Over the past couple of years, Chicago has become a fertile locale for new musical talent. From Chief Keef to Chance The Rapper to The Orwells and all that’s in between, the plethora of music happening in the ‘Second City’ has some residents whispering words like renaissance and golden age. The reason for the progression is the city’s innate relationship with a series of musical movements spawned and perfected within Cook County’s borders. By playing on a cross-section of those influences and the movement created by their peers, production duo A Billion Young have positioned themselves as the next act to emerge from a crowded ground floor.
To be sure, after talking to Kun and Snapotorious for only a few minutes, it’s obvious that they make up two sides of the same brain. A true collaborative process, their music flows from one another organically while sitting squarely at a cross-section of influences, both local and not. Glenwood, their debut full-length released November 18, is the culmination of two years of work and recordings sculpted over the last nine months under the watchful eyes of Elton Chung of Classick Studios; the whole process started the first day the two met.
The 13-track offering bears the name of the Uptown street that the duo shared growing up. Although they wouldn’t become aware of one another until years later when Kun stumbled upon Snap living and creating beats at a friend’s apartment in a downtrodden apartment in Lincoln Park, the name Glenwood is a foreshadowing of the kind of shared mentality of the project as a whole, which was released for free through their website www.abillionyoung.com.
“I didn’t even know he made beats,” said Snap of that first session. “We just ended up messing around on the keyboard for awhile. We went from there and ended up creating our first song, ‘Swisher Sweets’, that first day.”
“Next Door”, the second single (and first video) off the project is a distinctly dance-centric piece, albeit without the drops, grinding bass and PLUR-tastic aesthetics that have come to characterize the genre as of late. Instead, the song carries an upbeat feel, packed with juke and footwork influence; it is progressive in nature yet steeped in motifs of earlier times. A Billion Young captures the essence of soul and disco, bringing them in line with present day production in a way Pharrell has been doing with new tracks like “Blurred Lines” and “Happy.”
That sentiment of creating something innately akin to their surroundings makes sense once their story begins to unravel. City kids since birth, Snap and Kun attended different schools growing up. While Kun attended the prestigious Payton Prep in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, Snap went to the public high school, Lane Tech. While there, he became friends with peers that would become members of the city’s SaveMoney clique, known for members Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa. It was also during this time that he would become acquainted with Verluxe, one of the premiere visual outfits in the city who have done work for Common and Twista [and who we interviewed in our second issue of Viper Mag].
“I grew up with Towkio and the SaveMoney guys and we know how they’re trying to come up, we’ve watched what they’ve done to a point,” said Snap. “I think everyone is kind of trying to reach Chance’s level of course, but I appreciate having people like them and Verluxe around. It’s good company, for sure.”
That company has been a large catalyst in the overall music movement happening here and A Billion Young appears to be the next in line to reach a national audience from their hometown. The passion is real, creating a sort of yin and yang in studio sessions that often see one removing himself for a break while the other picks up where he left off. It’s a constant process that has seen songs from the album created in a backyard around midnight, in a grandfather’s office in the suburbs of Seattle: a literal journey that requires Snap to reference scenes rather than song names when discussing the album.
As I leave the interview, heading back into the Arctic Blast of Chicago’s Wicker Park, the pair are hunched over a desktop iMac, staring intently at the brightly lit screen before them. Shaking hands and saying goodbyes, things are brief as they quickly revert their eyes to the task at hand. While on the two year journey that has led them to this point, not much has changed from that first meeting in Lincoln Park. With Glenwood in the world, though, at least one goal has been accomplished.
“We’ve wanted to make an album ever since that first song, even if it was just for us. It’s crazy because even back then we were going to call it Glenwood,” explains Kun. “But we’re always progressing. We just made a song we think is better than the whole album. We’re already on to the next.”