to hear how far the duo’s moved away from those productions is just as surprising. Beginning its recorded life with a double disc featuring guest spots by everyone from Guru to AWOL One, BSBD immediately demanded respect. Confounding listeners in favor of projects supporting Hell Razah and Warcloud, the group moved effortlessly to more thuggish affairs before skittering off to its “Late Night Cinema,” replete with would-be indie tropes. Just two years into their career, the duo seemed capable of assimilating just about any sound it felt necessary to complete a production. After working with rapper Nacho Picasso, BSBD continued its aural explorations several years on by issuing “Skull and Bones,” which counts a choice, pitched-down Black Flag sample. Nothing is in the vein of Death Grips, but BSBD’s ability to craft what’s necessary track-to-track without consideration of source material simultaneously enables the group to entice and repel listeners. Read the rest of this entry »

Barber’s Shop: How Fake Shore Drive Gives Voice to Chicago Hip-Hop

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »

Andrew-BarberBy John Wilmes

Fake Shore Drive is a Chicago-based hip-hop blog founded in 2007 by Andrew Barber. The site has been instrumental in giving voice to the city’s contemporary hip-hop scenes and stars, including Chief Keef, Young Chop, Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. I recently caught up with Barber over email.

A lot of people view FSD as a star-maker; for younger artists, this is especially the case. How much music do people send you guys, on a daily basis?
Well, FSD turns six in October, so over the years we’ve received a steady stream of submissions—and they come from all over the world. Read the rest of this entry »