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Old January 16th, 2005, 03:42 AM   #1
The Urban Politician
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Why doesn't Chicago have a major Hip-hop/R&B label

Chicago has one of the largest and most cohesive black communities in the US, has an enormous talent pool, is urban, hip, etc. Lots of black artists come from Chicago.

Yet when it comes time to make a major record, they fly out to NY or LA.

Well I'm tired of this crap. What's the problem here? Why not just produce the records locally, especially if there is abundant talent here?
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Old January 16th, 2005, 03:57 AM   #2
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i think now-a-days especially in hip hop its all about who helped produced you or who is guest on a certain track and if you're an emerging artist you not going to get high profile people to fly from NY or LA to lay stuff on the tracks they want you to come to them.... at least thats what i think i may be off base though i don't know much about hip hop. but heres an article from the suntimes about the hip hop scene in chicago:

Chicago: Hip-hop's tip top?

April 18, 2004


In the next 6 weeks 10 of the best will perform right here -- that's because they are from right here.

Kanye West's performance at the House of Blues a few weeks ago was a triumphant moment for Chicago hip-hop.

The 26-year-old South Side native and red-hot producer had released his debut album, "College Dropout," on Feb. 10. Barely 24 hours later, the disc was already on course to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart.

At his celebratory homecoming gig, Kanye was joined onstage for a symbolic passing of the torch by the most successful rapper that Chicago had produced to date -- Common, who broke out of the Windy City in the early '90s.

The former Rashied Lynn accompanied his younger protege on several songs, and it was clear that Common couldn't be prouder of Kanye's success -- or happier about what it might mean for the local hip-hop scene.

"My man is singlehandedly bringing hip-hop to a whole new level," Common declared. "There are going to be 10 rappers from Chicago signed in the next six weeks!"

Common was talking about the truism that nothing breeds imitation like success. And the Chicago music world hasn't witnessed success on this level since 1993.

Back then, prompted by the critical and commercial triumphs of alternative rockers such as the Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill and Veruca Salt, Billboard, the bible of the music business, ran a lengthy front-page series branding Chicago as "the next Seattle" and "the new capital of the cutting edge."

The articles ran complete with a map of Wicker Park marking the location of every venue that booked live music. Major label talent scouts descended on our town en masse with their corporate credit cards drawn, wining and dining every garage band on the scene, and a dozen local groups were signed in the months that followed.

Many of these acts were dropped just as quickly -- the alternative-rock boom was already on the wane at the time -- but for a few months, Chicago was indeed as trendy as the grunge epicenter of Seattle had ever been. Suddenly, musicians didn't have to leave home and move to the traditional industry centers of New York, Nashville or Los Angeles in orders to take their career to the next level. They could try to grab the brass ring while staying in what Billy Corgan called "the city by the lake."

More than a decade later, Kanye's "College Dropout" is hanging steady at No. 8 after seven weeks on the Billboard albums chart, and it is approaching sales of a million copies. Meanwhile, another album, "Kamikaze" by Chicago speed-rapper Twista (which features several tracks that Kanye produced), is perched at No. 18. It debuted at No. 1 nine weeks ago, and it has already been certified as platinum, with more than a million copies sold.

As these two Chicago rappers maintain a presence at the top of the charts and on radio and video play lists, the promise that Common made onstage at the House of Blues several weeks ago hangs in the air, and rappers, DJs, producers and fans are wondering if he might be right.

Will Kanye and Twista at long last usher in a golden age for Chicago hip-hop? Will 10 acts really be signed from the Windy City in the weeks to come, and, if so, who will they be? Most important, who are the local underground rappers most deserving of the national spotlight?

A Second City of hip-hop?

In terms of the amount of national attention that its rappers have received -- though certainly not the talents that it has given us -- Chicago has long been a "second city" not only to New York and Los Angeles, but also to Atlanta and Detroit.

Those cities have all produced one or more readily identifiable styles of rapping and schools of hip-hop production. But there has never been one dominant "Chicago sound."

"In Chicago, we get influences from everywhere -- that's why it's hard to have a Chicago sound," says Chris Tannehill, a.k.a. DJ Cosmo, who hosts "The Hip-Hop Project" on community radio WLUW (88.7-FM) from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturdays.

"There are influences from [New York's] Wu-Tang [Clan], and a lot of people have the Tupac influence, and [Dr.] Dre and all that [West Coast] stuff. That's why it's so hard to pinpoint a sound from here."

Allen Johnson, the publicist for the local independent label Birthwriter, agrees.

"There has been so much talent that's come out of here, but it hasn't been as genre-defining as the 'dirty South' style, where you know right off the bat that this person is from somewhere in the South," Johnson says. "Whether it's Lil' John or OutKast or Ludacris, you know where they're from just from what they talk about or their vocal clarity or things like that."

Though Chicago has produced such staggering talents as Common, No ID, Rubberoom and Malik Yusef -- as well as novelty acts such as Da Brat and H.W.A. and one-hits wonders such as Crucial Conflict and Do or Die -- the city has often been written off in many corners of the hip-hop world. The New York-based magazine the Source even went as far as describing Chicago as "a city of 3 million muth----as that can't rap."

Kanye has finally put that notion to the lie, according to Damon Dash, the CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records, the label that he started with superstar rapper Jay-Z.

"L.A. got its time, St. Louis got its time -- it's just when there is a proper individual representing and the proper venue to display his talent, then everyone gravitates to the area and the artist," Dash says. "There's been a scene out there in Chicago for a long time, but now it's coming to the masses."

Still, despite the success that Kanye has had on his label, Dash isn't looking to sign any other Chicago rappers to Roc-A-Fella.

"I'm not that much of a trend-follower; I'm a trendsetter," he says. "People are always jumping on the bandwagon. I wouldn't be surprised if they are going down to Chicago to find the next Kanye or Twista, but those are people with small visions. They should've been there from the beginning. A true A&R [talent scout] has a true ear. It's like me -- if I don't get it first, I don't want it anymore."

Many veterans of Chicago's hip-hop scene are skeptical that we'll see a flood of local artists signing to the major labels, or that lightning will strike for a third time any time soon with another Windy City rapper topping the charts. They note that R. Kelly's rise to superstardom in the R&B world -- which coincided with the alternative rock explosion in the '90s -- did not automatically translate to a rash of signings of other Chicago R&B and soul singers.

They note that Common and West both achieved their greatest success only after they left Chicago for New York (though Twista remains here, and he even told me that he hopes to open a hip-hop club in town). And all three made their biggest impacts after connecting with other artists or producers -- Common with the Roots and their extended family (including D'Angelo and Erykah Badu); West with Jay-Z, and Twista with West.

Connections with the "right" producer arguably matter more in hip-hop than in any other genre of popular music. "As far as Chicago rappers getting signed, I see it happening more through Kanye, whoever he's worked with, or Twista and his camp, than the labels coming to town to sign people in the clubs or from the streets," says rapper PNS of Chicago underground favorites the Molemen.

But perhaps the biggest factor indicating that the Chicago hip-hop scene won't be undergoing the sort of major-label feeding frenzy that the city's rock world witnessed in the '90s is the fact that the music industry today is a very different business from the one that existed a decade ago.

Corporate consolidation of the major labels, ever-shrinking rosters, an increasing emphasis on the bottom line over artist development and the industry's tardiness in responding to the challenges represented by the Internet all mean that labels are signing fewer acts than before -- and independent artists arguably need the big companies less than ever.

"There are a lot of people in this city who I think are perfectly happy with underground success -- like the Molemen and the Family Tree artists," Tannehill says. "They don't have to worry about a label telling them what to do. It might take a little longer, because they have to come up with all of the money themselves. But ultimately, they can do exactly what they want."

In this regard, Chicago's underground hip-hop scene mirrors the city's post-alternative underground rock scene, with an impressive array of diverse and original talents, a dedicated and thriving infrastructure of independent labels and a devoted following in the clubs (though the live hip-hop scene, like the underground rock scene, is having a difficult time, thanks to the city's much-publicized post-E2 club crackdown).

The next '10 in six weeks'

Whether the focus of the industry shifts to Chicago, knowledgeable hip-hop fans across the country are definitely finding their attention drawn to the city by the lake. And those who take the time to listen and explore its bustling underground are being richly rewarded.

Critics of course don't run the music world, but if I had the power to realize Common's dream -- making national stars of 10 Chicago hip-hop acts in the next six weeks -- these are the artists who I would single out to follow in the wakes of Kanye and Twista (along with Common, who has signed to Kanye's new Roc-A-Fella-distributed label and is working on producing his fifth album).


Born in Englewood as Kenny Jenkins, Diverse has built up a significant buzz for his debut album, "One A.M.," recently released on the independent Chocolate Industries label. The jazzy, soulful, genre-hopping production (courtesy of an all-star roster that includes Prefuse 73, RJD2 and Madlib) has been compared by some to the Roots' "Phrenology," while Diverse's erudite, uplifting, personal-as-political lyrics are reminiscent of Common's on "Like Water for Chocolate."

In fact, while there might not be a "Chicago sound" in terms of production, a common thread is emerging in the lyrics of many of Chicago's best rappers: They refuse to pander to the gangsta cliches that dominate so much of the music from the East and West coasts or the South. Rhyming in his quick, agile, free-flowing style, Diverse has the vision to chart a complicated tale of street violence that clams both the guilty and the innocent in "Ain't Right," and the depth to imagine "seeing" life through the eyes of the sightless in "Blindman." Tracks such as these promise great things to come.

2. J.U.I.C.E.

Renowned as one of the finest freestylers that Chicago has ever produced, J.U.I.C.E. has long been pegged as the rapper most likely to break out of the local scene and go national. In 1997, he twice defeated Eminem in freestyling competitions at the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles and the Skribble Jam. DJ Tannehill says that J.U.I.C.E.'s reputation is well-deserved.

"It seems like in the underground scenes, when most people think of Chicago, they think of J.U.I.C.E.," Tannehill says. "But I don't know if he wants to be signed and to blow up like that -- I don't know him personally, but he might be perfectly happy with the success he has. I think he would have been signed already if he really wanted to be."

J.U.I.C.E. hasn't released a full album of his own since 2001's impressive "100% J.U.I.C.E.," which was mixed by DJ Risky Bizness and featured appearances by major names like Common and Jay-Z. But he provided the lead track on last year's "The Chicago Project" compilation disc, which offered a solid overview of the local scene and also featured contributions from All Natural's Capital D, the Opus, Earatik Statik and Offwhyte and Qwel, the last two among the many strong artists who record for the ambitious Galapagos4 label (www.galapagos4.com).


Mainstays of the Chicago underground, the Molemen -- Panik, Memo and PNS -- are a trio of talented producers and sometime-MCs who could well follow the path that Kanye took to fame and fortune, hooking up with outside artists and winning recognition for their production work before garnering acclaim as artists in their own right.

On the 2001 compilation album "Chicago City Limits," the Molemen showed the range of their talents behind the mixing board by crafting tracks for some of the city's best MCs, including Pugslee Adams, J.U.I.C.E., Qwel and Capital D. Last year, they won accolades for their work on Vakill's album "The Darkest Cloud."

And as the long list of group and solo releases on their Web site (www.molemen.com) testifies, hardly a day goes by when they're not stopping by the recording studio.



David Kelly (a.k.a. Capital D) and his partner Tony Fields (DJ Tone B. Nimble) have been recording as All Natural since 1996, perfecting their mix of complex, layered musical backings and smart lyrics based on the old-school political style of "edutainers" such as KRS-One. (Their debut album, 1998's "No Additives, No Preservatives," opened with a track called "Phantoms of the Opera" that was built on a riff by Tchaikovsky and was dedicated to dissing gangsta rappers obsessed with kidnapping.)

The group enhanced its reputation with 2001's "Second Nature," and in 2002, Capital D branched out with a solo release called "Writer's Block (the movie)," which ranked with some of the sharpest, funniest, most passionate and most politically aware hip-hop that Chicago has produced.

Meanwhile, All Natural has been expanding its so-called Family Tree collective of artists. Among the others who are winning some well-deserved attention: Daily Planet, Mr. Greenweedz and especially Iomos Marad, who came on strong as a solo act with last year's "Deep Rooted" album. Rhyming and playing drums simultaneously, Marad is smart, positive and Afrocentric. In interviews, he has noted that his first name means "I'm on my own style," while "Marad" stands for "multiple abstract rhymes always directing."


Recording for their own independent Birthwriter Records label (www.birthwriterecords.com), the Nacrobats are a group of five South Side MCs -- Pugslee Atomz, Infinito: 2017, Cosmo Galactus, Thaione Davis and Psalm One -- who have won serious props both individually and collectively over a 10-year career of varied recordings and intense stage shows.

A prime introduction to the group is last year's "All Ways" album, the collective's third release. Meanwhile, the individual members' solo efforts number more than 35 at this point, with Psalm One winning the most acclaim.


One of the few female rappers making a name for herself in Chicago, Psalm One released her first solo album, "Bio:chemistry" (appropriately titled, given her day job as a chemist) in 2002. She is preparing to follow that up with another disc crafted with producers Brother Ali and Ant later this year. Birthwriter publicist Allen Johnson says the major labels are already sniffing around.


South Side resident Deandrias Abdullah made a startlingly powerful debut earlier this year with "Street Troubadour" (The Dialogue Group), a 12-track set of sharp, socially aware lyrics about the harsh realities of life on the streets paired with a sophisticated sound that blends elements of classic soul (via Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield) and cutting-edge hip-hop (with a level of gritty, soulful musicianship that places him among kindred spirits such as Common and the Roots).

Following the mold of Prince or D'Angelo, the artist played most of the instruments on record himself (including guitar, bass, percussion and keyboards), while on stage, a deft band provides solid musical backing for his impressive rhyming and pure, ringing and very Mayfield-like vocals.


An old-school spoken word artist in the tradition of the pioneering Last Poets, RedStorm has been on the scene for only about a year, but he's been turning plenty of heads, whether he's delivering his cautionary street tales on his own (infusing them with knowledge that was hard-earned during a stint in prison) or with musical backing from Andreus. He was recently featured on HBO's "Def Poetry" series, and he hopes to make his recorded debut later this year.

"The poetry/spoken word field is not a million-dollar field like rap, but I speak a real message about what I've been through -- the flip side of what everybody's talking about on the records," RedStorm says. "Kanye did that 'Jesus Walks' thing, and that's sort of on the level that I'm on. I talk about the things that wouldn't normally be said -- the drug addiction on the streets, the forgotten people in jail."


From his controversial moniker (which plays off his interracial background) to his impressive victories as a battle rapper, 18-year-old Rockford native Chris Riley has made it clear that he isn't about to be ignored. Signing to Chicago's independent ICEE Records (a Christian label, which is a real rarity in the hip-hop and R&B worlds), he is gearing up for the May 18 release of his debut album, "No Gray Area." It features some high-profile star power, with tracks produced by Kanye West and house legend Maurice Joshua, and cameos from Kanye and Twista.

Pop music critic Jim DeRogatis co-hosts "Sound Opinions," the world's only rock 'n' roll talk show, at 11 p.m. Sundays on WTTW-Channel 11 and from 10 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays on WXRT-FM (93.1). E-mail him at [email protected] or visit him on the Web at www.jimdero.com.
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Old January 16th, 2005, 09:45 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by mypetrobot

J.U.I.C.E. hasn't released a full album of his own since 2001's impressive "100% J.U.I.C.E.," which was mixed by DJ Risky Bizness and featured appearances by major names like Common and Jay-Z. But he provided the lead track on last year's "The Chicago Project" compilation disc, which offered a solid overview of the local scene and also featured contributions from All Natural's Capital D, the Opus, Earatik Statik and Offwhyte and Qwel, the last two among the many strong artists who record for the ambitious Galapagos4 label (www.galapagos4.com).

You don't know how happy I am to hear this. JUICE has defeated damn near every freakin rapper in the game, including: Eminem, Da Brat, Common, Jay-Z, he wrote the Fresh Prince's "Summertime" and a whole bunch more. Dude has been holding it down for like 15 years. I better hurry up and buy that Molemen beat before they get too popular and wanna charge Kanye prices.
Hell no
Hell yes
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Old January 18th, 2005, 02:25 AM   #4
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I know these guys have been doing some shows around the city and in the suburbs. The "Piece Keeperz." Getting a pretty big buzz in Chicago, so I've heard. I know they are trying to push their own record label.


Last edited by Uncle Sam; January 18th, 2005 at 02:31 AM.
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Old January 18th, 2005, 09:35 AM   #5
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i'm a ny head....but I gotta say right now chicago probably has the best underground scene in hip hop

Diverse put out one of the best lps i've heard in the past few years....I was following his ep's and singles..and I loved it when dude dropped the lp

I think Juice has fallen off big time though, dude can battle cats..but you know battling isn't everything...he had some good songs on "tip of the iceberg" and he's got his classics like "sincerely" and "freestyle or written" or "for my writers pt.1"

I think one cat to really look out for coming out of chicago right now is Thaione Davis...that dude is just ill

man I'd love to hit up some of those shows out there..but i'm in ny..so I gotta wait till those cats come out here.....

I been following this show, that I think is shown on local access in chicago..its called barbershop hip hop... http://www.barbershophop.com (any of you guys who live out here and watch this know if pugslee atomz came out w/ his new album?)
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Old January 19th, 2005, 05:09 AM   #6
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Though I can't comment on the current state of hip-hop, I always thought Chicago's lack of hip-hop clout had a lot to do with where it fell (or didn't fall) in the whole timeline of the hip-hop movement. Weren't all the Chicago kids off making house records (and then spinning in the UK) when hip hop was taking root and growing like a weed in NY/LA?

Africa won't steer you wrong...

...say what?

House music all night long.

...if you are interested, read the whole thing here.
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