Written By Jake Krzeczowski
Crossing the street and entering the ice cream parlor it was easy to pick out Bandman Kevo. Clad in sweatpants and a pair of Louis Vuitton sneakers, he stood out from the typical Baskin Robbins patron. Shaking hands with the rising 24-year-old hip-hop artist, who has taken his hometown of Chicago by storm with a series of lavish, gold-encrusted singles that have seen regular play both on Chicago’s Power 92.3 & 107.5 and the web, he approached the counter and ordered. After grabbing me a mint chocolate chip shake and a sundae for himself, we crossed the street, entered his building, and headed up the elevator.
Minutes later, lounging in fancy patio chairs on a swanky balcony thirty stories up in the heart of the downtown section of the city, he stared in on the swirl of whipped topping engulfed in a world away from the streets below. Casually slumped in a oversized wicker chair, he leaned back in his seat to explain the story behind the artist best known for the Chicago street anthem, “Baller In Me.”
Settling into conversation one thing was readily evident: Bandman Kevo is two people at once. A diamond and gold watch he ballparked around $60,000 and a fully loaded 2014 BMW mask a certain depth that is not readily evident in his music, a thoughtfulness that doesn’t permeate on his Instagram posts and a penchant for others and a worldview that sets him apart from his decidedly “drill” peers. Chicago’s reputation for violence and myriad gangs has been well-documented in the mainstream media as of late with the killings of Mario Hess, better known as Blood Money, cousin to Chief Keef and 21-year-old McArthur Swindle, better known as OTF NuNu, cousin of 2014 XXL Freshman Lil Durk who was gunned down in a parking lot. Kevo, though, is decidedly more Rick Ross than Suge Knight, more Frank Lucas than Al Capone as he straddles a life that was born in the streets, but now exists in the clouds.
“Honestly, I’ve never had no confrontations or nothing with anybody. It’s a different look, they know I don’t gangbang, they see me as the money man,” says Kevo. “It depends on what you’re around mostly. Like I’m around a lot of big people with a lot of money so I can rap about a lot of money. I just want to rap about richness and nice looking women.”
Money and women are constant themes throughout Kevo’s collection of loosie singles, which make up the majority of his library to date. Released over the course of just over the past year, they have created enough buzz for local tastemaker Andrew Barber, owner of FakeShoreDrive to describe Keef’s appearance on the “Baller In Me” remix to pouring gasoline on an open flame, going on to declare “The streets are now on fire. Ball ’til you fall.” Local benchmarks like the Southside’s Adrianna’s, a mainstay for big artists local and national also regularly offers up sets. Kevo’s buzz is not just contained to his hometown, though. Regular posts on WorldStarHipHop like his “Baller In Me” video which was at 4,167,252 views at press time have garnered him notoriety both in and out of Chicago for being a sort of larger than life character, risen from the city’s streets without bloodshed or violence.
As he talks, he touches on everything from the detrimental effects of reality TV to the plight of today’s college student. It’s obvious Kevo is socially aware of his surroundings, but his music is an embodiment of the other side of himself.
“Man, it’s real hard to get a real good job. Then you think: you want me to go to college but how am I gonna live?,” says Kevo, his eyes wide as he poses the question. “They’re trying to teach you to work for someone than trying to teach you to make money for yourself. That’s what it is, that’s what people don’t understand.”
Without a proper debut, and on the strength of a steady series of singles and videos, Kevo has gained a notoriety around the city and beyond that is on par with the most seasoned of vets. Songs like “Gucci Holic,” “Want My Money” and “Wonna Be” have led to plenty of buzz surrounding Fast Life. For the better part of the last year the South Side native has also released videos and tracks with the likes of Chicago hip-hop’s upper crust: Twista, who signed him to his Get Money Gang imprint earlier this year, Chief Keef and King L.
“Bandman brings something to the game that’s been missing, and that’s the hustle and the grind,” says Twista. “I think a lot of other artists get too caught up with guns, guns, guns, Twitter and Instagram. What we saw with Bandman is that he brought a realistic, full vibe that is really a breath of fresh air-to see an artist come from that direction.”
Showing off his 42nd floor apartment, empty save for a bed and a TV in the bedroom, he explains how he got to this point. Five years ago Kevo, who doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, was working in a Berry plastics factory in Elkhart, Indiana making $18/hr until a bad relationship set him off on another course.
“I saw my girl with another guy one day when I went to meet her at work,” Kevo says as he scoops a spoonful of vanilla ice cream while peering downwards, into the sprawling Millennium Park. “A bad relationship definitely changed me. I was probably 18 or 19 but a bad relationship definitely changes your whole mentality on females and starting to know females aren’t all they were supposed to be.”
That experience spurred him to quit his job and invest full-heartedly into his rap career, an investment that seems to be paying off as of late. Kevo has experimented with hip-hop from a young age, kicking freestyles in high school and on break while at the Berry factory. The betrayal, paired with the feeling that he already had the money most artists aim for, forced his hand, quitting the job and bankrolling that hard work into a rap career. When he says that money plays a large role in his music, he isn’t kidding.
His music is an extension of elegance and high-living. Without espousing visions of bodies and violence along the way, Kevo represents a new sort of upper level, big money street artist for a city that has grown sick of the killings, especially in the wake of 82 gunshot victims over the course of 84 hours during Fourth of July weekend.
As anticipation continues to build for his debut project, Fast Life, slated for July 28, Kevo is a living embodiment of the mixtape’s title. The project to feature the likes of Keef and Louie will be his opportunity to prove his craft as a full body of work. To this point he has the look, the sound and the funding. Fast Life could well be the measuring stick as to whether or not he has the staying power to prove relevant in the long haul. Nearing the end of our conversation Kevo sets the plastic cup on the marble end table, haphazardly leaving a moist ring. Already living a life few ever realize, he explains his reasons for entering the rap game.
“Why not, you know what I’m saying? Because a lot of people come from the struggle when they rapping and then they make it big and they’re just at the same level,” he says. “I’m financially [good] right now, so I feel ahead of the game already. We just gonna keep going up.”