Chi City

Chicago Week

Last week I immersed myself in Chicago hip-hop. New York City life made me into a commuter. I hop trains to every locale, cross neighborhoods via Iron Horse more than yellow cab (no Sex and the City lifestyle here). Music and life are a collection of journeys, with some of the stations being incidental. The first stop was a Kidz In The Hall show at S.O.B.’s in New York City, courtesy of D. Solo and The Smoking Section. Just Blaze opened their set with a review of his hits between ’99 and ’04. He has enough of a resume to say that he dominated the first half of the millennium. JB worked mostly with the Roc but, both he and Kanye used the company as an incubator for their supreme talents. The New York-Chicago connection became a theme for this week, in a sense. KITH is the exemplar of a dual city venture that works on both accords. DJ Double O is a Just Blaze apprentice, learning how the cutting and mixing process makes a well chosen drum pattern flesh out a rusty sample. Naledge has rhyming propensity now characteristic of Chi-town emceeing. It’s a combination of non-stop rattling and thoughtful bragging…riding the L from South to East was a lot like this. Although Lupe may have more of a knack for lyrical variety, Naledge is a veteran in his own right with a group-specific production vehicle.

The first outfit. High School I think (?)

Now we’re in college and you can tell by our style of dress (!)

Next stop: Glow in the Dark Tour with Kanye and friends. Preaching to the converted? Kanye West made the first half of his career about proving everyone wrong, cementing himself as a legend among legends, getting his due no matter what. The concert in Chicago was the apotheosis of his theories, his triumphs. He danced on a moving platform, reeling out hit after hit in a space-age, laser light show like something out of an eighties amusement park attraction. Perhaps the rungs on Kanye’s ladder have always been warped, a few missing here or there. But his climb has been irrefutable to say the least. “Through the Wire” and “Gold Digger” are songs from men with entirely different concerns: one a tenacious underdog with every possible obstacle thrown at him; the other a man coming to grips with stardom after years of being off the radar. Duality in progress makes for perfect farewell concerts, orchestrated swan songs if you will. But this was more of an arrival concert for Ye with a legion of 16-year-old screaming white girls, hometown loyalists, hip-hop 30 somethings and all kinds in between uniting for his cause. It was as if the homecoming served as an ultimate validation of every struggle. He could not have written his story better. All we had to do was observe. However, this rallying awesomeness diminished Lupe Fiasco to his true rookie status. He is relegated to his one hit in a crowd of this size. N.E.R.D. capably trotted out there 2002 catalog to kids hungering for the electronic fix but–even with a terrific set–were overshadowed and understated. Kanye West has the boisterous tools of a rock star which places him in a different category of artists. 50 Cent is a song-maker (I’ve always believed this). Rely on him to make a hit but not to destroy a stage appearance. Jay-Z is a hustler, with enough smooth talk and game to get him through a world tour sweat-free. Kanye is our Michael Jackson, our Justin Timberlake, our Usher. Although he does more improvised dancing (see: the Jesus Walks shuffle) than choreographed line leading, his spastic motility recalls the Holy Ghost gyration of the Black Church alongside the robotic twitching of rap’s illest breakers.

Can\'t Tell Me Nothing

Chicago also introduced me to Drunken Monkeee and The High Channel, which I would have been desperately incomplete without. His charisma, performance persona and alter egos made him the Chicago tour guide for the ages. “White Lotus” he called the weed he prepared for a Swisher Sweet cigar, and then plunged me into The High Channel’s playlist. Endorsing his own music with violent head-bopping was an essential conduit for me to feel it just as much. THC’s remake of “Push It” and Ill Legit’s (the other adept emcee of the group) “Illa Noize” transported me to a fantasy world in which regional music had just as much say as national chart-toppers. “Illa Noize” got played on 107.5 with the vote of regular listeners boosting it to city-wide anthem status. There are songs like that in Brooklyn (Maino’s “Hi Hater” and before that Uncle Murda’s “Bullet”) but they are a form of appeasement to rappers who basically extort stations into “liking” them, and don’t yield enough originality to offset their violence. This is the only place I can find it.


With New York having its confused gentrifying moment, L.A. mostly giddy from a revival of Hollywood, Boston drooling over its sports championships, New Orleans in disarray from now until further notice, Chicago etched its place in my mind as a favorite city — both of my own and of the nation. Chicago is on the gentrifying path as well, maybe without the overcrowding and increased police rigidity but still tense and with awkward outgrowths like wine cellars within blocks of each other. On the verge of another defining time for the Midwest, pending migration patterns and another election in which its own hero plays a historic part, Chicago dwarfs other cities with its size and attitude. Derrick Rose, the presumptive number one draft pick this year, will bring with him the hopes of a new generation. Drunken Monkeee said to me of Chicago emcees, “The reason why we have so much attitude, and sometimes people call us arrogant is because we are from a great city… I don’t think you should have to apologize for it. I like a lot of other cities but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” That kind of loyalty warrants respect. Salute the Chi.

Chi City


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