Chris Classick started his studio out of his parents basement over fours years ago. Today, he oversees one of the busiest sound booths in Chicago with a team of engineers and a client list that would make even the most on-point blogger blush. I remember stopping by last summer before North Coast festival as Chance The Rapper and his production team were cutting the early versions of “You Song” with Lil Wayne with tireless engineer Elton Chueng.
To be honest, stopping by the studio located on the near west side of the city at any time of the day or night could mean bumping into a who’s who of the local scene that makes the installation of a revolving door a solid investment. If you’re listening to anything coming out of the indie side of Chicago, there’s a good chance it was recorded at Classick Studios.
Just down Chicago Avenue from Classick is another bastion of the local scene here, Soundscape Studios. The studio is home to Chicago’s independent hip-hop label, Closed Sessions. Led by Alex Fruchter and Soundscape owner Mike Kolar, the label has championed the current wave of new artists, first through a continuing series of ‘Closed Sessions’ where artists from outside of the city are brought in to work with local artists and by working individually with acts like ShowYouSuck, Vic Mensa and Tree, among others.
The sole signee thus far, Alex Wiley, released his sophomore project, Village Party, on June 5 and has been the main focus of the start-up since incorporating last year as a label. Fruchter describes the label as a sort of Rawkus or Decon for Chicago and operates as such, allowing talented artists from all sides of the city a chance to have their music recorded and heard.
The boutiques around the city are very much in tune with the artists that make up the scene here. The listening party for Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap project was held at Jugrnaut‘s South Loop storefront, with lines snaking around the block last year, and since opening in 2007 it has become a stalwart among the boutiques operating within the city’s limits. Chosen by the Chicago Reader as the “Place Where Music and Fashion Meet,” Jugrnaut is the only place to buy the official Treated Crew “Treated Crowns,” and with an ever-evolving list of listening parties, music video premieres and assorted events and sponsorships, it’s evident how important it is to the scene as a whole. Along with general support, co-owner Manny “Muscles” Rodriguez is the former DJ for ShowYouSuck and can often be found behind the decks across the city, while local artists like St. Millie are a constant behind the counter and on the couches around the store.
A pair of unlikely breeding grounds, YCA and YouMedia have given birth to much of the new wave of poetic, thoughtful hip-hop that has produced 2014 XXL Freshmen like Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper. YCA, the after-school program led by Kevin Coval, is where I first saw acts like Donnie Trumpet, Saba, Taylor Bennett and NoNameGypsy, and consistently provides entertaining artists each Thursday. Meanwhile, YouMedia, located in the South Loop area at Harold Washington Library, has cultivated a similar sense of mystique, frequently being shouted out on Chance’s Acid Rap (“And I’m still Mr. YouMedia”) and functioning as a launching pad for artists like Lucki Eck$, among many others. Essentially, if there were a chicken and the egg conversation about the current state of Chicago hip-hop, it would hatch at one of these two places.
The place known as Reggie’s Rock House has been a mecca for the rising hip-hop scene here in Chicago over the past three years. Essentially, a local artist isn’t on until he sells out his first Reggie’s headliner, and the venue has become a benchmark for local acts, hosting early shows for the likes of Chance, Vic, Alex Wiley, Z Money, Calez and plenty more. Shows like FakeShoreDrive’s showcase there on June 11 featuring Juvenile alongside locals like Chris Crack, Sicko Mobb, Kit and Supreme Cuts are the kind of events the buzz going and the talent percolating.
When talking about the change in attitudes and success in hip-hop here in Chicago, many point to the venue’s willingness to put on for local talent and provide a stage for which artists here could perform as one of the catalysts to the building of a true scene and forced the hand of similar venues across the city to take notice of the genre as a real movement.