Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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: 2 Chainz and Pusha T/Chicago Theatre

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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: Shad/Schubas

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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 »

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 »

Preview: Rakim/The Shrine

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Few circumstances pose a greater challenge to an artist than following up on the rapid success of youth. For Rakim, his collaboration with Eric B. cemented the legitimacy of an art form still in its budding stages. Contemporary hip-hop has his deft delivery and braggadocio to thank for decades of profitability. This does not mean that Rakim was able to reap said profits. Even after a slew of successful LPs in the eighties, his solo work since has been well regarded if not chart-topping. Hence the essential conflict: how does an artist progress beyond the youthful exuberance that enabled a foundation of inspired expression in favor of new modes of creativity? For lesser souls, it’s simply not possible to continue working without becoming derivative of your own descendants. One bears the misfortune of ripping off those who ripped one off; a copy of a copy of one’s own original. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Riot Fest/Humboldt Park

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Emo, Festivals, Hardcore, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Pop Punk, Punk, Rap, Rock No Comments »


Thirteen concurrent thoughts that afflict the bystander of a bus advertisement featuring this year’s Riot Fest lineup: I had no idea The Replacements got back together. Can you imagine how many kids will be singing along to Fall Out Boy and Blink-182? Can you imagine how many of their parents will be singing along to the Violent Femmes? Even without Kim Deal, I don’t think I can see the Pixies enough. What I wouldn’t do to see Debbie Harry duet with Danzig. It’s possible that Guided By Voices have written enough songs for at least one to appeal to every single person on the planet. Flavor Flav of Public Enemy may be the greatest reality television star who ever lived. One of the two Black Flag reunion bands is playing, and so is X, making this one of the best punk shows of the year. If you substitute Brand New and Taking Back Sunday in their place, the same can be said about emo. In fact, local pop punk bands popular in the 1990s are so well represented by the likes of Screeching Weasel, Smoking Popes, The Broadways and The Lawrence Arms, as to lend the festival an air of well-honed sophistication. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: A$AP Rocky/Congress Theater

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Photo: Verena Stefanie Grotto


Listening to A$AP Rocky’s year-old debut mixtape “LiveLoveA$AP” is like traversing a zero-gravity realm where snapshots of the rapper’s day-to-day life are projected on all sides in black, white and gold and set to music created at the bottom of the deep. He raps conversationally about being who he is, wearing progressive yet inexplicable clothing, having sex with various women knowing full well they have boyfriends, and confronting those boyfriends earnestly (“Oh that’s your girl huh?/ Well I just hit it/It’s A$AP nigga/ live with it”). Every now and then, an ulterior voice steps in, deep and drawled, and you see a close-up of him taking a swig of purple liquid from a Dixie cup. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ana Tijoux/Millennium Park

Indie Rock, Latin, Rap, World Music No Comments »


After a long period with the Chilean rap group Makiza, French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (born Ana Maria Merino) set out on a solo career. She gained recognition through a collaboration with Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas on the hit single “Eres Para Mi,” a semi-acoustic track that had a strong R&B influence and helped introduce Tijoux into mainstream Latin pop.

Tijoux was born in France to exiled Chilean parents who fled to Europe during the Pinochet regime. When democracy returned to the country in 1990, part of her family returned to their motherland, and Tijoux started her career shortly after. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Cazwell (live)

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One never hears the term “gay rapper” used to describe an artist, but that’s exactly what Cazwell is. Growing up in Worchester, Massachusetts, Cazwell began making music and performing in the Boston underground hip-hop scene. Upon moving to New York City, he began to perfect his own unique style. Drawing inspiration from legendary electro clash father, Larry Tee, Cazwell created a sound that isn’t easy to classify and has led him to collaborate with such artists as Avenue D, DJ Drama and Mike Skinner. He may spit rhymes, but Cazwell’s music is far from hip-hop. Dirty disco and electro house beats accompany the MC’s sleazy, raunchy and humorous lyrics. Songs with titles like “Watch My Mouth” and “All Over Your Face” defiantly some up what the music is all about. Taking a brake from DJing and hosting parties in NYC, Cazwell makes a stop at Berlin tonight to perform live in support of his album, “Get Into It. “ Berlin’s own Friday night resident, DJ Greg Haus, makes a special appearance tonight as well, joining the BFF team of Zebo & Heather Doble. (Zeb Resman)
Thursday, September 27 at Berlin

Spin Control: B-More Beats from Spank Rock

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

After almost literally blowing off the roof of the Biz 3 tent this summer at the Pitchfork Media Festival, Spank Rock returns to Chicago this week for another Baltimore booty assault. While the trio consisting of Naeem Juwan (aka MC Spank Rock), Alex Epton (aka Armani XXXchange) and Chris “Rockswell” Devlin proudly wear their B-more heritage on their sleeves, the group was actually formed after both Juwan and Epton had moved out of their beloved hometown. Juwan had departed to Philadelphia to try to forge a rap career, while Epton ended up in New York, eventually landing a gig as an assistant for the production duo DFA. By chance, a mutual friend of both Epton and Juwan invited them both to an art exhibition in Baltimore and introduced the two to each other thinking they might hit it off musically. Sure enough, this friend, Chris Devlin, was right, and the rest, as they say, is history.

After an immense amount of buzz from the initial singles (particularly the underground club smash, “Put That Pussy On Me”), the world was formally introduced to Spank Rock in April with the release of its debut full-length, “YoYoYoYoYo.” Featuring Juwan’s trademark raunchy lyrics and Epton’s bootylicious bass lines, “YoYoYoYoYo” was a critical smash and removed any doubt that Spank Rock would merely end up as a novelty one-hit-wonder act. In fact, Juwan likes to describe the record as “the rap version of Prince’s ‘1999’ album.” While one great record does not put a group on the level of the great purple one, Juwan’s bravado may not be that far off. Major labels have started to take notice of the B-more party fiends, and a bidding war is sure to follow. In addition to embarking on a European tour next month, Spank Rock will also be supporting Beck for a few dates this month on his current North American tour. It’s only a matter of time before Spank Rock explodes out of the underground—don’t miss this opportunity to catch them while you still can inside the quaint confines of The Empty Bottle. (Brad Knutson)

Spank Rock performs, along with DJ sets from Devlin & Darko (Spank Rock) and the Pase Rock, at the Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, on October 11 at 9:30 pm. $14.