Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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

Hip-Hop, Live Reviews, Rap, Record Reviews No Comments »

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 »

Knowledge Drop: Whimper to a Bang

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Hip-Hop No Comments »


By Craig Bechtel

The latter half of December may wind down with a whimper in terms of hip-hop happenings, but New Year’s Eve always offers a chance for the year to end with a bang; 2015 won’t be an exception.

If you’re still looking for the perfect gift to put under the tree (or menorah, cornucopia or metal pole) this year, your favorite hip-hop fan will love and/or find food for thought in “The Rap Year Book” by Shea Serrano, which features a foreword by the father of gangsta rap (and recent actual father) Ice-T. Rather than rank the best hip-hop tracks from 1979 to 2014, Serrano chooses the most important rap track from each year, defends his choice via an essay and has one of his favorite music writers rebut each choice in a 200-word sidebar. In a radio interview, Serrano pointed to 1980’s “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow as being important as the first track that features a chorus, and included Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” from 2005, despite his intense dislike for it. “The Rap Year Book”—a New York Times bestseller—was published in October by Harry N. Abrams. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

Record Review: “Repave” by Volcano Choir

Folk, Folk-rock, Record Reviews, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

RepaveI’ve never readily accepted the music of Justin Vernon. Undeniably well-crafted as it is, irresistible and viscerally affective as his voice is, something’s missing. Or maybe there’s too much of something, perhaps too much of the saccharine. Or perhaps Vernon’s sincerity goes unchecked on his independent projects (Kanye West contextualized the singer’s talents masterfully on each of his last two longforms), and I’m just unable to sign off on what’s ultimately a glitch-painted form of plain old “Americana,” which occasionally performs infectious and fascinating dances between each of its instrumental layers. I could go on. I could probably compliment Vernon’s sonic engineering all day. He’s a textural master, he’s a king of the melodic gut-punch. He could probably make me cry for weeks and weeks if he took up residency with a guitar in my family room. Read the rest of this entry »

Death Grips to Chicago: You Got Gamed

Festivals, Hip-Hop, News and Dish No Comments »

deathgripsBy John Wilmes

Scheduled into one of the headlining sets of Lollapalooza’s second day, and for a sold-out performance at The Bottom Lounge, the night prior, Sacramento-based band Death Grips (described variously as noise rock, noise rap, experimental rap and thrash rap) skipped it all. At The Bottom Lounge there was only a large projection of a fan’s suicide note behind the stage, and the venue’s announcement, moments after they themselves had learned, that the band wouldn’t be coming. In a reaction of incalculable irony, fans then rushed the stage to destroy the band’s equipment, as Death Grips’ angry, caustic tones played over the P.A.—but it later came out that this was not, in fact, their equipment. The next morning, it became clear that they never even got on a plane, and their Lollapalooza set was cancelled. Everyone had been gamed.

The internet exploded with this news. And this wasn’t the first time that Death Grips has scorned their fans, eager to see them—they’ve cancelled large stretches of tours, before, to work on new material instead—or upset the booking and distribution titans of the industry, either. Their most recent album, “No Love Deep Web,” was set to be released by Epic, but the band released it for free instead, on their website, with an erect penis on the cover art. An act of defiance that, after Death Grips refused to undo it, had them dropped from the label. Read the rest of this entry »

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2013

Chicago Artists, Classical, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Rock 1 Comment »
Cover by Colin Denney

Cover by Colin Denney

Music is alive and well and living in Chicago.

While that once might have meant records and radio and bands being signed to major labels, it’s a much more complex score these days, with artists and venues more entrepreneurial than ever. But at the core is the shift in emphasis from recorded to live music, and it’s a change that’s made Chicago a town of festivals, from the city’s bedrock blues, jazz, gospel and world music festivals, to Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, to the new electronic dance music festivals—Spring Awakening, Wavefront and North Coast—as well as the explosive growth of an old one, the Chosen Few DJs Picnic. With these shifts, the players are changing too; since we last made this list of the behind-the-scenesters, the power list if you will, most of the list has changed. This year’s forty-five include twenty-six folks who were not on the list that last time in 2009. (Brian Hieggelke)

Music 45 was written by Brian Hieggelke, Dennis Polkow and Kenneth Preski, with additional contributions by Dave Cantor, Keidra Chaney, Dylan Peterson, John Wilmes and B. David Zarley. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »

Taking the Streets by Song: A Playlist for the 99%

Lists and Guides No Comments »

By Anne Ream and R. Clifton Spargo

Saul Alinsky was right.

The late Chicago community organizer wrote in “Rules for Radicals”—a user’s manual for those seeking to overturn the status quo—that when it comes to social movements, “it doesn’t matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate it to your people.” In the absence of a clear message, “you’re not even a failure,” Alinsky warned. “You’re just not there.”

Apt advice, perhaps, for Occupy Wall Street. Buoyed by a growing public consensus that our economic system was either broken or perhaps built from the start to take from the many to benefit the few, the Occupy movement had history and hope on its side. What critics on the left and right soon asserted it didn’t have was a consistent message. Movement organizers have variously called for an end to wealth inequality, capital punishment, police intimidation, corporate censorship, joblessness, meat-eating, American imperialism, war and most recently and perhaps perplexingly, the art world’s Whitney Biennial. When reliably liberal publications such as Mother Jones note that the Occupy movement “lacks focus” and takes too much of a “kitchen sink approach,” we sit up and take notice.

To the rescue rock ‘n’ roll? Sure, rock itself has often been characterized as rebellion without focus. But there’s a time-honored tradition of protest music written into that history of rebellion, and it’s laid down the backbeat for some of the last half century’s most powerful social movements. So, a humble suggestion for the Occupy movement: fine-tune the message and keep the focus on a system that serves the 1% to the detriment of the 99%. In that spirit, we’ve mined the protest canon for its greatest anti-capitalist anthems. Part populist rallying cries, part odes of sorrow for a system serving the few rather than the many, these songs have never felt more urgent—or more necessary—than they do right now.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Primeridian/Subterranean

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop No Comments »


Back during the first few years of the aughties, Chicago’s The Primeridian, comprising See-Me-On and Race, issued “I’ll Meet You in Greenwich.” It was before Kanye dropped out of college and about the same time Common was readying the ill-advised “Electric Circus.” No one knew who No I.D. was. Still. “Musical Mirages,” a single compiled on Primeridian’s first long player, remains sturdy enough to dig up as work exemplifying the group’s style as a whole. But a lot’s happened since 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ahmad Jamal & the Chicago Jazz Orchestra/Millennium Park

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »


It is ironic that Ahmad Jamal is closing out this season’s “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” series on the eve of the opening of this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, for this single concert could well upstage this year’s entire festival lineup.

A seminal pianist and composer of immense imagination and innovation who has had a monumental influence on musicians as diverse as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jay Z and Kanye West, Jamal has had strong Chicago ties from the beginning of his career back in the late 1940s when he arrived in the Windy City from his native Pittsburgh as part of the Four Strings, soon to be reorganized as the Three Strings. Read the rest of this entry »