[Feature] Meet Vic Mensa’s Chicago Hip-Hop Collective SaveMoney

If you’re at all familiar with the burgeoning Chicago hip-hop scene, then the name SaveMoney should carry some weight; the multi-faceted collective has been at the forefront of the local scene for some time. Championed by Vic Mensa, the crew of longtime friends is comprised of 20-something creatives, students, artists, activists and entrepreneurs counting the likes of Chance The Rapper, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment band in its auxiliary ranks. While not exclusively a hip-hop group, SaveMoney has become a force in the rap world with a packed lineup that is both based in the nuances of classic hip-hop and pushing the envelope for what the genre entails.

It’s a patchwork of styles, aesthetics and sounds that make up the whole, much like the city they’re from. Hailing from a place billed as one of the “most segregated cities in the world,” children are gunned down for walking on the wrong block in their own neighborhoods. SaveMoney, with members that come from all sides and corners of the city, operates as a uniting force that is representative of the future while staying rooted in the facets that have paced Chicago for generations.

While many may know of Vic and Chance, both of whom were XXL Freshmen in 2014, the group boasts a wide-ranging variety of hip-hop intonations that run the gamut of what listeners have come to expect from the Midwest and has allowed the roster to develop into a “next-up” type of situation that has seen each artist release critically-acclaimed projects, sell out local venues and find fans both in and out of their city in the process. Unlike New York City or Los Angeles, Chicago isn’t particularly known for its forward-thinking fashion, it’s artistic intonations or eye for aesthetics. However, this band of kids, raised in the Internet age, is representative of the contemporary, progressive thinking of a new generation that has not only pushed the envelope, but found eyes and ears across the country in the process. While the north, south and west sides of the city may be geographically close, they can often feel like completely different places with separate sub-cultures and influences throughout. SaveMoney, however, has relied on an interplay of every side and corner of the city to create a truly layered representation of their hometown that defies any set boundaries in the process.

Last year, Vic Mensa performed for the second time at Lollapalooza, a festival he almost died sneaking into, and joined Chance on the final night as a headliner. With as much diversified talent as SaveMoney has as a whole, it’s not out of the question to think that might become a regular thing for years to come. The collective has grown, matured and seems ready to take on anything in it’s path, while still remaining close friends in the process. XXL spoke to Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, Towkio, Caleb James, Brian Fresco, KAMI, Dally Auston and Sterling Hayes to find out what makes them tick. —Jake Krzeczowski

Vic

Vic Mensa

Age: 21
Neighborhood: Hyde Park
Required Listening: Innanetape
Twitter: @VicMensa

Vic is the bonafide general of SaveMoney and he’s got the logo tatted on his arm to prove it. Mensa has been blazing trails for Chicago hip-hop since releasing his Straight Up EP at age 16. The 2014 XXL Freshman followed that up by joining the genre-bending band Kids These Days, and after the group’s breakup in early 2013 he re-asserted himself as a singular solo act unafraid to push the boundaries of hip-hop by mixing dance, punk and house aesthetics into his rapid-fire wordplay. At 21, he’s poised to be the leader of a new face of Chicago hip-hop alongside good friend Chance The Rapper. For him, though, it’s nothing new. Vic has been setting trends and bringing his city together musically since he was a freshman in high school. The South Side native crisscrossed the city often, linking together the groups of friends that would form the SaveMoney collective in the process.

XXL: A lot of people credit you with somewhat connecting the city and being a catalyst for this group all knowing one another. Was that something you were conscious of from a young age?
Vic Mensa: I always ran in different circles around the city, which is something I think can be said for a lot of us from the gang, so it was pretty natural how we all came together. I was skating and writing graffiti and getting fresh on the North Side, even though I’m from Hyde Park, which is a lot of the same shit Joey was doing. So we linked up before high school even started. We all really just connected as like-minded, rebellious, creative kids, man, fucking up the status quo.

Chicago is a city known for its segregation (North/West/South) but SaveMoney seems to be representative of the city as a whole.
SaveMoney is representative of all faces of Chicago. We got niggas from every side of the city and every hood; we just speak to a lot of people’s realities. Some of us graduated magnet school, some of us ain’t finish high school, some of us are touring the world and some of us are still 200 percent in street shit.

Did you ever think SaveMoney would be at the point it is today?
I always felt like SaveMoney was something missing [from] the culture and something necessary. We used to just sit in the lunch room in high school and plot on everything; music, fashion, visual art, social change, all that shit. And now we’re just more in a position of actualizing the things we’ve always been focused on.

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?
Traffic on the way from me. That’s gonna change this whole shit up. Towkio’s Wav Theory is gonna fuck shit up. Leather Corduroys’ Season out now, we’re pushing that shit global right now. I’m in New Zealand and some kids just stopped me on the street and asked me about Leather Chords. That shit is crazy. Joey and KAMI solo shit coming too. Fresco, Dally, Sterling, you know. Everybody coming heavy this year.


Towkio

Towkio

Age: 21
Neighborhood: Northwest Side
Required Listening: Hotchips & Chopstix EP
Twitter: @Towkio

Formerly known as Tokyo Shawn, the ponytail-wearing Towkio is one of the squad’s most flexible talents. Last year’s Hot Chips & Chopstix underlined his ability to seamlessly move across a bevy of sounds while possessing an innate aesthetic that is hard to compare. A quarterback in high school on the city’s Northwest Side, Towkio is a natural leader with a sort of nervous tick that keeps him seemingly in constant motion, a facet that is evident throughout his up-tempo tracks like “American Apparel Girls.” Proving the kind of range evident throughout the SaveMoney roster, Towkio isn’t afraid to sing a hook, rap off-beat or take risks both in sound and fashion and consistently proves it with rousing performances. His upcoming Wav Theory project has been in the works for the last year or so and is one of the most highly anticipated projects out of Chicago this year.

XXL: Do you think the competition amongst everyone in SaveMoney is what helps you all create different sounds and styles?
Towkio: I think it’s moreso we kind of hold ourselves to a higher standard of everything, so through that we push each other and we all are individuals. So that’s why you see the individuality. It’s not because we’re trying to be, it’s just ’cause we are and since we all have higher standards you get to see each person’s individuality.

Do you feel as though SaveMoney is responsible for a “new wave” of hip-hop in Chicago?
I don’t necessarily think it’s a new wave at all because there’s been people like us that’s existed this whole time. The fact that we, for the most part—everyone is a smart individual. So we were able to get the things we want and be able to avoid bad situations. We know how to finesse and shit. I don’t think that it’s a new wave but it’s something that’s being seen now, we’re the kids that was out here. We didn’t necessarily have to take full part in gang banging and all that shit because that shit is really lame, you know what I mean? It’s just people with their head on better, you know? I don’t think it’s a new thing but it’s new to everyone else.

Why should the world care about SaveMoney?
Because I feel like we have been partaking in defining our culture since the Internet. We are the Internet generation, we’re bridging the gap. We’re the last generation that didn’t have Internet at one point, so we taking it as far as we can. We’ve been a part of it so therefore we have been advancing it since we’ve been a part of it for so long; listening to music, downloading mixtapes, being up on releases, streetwear, fashion, all that. They’re all little things, but as as you get older you realize that you’ve been a part of this for a long time. I feel like us taking part in it, coming from our city it means a little bit more because there’s not people like that like there are in New York or L.A. In Chicago, it doesn’t really exist, but it’s also more genuine coming from here.

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?
I would say Sterling. But really, all of us. Because this year I’m about to go crazy, Joey about to go crazy, Kene [KAMI] about to go crazy. Sterling about to go crazy, but on some coming out-type shit.


JoeyPurp

Joey Purp

Age: 21
Neighborhood: All Over Chicago
Required Listening: Season
Twitter: @JoeyPurps

One of the most consistent faces that come to mind when SaveMoney comes up, Joey Purp is the heart of the collective at large. Last year, as part of a documentary series on Chicago hip-hop, Noisey followed Mensa as he scrounged up enough money to bail Joey out of jail. While that may have been a questionable look, there’s no denying that Joey Purp is a force to be reckoned with. A purveyor of a style unto itself, Joey possesses the innate rapping ability and penchant for off-kilter wordplay that has kept him in the conversation of the top artists out of Chicago despite not releasing a solo full-length since 2012’s The Purple Tape. He recently teamed up with KAMI to release Season as the duo Leather Corduroys, which has been a favorite first-quarter debut and a preview of what’s to come for one of the most anticipated acts out of Chi-Town.

XXL: How did everything begin and where does the name SaveMoney come from?
Joey Purp: It really just started from like our lifestyle and how we lived when we were young, like fifteen, sixteen, and got the name literally just from saving money, preserving and just trying to stay self-sufficient. Whether it was taking our $20 a week that our parents would give us and holding it for a month and buying some shoes. Just finding ways to make things happen without spending money, just preserving, the idea of preservation and self-sufficiency.

What’s it like to go through the levels of music today and have close friends to look to for advice?
I feel so fortunate and so grateful because it’s just so inspiring. The same way that kids from the outside would look at Chance or Vic or anyone from the Social Experiment band. Nico [aka Donny Trumpet], for instance, who traveled with Frank Ocean all last year, he’s just been playing his trumpet every day since he was probably seven years old. When he was in his room playing his trumpet, waking his parents up, they had the insight to not stop him because they thought he might do something with this. So yeah, I think I’m 100 percent grateful to be around these people that are just passionate and positive and creative.

Having so much talent in one group of people, what’s the competition like between everyone?
Early on, it was competitive just because we’re all men and men have competitive natures typically, and we would try to out-dress each other and then eventually try to out-rap each other. And it was down to like, if we were at the beach it would turn into a foot race; just competition like that, friendly competition. But I think we’re just all really into being us individually which makes the collective so diverse, because we don’t have a theme or a themed lifestyle or something that we all do. We are just all really, really into promoting being yourself. And then when you have a group of people as large as us there’s going to be a lot of different selfs, and it just comes out as an eclectic bunch.

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?
Sterling. Just because nobody really knows his music yet because he’s been holding it. He’s been working, he’s been honing his craft. We all rap for fun but he started taking it seriously a little bit later so it’s understandable that he would be taking his steps to get better more cautiously. With us we kind of made the mistakes but made the decision to put out very early recordings that weren’t really fully-formed ideas yet. But he’s had the opportunity to have his first look be when he’s older and more mature and had more insight from everybody doing it being around him, and he’s just way better than any of us were when we first started. His first project is going to be from the perspective of a 21-year-old man with insight that has been through life, rather than as a reckless teenager.


Brian Fresco

Brian Fresco

Age: 21
Neighborhood: Ida B. Wells (South Side)
Required Listening: SoulMoney
Twitter: @BrianFresco

You’ll often find Fresco in the cut, a hood covering his head and a couple strands of hair obstructing his face. A former resident of Chicago’s infamous Ida B. Wells housing projects, his sound brings a certain grittiness to the SaveMoney group that is less evident throughout. His 2013 release, Mafioso, featured nearly every member of the larger collective and was a teaser for the more polished, engaging SoulMoney release which dropped just before the new year, alongside fellow Chicago MC Tree. Fresco’s voice stands tall in the shadows throughout while his writing pairs typical Drill thematics with a more carefully nuanced observation of the world.

XXL: What is your role in the overall framework of SaveMoney?
Brian Fresco: It’s really not a role; I’m me at the end of the day. Everyone is their own person, we just homies, it’s gang shit. There’s not really roles or levels or anything, we all just get down how we live. I’m the guy who’s mostly attached to the streets; I still have ties there and I think it shows through in the music. You can tell that I kind of have one foot in and one foot out.

How would you describe SaveMoney?
SaveMoney is a breath of fresh air for Chicago. We’ve got so many different sounds and aesthetics we can touch, it’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t say we’re, per se, changing it, because to the masses we still kind of at times can make music similar to that sound because some of us like that type of music and we’re going to make it because we make what we like. It’s why you hear a whole bunch of different sounds and stuff from us because we like to make what we like to hear. The styles of music we like to listen to, it reflects throughout the actual music. I guess we may put a little more effort into the process of creating the lyrics but it’s all the same thing as far as the messages. We’re just painting our pictures with a little more color.

What’s a common misconception people have about SaveMoney?
People typically think that we’re a group of kids that is the complete anti-drill, like we aren’t from the neighborhoods that we come from, like we’re just a bunch of kids that wear skinny jeans and shit like that. But it’s not really like that. It’s kids that come from everywhere. It’s kids that are from the same neighborhood as Chief Keef that are in SaveMoney. Kids from the West Side, from the South Side, some of everything. People kind of confuse that; they forget that we’re still from Chicago. People have to remember that we’re still from Chicago and Chicago does reflect in our character and our music.

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?
Sterling.


KAMI

KAMI

Age: 21
Neighborhood: Bronzeville/Hyde Park
Required Listening: Season
Twitter: @KamiDeChukwu

Formerly Kami De Chukwu, KAMI makes up one half of the Leather Corduroys duo with Joey Purp. One of the more veiled members, KAMI has developed at a consistent pace over the last couple of years, taking notes from those around him in the process. The result is a fully-fledged MC with a mind for rhyming that seems to be perpetually tongue-in-cheek. As part of the duo he balances out Joey’s more frenetic pace with carefully chosen flows that seem ready at any moment to careen over the edge into full-on mayhem. Toeing the line carefully, his verse on the pair’s “In The Club” track off Season is perhaps the perfect indication of just what he can do, both artistically and as a rapper.

XXL: How did you end up with SaveMoney?
KAMI: This shit is family; I’ve known half of these naggers all our lives. Most of us, I think we all cliqued up in high school, freshman or sophomore year, just on some natural shit. Organically we met and became friends, we all just happened to have an affinity for music, or be good at music. I should say—everyone can make music. But yeah, those are my homies, my family.

Having Vic step out with such an eclectic library of music, does it allow everyone else to explore different creative spaces?
I think that shit was naturally in him as it’s naturally in some of us. Like, me and Joey just dropped our project, Season, and we touched on a lot of genres. There’s just a lot of different influences that are outside of hip-hop. There’s a lot of punk influence in the shit; even just in terms of lifestyle there’s a lot of punk influence. It does give us a platform, thankfully, that Vic kind of diverted from rap a little bit, but it allows us to do that in a different way, not in the same way because that’s where we would drop the ball, if we were all doing the same thing. Him opening the door definitely allows us all to be a little weird. [Laughs] Like we some weirdo rappers.

You all seem to have a friendly competitive streak between you.
It’s hard. There’s definitely pros and cons of it. Like, in the pro section I would say it gives us a platform to kind of piggy back off of each other. There’s no denying that. But in the same sense it’s like everybody has to be up to par, otherwise you’ll be like the standout weak nigga and you just can’t have that. Hip-hop in general is competitive, so within your own circle you have to be able to keep up. Everything looks cohesive; nobody’s just rapping because everybody else is rapping.

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?

Off the bat, my brother Joey. I think Joey, no bullshit. Not even because that’s my brother but Joey is probably the best rapper alive, no bullshit. It’s crazy, I think people should pay attention to Joey. I can’t stress it enough.


DallyAuston

Dally Auston

Age: 23
Neighborhood: West Side
Required Listening: WestSideEP
Twitter: @DallyAuston

SaveMoney’s lone West Side-born MC, Dally Auston, brings a loose, fun vibe to the group that is juxtaposed against his sometimes grittier subject matter. One of the older members of the crew, he has carved a lane for himself by borrowing from ideas and sounds from fellow West Siders like Saba, Z-Money and the bop movement, all of which he pulls together into a distinctly arranged aesthetic that stays cloaked in the type of real world motifs that come from growing up in an area long known for its lack of grass and high drug sales. It’s at once harrowingly real and unabashedly hopeful, and his WestSideEP was a glimpse of what Dally can do when he really channels all parts of himself and where he’s from.

XXL: How did you come across SaveMoney?
Dally Auston: Around like my junior or senior year of high school I was going to ACT Charter, and this band was finna start named Kids These Days. And I knew this dude named Greg [Landfair] from a friend of mine who was all connected. Me and Greg would always be rapping or whatever and Greg had this band he was starting. He asked me if I wanted to rap in the band and I was like, “Nah, I’m good.” I was just rapping, I didn’t really grasp what they were going to do.

So over time I just continued to rock with Greg and make music and they picked this rapper named Vic Mensa. And I would always be at the Trap [Kids These Days’ old practice space in Music Garage] and I would meet these kids that went to Whitney Young [High School on the West Side] or from the South Side or whatever, and we would just be making music. Kids These Days was kind of the beginning of me and SaveMoney; it was just more of like a family, and that’s who I’ve been riding with ever since.

Do you think SaveMoney is more representative of Chicago than other rap cliques?
I’m not going to say that, but we definitely just do our thing. Because you can compare us to the A$AP Mob, you can compare us to whoever you want, but we do us. GBE as well, they’ve broken up and then came back together. They represent the city well, showing what’s going on. We’re touching from different aspects; it’s what the music is doing in general. But when you want to talk about representative of the city you’re talking about the truth, basically, and those artists are telling the truth. We’re telling the truth, but not only that, and we’re having fun with it. It’s all a perception though; that’s definitely what we’re doing.

SaveMoney hails from all sides of Chicago. What does that mean to someone who might not understand the city?
All my homies [are] from the South Side and I’m from the West Side; two different places. So them bringing me to the South Side, I get a whole different aspect of shit. When I’m always up North I’m talking to these up North people—way different from out West. When you go out West it’s police cars and people in the streets; down South is different. We all telling different stories, different sides, but we all come from different places and that’s what we represent. People always ask me what it is being from the West Side. It’s just made me who I am. Them growing up on the South Side just makes them who they are and that’s just some Chicago shit. From the weather to anything, this city just makes you who you are.

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?
Sterling. Sterling Hayes.


Sterling Hayes

Sterling Hayes

Age: 21
Neighborhood: Hyde Park (South Side)
Required Listening: N/A
Twitter: @SterlingHaze

At age 21, Sterling stands as SaveMoney’s best kept secret. The Hyde Park native has been around the group since its inception, having gone to elementary school with Vic, yet didn’t rap seriously until deciding to hone in on his craft over the last few years. To date, his catalog is sparse, save for several talented guest verses on Brian Fresco’s SoulMoney or his “Father’s Son” single with Joey Purp. But his buzz right now is growing rapidly.

On February 14 he headlines Reggie’s Rock Club on the city’s South Side, a proving ground for local hip-hop that has seen everyone from Rockie Fresh to The Cool Kids to Lil Durk grace its stage. The only difference between Sterling and those other artists is Sterling will do it without a proper debut. His raps come bundled in calculated fury and he’s a favorite amongst his peers to break out this year with his upcoming BigShorty EP.

XXL: What’s it like to have the opportunity to do something you love and have the potential for success with your friends?
Sterling Hayes: We have a unique group of individuals, so we always knew something was in store with us. We didn’t predict it, but we knew there was something special. Even Chance, with his success, I saw it coming. But man, I met him through Nico [Segal, aka Donnie Trumpet] in like fuckin’ seventh, eighth grade. Back then we was all chillin’, all on the same shit, really. It’s not forced; it’s beautiful, man. I get to kick it with my brothers doing shit that 20, 19, 21-year-olds [are] not doing right now and it’s definitely a blessing that we can all trust each other. That’s the main thing—we all brothers at the end of the day. It’s organic, it’s natural. We gonna go far together.

Where do you see SaveMoney going long-term?
In 10, 15 years I definitely see us opening some businesses, restaurants. Definitely giving back to the community that raised us, do whatever we can for the next generations. I see SaveMoney propaganda, memorabilia, everything. SaveMoney shirts, lunch boxes, whatever; just product. And I think we can do whatever we want with it. I’m still in such awe about all of this that I haven’t even thought of all the possibilities, so there’s still so much more to come. But giving back is definitely number one on my priority list right now, and then definitely getting some property and businesses. Just doing more than music.

How important is the overall collective to you personally?
In a way, I don’t really listen to anyone but myself and my homies, like on a fan level and just on a competition level. Those guys, they my only competition, really. I follow their music, I can see all the progression with them, with everybody. So that’s just my drive. Like, my mixtape gotta be hotter than the others or I gotta do more numbers than you, or my video gotta be hotter than yours. But we all still friends at the end of the day; it’s like a friendly competition. I think our sounds are different because I don’t listen to nobody but myself and SaveMoney—and, of course, all the people that’s hot right now—but I definitely get my style and my drive to go hard from these guys. Just to be even with my homies is crazy, because they all the hottest out to me, so why not try to be better than them?

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?
Definitely Joey, he a beast. He’s my favorite rapper, and I’m not just saying that because that’s my homie. But he one of the best rappers in Chicago to me.


untitled-179-2

Caleb James

Age: 23
Neighborhood: All Over Chicago
Required Listening: The Jones
Twitter: @CalebJamesFBSM

The R&B flavor of the SaveMoney team has been a part of things since day one. With a smile never far from his face, the 23-year-old creates music that finds a way to stand outside the varying soundscapes of the rest of the group by combining aspects of 1990s crossover acts with more contemporary hip-hop stylings. His The Jones project was a well-received release that proved he could function both as a punchline rapper and an auto-tuned ballad singer while being fully functional behind the boards, producing much of his own music. Stationed in L.A. for the time being, expect another rousing full-length to come from his sun-soaked days out West recording with the likes of No I.D.

XXL: Why should the world care about SaveMoney?
Caleb James: The world should care about SaveMoney because we have something to bring to the table. We have a different light to shine. We all individually have our own distinctive sounds, so I think that’s awesome. And we ain’t a rap clique, we’re a family.

What is a common misconception of SaveMoney?
I think the common misconception is that we’re just a rap group. No, we’re just a big ass family that happens to rap. We never started SaveMoney as a rap group. That wasn’t on any of our minds, it just happened that way.

What’s your role in the larger framework of SaveMoney?
I’m both an artist and a producer, so I approach things from both sides in that sense. I see myself just being a help and an asset to all of my brothers, whether it’s on or off the track.

Does having so many different artistic aesthetics throughout the group drive you to explore new territories musically?
All the time. I’m always finding out new music and ways to express myself through sound because of my bros. I think all of us have a rich taste in music.

Who should the country be looking out for this year from SaveMoney?
I think people should be on the lookout for Joey Purp, Sterling Hayes and Brian Fresco. This year is ours

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