Category Archives: Features

A slow and steady climb wins for Trampled by Turtles

By Jake Krzeczowski January 23, 2013 1:56PM

Originally Appeared for Chicago Sun-Times

Updated: January 23, 2013 2:06PM

In an age when a kid in a YouTube video can become a star overnight, Trampled by Turtles’ steady climb to popularity is a refreshing reminder of the days when artists were judged on the quality of their music.

In today’s music world, “making it” has become relative as the Internet and conglomeration of digital music have made it harder than ever to gauge the path for success.

If ticket sales still count, the folk/bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles, who play a sold out show Thursday at the Vic, may have found a measuring stick.

Trampled By Turtles has steadily risen up the charts
Trampled By Turtles has steadily risen up the charts

The band’s steady rise has been as much a surprise to the members as anyone else.

“So far. the tour has gone way past our expectation,” said Ryan Young, who plays the fiddle and lends back-up vocals. “Just about every show we’ve played has been sold out and some are selling out in advance, which is incredible. So far, so good.”

So good, indeed. The Duluth, Minn., band got its unusual name from a collaborative brainstorming session in which band members chose a moniker “they didn’t totally hate.”

That was in 2003. Since then, slow and steady has won the race for Trampled by Turtles by remaining consistent and knowing what fits the band’s sound.

The band really burst onto the national landscape with its 2010 release, “Palomino.”

“We just did the same thing, or didn’t do anything particularly different when ‘Palomino’ came out,” Young said. “That one did better than our previous work and we didn’t change much with our latest release, ‘Stars and Satellites,’ but that did even better than ‘Palomino.’ ”

With 2012 in the rearview, the band has no plans to stop any time soon, with festival dates peppering its schedule, with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado on June 20-23 circled in particular.

If nothing else, Trampled by Turtles won’t be caught off-guard in front of the sold out crowd at the Vic.

“There’s a lot of good acoustic music acts out there that don’t get as much recognition as we do and I can’t really say why,” Young said. “I think it’s something in our songs that really resonates with people; we’re definitely excited to bring that to our fans in Chicago.”

Jake Krzeczowski is a free-lance writer. Follow him on Twitter: @jakekrez.

Behind Yaneisha Franklin’s smile is the gritty hip-hop of Sasha Go Hard

By JAKE KRZECZOWSKI January 10, 2013 8:03PM

Originally Appeared for Chicago Sun Times
 If her stage name were not evidence enough, Yaneisha Franklin, better known as Chicago hip-hop artist Sasha Go Hard, doesn’t take this music thing lightly.

Her music mirrors that mentality and largely reflects her life.

With acts like Chief Keef and Lil’ Reese bringing the hip-hop spotlight to Chicago, the city has become known for a style of rapping known as “drill.” The subgenre, which is rife with sputtering snares, uptempo rhymes and the sounds of gunshots in the background, has been largely dominated by men.

Enter Sasha Go Hard. At first glance. the petite 20-year-old Hyde Park native may not look like she fits the part of a “drill rapper,” but her disarming smile offsets a gritty demeanor..

While many have benefitted from the spotlight focused on the city, Sasha Go Hard has managed to build her name elsewhere on the strength of a well-received performance at the 2012 MTV Sucker Free Chicago event, where she showcased her mixtape “Do You Know Who I Am?” That led to a set at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City in October. She will perform Friday at the Hotel Victor Lounge.

“I’ve really been able to build a solid following out East, and it’s always so much fun to go to New York,” she said. “It’s crazy, though, because every time I leave Chicago, it’s just so good to come back and feel the love.”

IMG_9651As one of only a few female hip-hop artists to emerge from Chicago with a national following, Sasha Go Hard is also blazing a trail for young women like herself to pursue their artistic dreams.

“Every day I think about it, I feel really blessed because I’m not the only one who’s doing this but I’m getting the attention I deserve,” she said. “It’s just me being who I am, which I think shows others out there that it is possible to be successful in hip-hop as woman.”

Last year was big for Sasha Go Hard, with two critically acclaimed mixtapes, as well as co-signs from the likes of Azealia Banks, Trinidad James and Rockie Fresh, and a collaboration with Electronic guru Diplo.

She is now preparing to drop her latest project, “Round 3,” in February. The project features production from Absolut P, Block, Diplo and Chicago’s own Tony Roche, and is hosted by fellow local DJ Victoriouz.

If the past year is any indication, Sasha Go Hard doesn’t look to soften her approach any time soon.

“One thing in music I’ve learned so far is that you can be on and then off very quickly, so I just want to make sure the music I put out is consistent,” she said. “‘Round 3’ is going to be crazy, and I’m excited to have people rocking with me. I’m ready.”


Jake Krzeczowski is a locally based free-lance writer. Follow him on Twitter: @jakekrez.

Hip-hop artist evolves, finds wider audience

By Jake Krzeczowski January 9, 2013 5:42PM

Originally Appeared for Chicago Sun-Times
 For Clinton Sandifer, life is all about doing what makes him happy.

That he’s best known as Chicago hip-hop artist ShowYouSuck is beside the point. A former student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sandifer, 27, is evolving into a new-age renaissance man by finding many ways to bring his voice to a larger audience.

Along with his music career, he also helps run a tattoo shop, Code of Conduct, and an art gallery, Artpentry, both in Pilsen. Along with all that, he is also the face behind his own fashion label, Slurpcult. It’s all part of a dynamic persona that Sandifer projects to the world.

“I want you to be a fan of me before the music, the relationship is stronger that way,” he said. “If this messed up tomorrow, I can go back to working at a skate shop or art gallery. It allows me to make my music freely, there’s no desperation, music isn’t my last resort.”

To celebrate the release of the final part of his trilogy “One Man Pizza Party” titled “Rest in Pizza,” he will perform Saturday with Chicago-based artists St. Millie and Warhound at the Bottom Lounge.

The lineup reflects the album, which features a blend of hip-hop and rock. To be sure, Warhound and St. Millie are widely different acts. The former is a suburban hardcore rock quintet while the latter is part of the Treated Crew hip-hop collective (along with ShowYouSuck), who delivers thoughtful, poetic lyrics.

As Sandifer explains it, the way the show is set up mirrors the way he began his career performing in and around

Chicago hip-hop artist ShowYouSuck (akClintSandifer)


“I started out playing hardcore shows with bands in the suburbs,” he said. “That was the first scene that really embraced me musically, and I’ve only really been doing shows with rappers for the past couple of years. I wanted to put together a show that I would have wanted to see when I was a teenager, I never had a chance to see a show like this before.”

His music draws on many influences, from punk and indie rock to soul. All are easily seen in his high-energy live act.

“A lot of my stage presence I got from watching other bands play,” he said. “People who are into different music don’t always mix together, and that’s what I want to do with this lineup.”

He’s ready to put his three-part, yearlong project to bed and continue to follow a path of creative freedom and genre-bending that has vaulted him to the forefront of Chicago hip-hop.

“I’m just really working freely right now,” he said. “Just recording and getting in with a lot of different producers and people, but I’m really happy with the way this project was received and excited to keep it going.”

Jake Krzeczowski is a locally based free-lance writer. Follow him on Twitter: @jakekrez

Electronic dance music gets boost of energy in Chicago

By Jake Krzeczowski December 26, 2012 10:28PM

Originally appeared for Chicago Sun-Times

This summer 50,000 people flooded Soldier Field — not for a football game, or any game, for that matter. The young people coming through the gates of the home of the Chicago Bears were there for another reason: to dance.

Spring Awakening, a dance-music festival held June 16-17 in and around Soldier Field, is just one local example of how big the electronic dance music craze got this year.

EDM concerts are usually pre-packaged parties led by larger-than-life DJs, producers and musicians armed with extravagant light shows, glowstick cannons and head-pounding bass.

“The dance scene in Chicago right now is just thriving,” said DJ Steve Aoki, who played a sold-out show Dec. 15 at the Congress Theater. “Especially the past two years, it’s really gotten bigger and not even in terms of people but energy too. Kids have really embraced it and taken it to this state.”

Chicago’s concert winter calendar is packed with shows, culminating in a pair of concerts on New Year’s Eve: Big Gigantic at the Aragon Ballroom and Porter Robinson at the Congress Theater.

Big Gigantic, which returns for its second consecutive NYE in Chicago, and Porter Robinson represent two different takes on the genre widely known just as EDM.

Big Gigantic creates its dubstep-infused art with a live aspect, blending drums and a saxophone with computer-generated synth lines and bass. Porter Robinson, meanwhile, mixes on a computer.

“These days,” said Dom­inic Lalli, one half of Big Gigantic, “there’s so much out there and so much music coming out, being different is really key.”

Porter Robinson plays the Congress Theater for New Years Eve
Porter Robinson plays the Congress Theater for New Years Eve

The word “different” is important. The EDM community came under fire this year when Canadian dance music mogul Deadmau5 criticized DJs within the genre, most notably David Guetta and Skrillex, referring to them as “button pushers” who pretend to work a lot harder onstage than they do.

The issue also was sparked by a YouTube video showing Swedish House Mafia DJ Steve Angello casually smoking a cigarette onstage as the party raged on in front of him. While that behavior certainly isn’t status quo, it does raise questions about whether some DJs are being paid millions essentially just to hit “play.”

For its part, Big Gigantic tries to keep its music connected to performance.

“We just love making music,” said Lalli, who lists jazz greats John Coltrane and Joe Henderson as sax influences. “We try to bring all those elements together to make this new thing or sound, and I think that’s the biggest thing these days.”

While live instrumentation may attract some to the music, others couldn’t care less what the artist is doing onstage.

“I don’t really care, people can say whatever they want,” said Los Angeles DJ Audrey Napolean. “I know what I do, and I know what I do onstage is real, and I know that I do everything I can to put on a good show, and that’s all I need to know.”

The emergence of music on the Internet has assisted the rise of dance music. One of the most recognized sites for artists trying to break into the scene is, a sort of iTunes for DJs.

“We are a site for music for DJs,” said BeatPort CEO Matthew Adell. “DJs have special music needs. They’re different from the average consumer. Our goal is to get DJs the most important material they need for their set, right now.”

The site, started in 2004, has helped launch the careers of many of the biggest artists in dance music and also hosts the annual BeatPort Music Awards, which recognize the best in EDM.

One of the most recent products of BeatPort is the Chicago-born trio Krewella, booked for Saturday at the Congress Theater.

Jahan and Yasmine Yousef and Producer RainMan make up Krewella
Jahan and Yasmine Yousef and Producer RainMan make up Krewella

The three-person group, consisting of sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousef and producer Rain Man (Kris Trindl), is indicative of the rising scene here. Trindl handles the beats while the sisters provide their piercing vocals to the bands eclectic sound. The online venue allowed them to pursue a more cohesive live show with a larger following.

“Being featured on Beatport opened up a whole new world for our EP distribution,” Jahan said. “It’s amazing coming home to Chicago because I remember even a year and a half ago when we were playing raves with like 10 kids. We feel a sense of loyalty when we come back.”

As computers and programs advance and EDM stars grow more familiar, it seems as though there is no ceiling on where the scene will go.

“I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg, to be honest,” said Avi Gallant, who runs the Untz, a leading EDM news website. “I don’t think it’ll get too big, [but] the sky is the limit. This is just the beginning.” 

Jake Krzeczowski is a locally based free-lance writer. Follow him on Twitter: @jakekrez

Three distinct shows will ring in the New Year

BY Jake Krzeczowski December 26, 2012 11:25PM

Originally appeared for Chicago Sun-Times

Updated: December 27, 2012 10:50AM

There aren’t a lot of bands doing what Lotus does.

As the laptop increasingly slides into the role of introductory musical instrument that the guitar has held for generations, jam bands like Lotus have slowly become less prevalent.

Lotus in Blacksburg, Virginia
Lotus in Blacksburg, Virginia

Lotus isn’t just any jam band though. Through a mix of syncopated improvisation ala Umphrey’s Magee and computer-generated sounds the group has been able to carve out it’s own sound it dubs jamtronica.

The unique sound arrives for two nights in Chicago with a back to back showcase at the Riviera Theater December 27 and 28 as part of their five-night New Year’s Eve tour that starts in Chicago and ends on the 31st with a show in Baltimore.

“We often do several shows leading up to New Year’s but this might be the most we’ve done in a row,” said Jesse Miller (bass/sampler). “It was a good chance for us to get out and play a number of shows in

cities we haven’t played ina while.”

The two-night run at the Riviera will surely feature the band’s endless onstage jamming that will touch on their extensive catalog, both old and new paired with an inspired light show.

“We try to draw the crowd into the human element of the show,” said Luke Miller (guitar/keyboards). “[The lighting] is a very powerful part of our show and our lighting guy has been with us since the beginning so he’s locked into our improvisation.”

Lotus closes out 2012 with its eye on the future, including plans for at least two albums and maybe a third that is still in production dropping in 2013.

“I think it’s going to be a celebration, a celebration of the new year,” said Jesse. “It’s a great opportunity to get a bunch of people in some cool rooms and have a good time.”

Chris Mathien and Peter CottonTale of mathien

New Year’s Eve will be Chris Mathien and Co.’s second time playing a concert as they ring in the New Year at Reggie’s Rock Joint for a 21+over show.

With that experience behind them, they kind of know what to expect.

“We performed two years ago at Reggie’s and we were supposed to do the countdown at midnight,” said lead singer/guitarist Mathien. “Everyone’s cell phone was on a different time so people were kind of celebrating sporadically while we counted off.”

That was two years ago.

Since then the band, consisting of Mathien and drummer Omar Jahwar, bassist Erik Kaldahl and keyboardist Peter CottonTale (Wilkins), which performs under their lead singer’s surname has figured a few things out.

After starting the band as a college student at Southern Illinois University, Chris Mathien moved north to Chicago and met CottonTale, a gifted musician who he immediately added to the band’s lineup nearly three years ago.

“I grew up playing Jazz and Soul but then I found this Rock/Funk, Maroon 5-sounding guy,” said CottonTale. “But it was a smooth transition musically because I understood where he was coming from.”

With the end of the year quickly approaching, mathien has been sure to plan out the show carefully will be handing out 100 free CDs with an unreleased new single, as well as polishing that countdown.

“I think we’re going to put an official countdown on the stage somewhere this time to avoid confusion,” said Mathien. “We’re excited to have the chance to rung in the New Year in Chicago.”

Charles Bradley – “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”

Across town, Charles Bradley performs two shows at Lincoln Hall. Known to audiences as the “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” 65-year-old Charles Bradley visits Lincoln Hall for shows on Dec. 30 and 31.

“I’m looking forward to returning to Chicago, when I was there last it was a beautiful time,” said Bradley.

The funk/soul singer got his break in music late, at age 49, performing as a James Brown impersonator under the name “Black Velvet.” Noticed by Daptone Records, the Otis Redding-like vocalist has since recorded several albums with another one on the way in 2013.

For all it’s history in Blues and Jazz, Chicago seems like the perfect place for Bradley to land for a beginning to the New Year.

“I’ve been pushing for a long time for this opportunity,” said Bradley. “I am taking that opportunity and making the most of it, I want to show everyone at these shows what I can do and show them all the love I have.”

Jake Krzeczowski is a local free-lance writer.

By Chance — Meet the next generation of Chicago hip-hop

BY Jake Krzeczowski November 20, 2012 5:08PM
Originally Appeared for the Chicago Sun-Times

It was a little over a year ago that Chance the Rapper got suspended from school.

The self-professed troublemaker received a 10-day suspension from Jones College Prep after several run-ins with officials.

Viewing the suspension as an opportunity, Chance headed directly to the studio to work on his debut mixtape, “10 Day,” an ode to his suspension.

Because he had dreamed of becoming a performer someday, he joined the high school slam poetry team and released occasional mixtapes with a group of friends under the name Instrumentality. But it wasn’t until he was sent home from school during his senior year that he got really serious about his craft. Continue reading By Chance — Meet the next generation of Chicago hip-hop

Philly rapper Asher Roth loves the sounds of Chicago

By Jake Krzeczowski November 15, 2012 8:38PM

Updated: November 16, 2012 7:54PM

Since vaulting to fame on the strength his 2009 hit single “I Love College,” Philadelphia artist Asher Roth finally feels as if he has found his place in the hip-hop world.

Explaining the environment as “similar to high school,” Roth, who performs Monday at Reggie’s Rock Club, feels comfortable inChicago. “It’s got East Coast tendencies with a relaxed West Coast vibe, while not losing that Midwest feel,” he said. “It’s kind of like this all-knowing, all-seeing eye that is Chicago.”

This year has been a watershed one for Chicago hip-hop music. With the rise of acts like Chief Keef, Rockie Fresh and King Louie, combined with a steady and restless underground scene, the Windy City has found itself popular with rap enthusiasts looking for the next big thing.

Before the spotlight found its way to Chicago, though, Roth championed several local acts who have gone on to monster success.

To be sure, Roth has had a bit of a backward rise through the ranks. Today, the norm often sees an artist release several free mix tapes online before finding fame on the big stage. Roth, though, hit it big off the bat but then slipped a bit.

LAS VEGAS NV - AUGUST 07:  (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS)  Rapper Asher Roth performs Studio 54 inside MGM GrHotel/Casino early

After a disappointing major-label release (“Asleep in the Bread Aisle”), Roth sought “to build a foundation” in order to build credibility and a genuine sound.

“For the past few years, I’ve had to go back and fill in that foundation,” he said. “I believe in foundations; I always believe in wanting people to know what I stand for, that I’m not just a product.”

While looking for new sounds, Roth found himself drawn to the Midwest’s soulful, highly instrumental vibe. That search eventually paired him with the genre-bending Chicago-based band Kids These Days.

Roth then featured Kids These Days on his 2011 “Pabst and Jazz” mix tape. Several members lent a hand throughout, including trumpeter extraordinaire Nico Segal, who always injects a healthy dose of soul.

Roth has been sharing dates with the band on his “Fall Clashic” tour. “I was introduced to Kids These Days through a mutual friend; we remixed ‘Hard Times,’ and just rocked it from there,” Roth said. “The fact that we’re doing shows with them is great; people who don’t know them are in for a surprise.”

Also featured on the tape are his close friend Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids, Rockie Fresh and production from local duo Blended Babies. The result is a project that’s Chicago to its core.

For now, the 27-year-old Roth takes solace in finding his place in the grand scheme of things: making music that might not top the charts but satisfies a uniquely creative spirit.

“People know who I am, they know what I stand for: progress of the sound, being a facilitator for people that we like,” Roth said. “I’m in a comfort zone now, I feel like I’ve carved out my niche in all this.”

With so many local contacts, Roth looks forward to returning to one of his favorite cities.

“There’s a lot going on in Chicago right now; the city has the ability to stay relevant in sound and push it forward,” he said. “I’m just excited to be back at Reggie’s to be a small part of it.”

Jake Krzeczowski is a locally based free-lance writer.

Kids These Days blends sounds into one of year’s best albums

By Jake Krzeczowski October 25, 2012 8:26PM
Updated: October 28, 2012 2:52AM
Originally appeared at Chicago Sun-Times

Ask bassist Lane Beckstrom: Not a lot of thought went into the making of Kids These Days.

“We were just having fun playing and everyone was just being themselves musically,” Beckstrom said.

Building on the city’s music culture of blues and jazz to funk and hip-hop, the Chicago-based band Kids These Days pulls all of those genres together with its own generational tweak

The b'Kids These Days' WabansiStreet October 21 2012. From left: Macie Stewart Liam Cunningham Nico Segal Vic MensJ.P. Floyd Greg

under what the group calls “traphouse rock.”

Though unsigned, the seven recent high school grads — most from Whitney Young — tour tirelessly and on Tuesday release an album, “Traphouse Rock,” likely to propel their climb from local talent to nationally recognized artists. As a voice for their generation with a name to match, Kids These Days set out to make music others their age can enjoy and connect with using creative instrumentation and thoughtful lyricism.

Outside the Elston Avenue fixture the Hideout, the members of Kids These Days pose for photographers and greet friends and family who are there on a Sunday night for a listening party of the band’s debut album. Moms carry overloaded aluminum trays of food, dads wear proud smiles and friends offer congratulatory handshakes and hugs. If nothing else, it is obvious that, like the bar they are in, Kids These Days have deep roots in Chicago.

The group members met as high school sophomores while attending after-school sessions at the Merit School of Music in the West Loop. Soon, those sessions moved to guitarist Liam Cunningham’s basement, dubbed “the trap,” where the friends added local rapper Vic Mensa. Taking material they recorded during and after high school, the band released an EP, “Hard Times,” in 2011.

It was during these jams that the group began to find its distinctive sound.

“It’s just a totally equal blend of the seven people in the band,” said Cunningham, the thoughtful leader who provides the driving soul on guitar.

Kids These Days first played Lollapalooza in 2011. This year, they decided to take a page out of one of their largest influences, the Roots, by creating a Lolla pre-show, Fan Jam, with proceeds going to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The band actually got a chance to meet the Roots’ ?uestlove and company when they were invited to the 2012 Roots Picnic in Philadelphia, just one stop on a packed festival schedule. They also performed on Conan O’Brien’s show when he visited Chicago in May.

The band members said they used their time on the road as a learning opportunity. Nico Segal and J.P. Floyd, the trumpeter and trombonist who pace the band with inspired dance moves onstage, got pointers from Trombone Shorty, while drummer Greg Landfair paid close attention to the Roots’ drummer extraordinaire.

“When I got a chance to talk to ?uestlove, I asked a lot of questions,” said Landfair.

To work on their first major release, Kids These Days enlisted the help of hometown hero Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and set off to record at a studio set on a pecan ranch outside of El Paso, Texas.

“He definitely transformed some of our records and opened our eyes to a whole new way of recording and what’s available,” Cunningham said.

One of the most difficult aspects of putting together the sound for Kids These Days is making sure everyone has a voice when appropriate.

“You want somebody to say something for a reason, not just because they’re in the band,” Cunningham said. “Not every song calls for seven different parts going on.”

The best example of Kids These Days making it work may be their recently released “Doo-wah,” which weaves a sample of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” with the beautiful voice of lone female member Macie Stewart, poignant lyricism from Mensa and a Dylan-esque performance by Cunningham.

As the band plays the first cut of “Traphouse Rock” at the Hideout, it is immediately evident the crowd is familiar with the Kids’ work. Heads bob with each strike of Landfair’s drum, and bodies sway to the melodic sound of Stewart’s voice. The band shows the swagger earned from months on the road, but nervous smiles are never too far from their faces.

When asked what their city means to them, the answer is almost immediate.

“Chicago is everything to us, Chicago is our sound,” said Landfair. “Our music, you hear the roughness in it, you hear the struggle, you hear the fight, the grittiness that is Chicago.”

The young musicians have made a point to stay involved with the happenings of their hometown.

They created a song in support of the Chicago Teacher’s Union during the strike. It’s just part of their drive to make a difference.

“Personally, I have always made a point to be socially aware,” said Mensa, who sports a tattoo of a black panther on his left arm underlined by the words “Free Huey.” “I’m always aware and I’m always writing about it.”

The first single off the new album is “Don’t Harsh My Mellow.” The band members describe it as something of a new age “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The song, released earlier this month, is available on iTunes.

As the last track plays and the pans of homemade chicken and bowls of sampler CDs evaporate, Mensa takes the stage to thank the crowd and remind them of their Nov. 24 show at the Vic. Nerves seem to fade. The dress rehearsal is finished.

More than anything, the group sees “Traphouse Rock” (available Tuesday for free download at as a sort of coming-out party.

“We’ve done all the homework,” said Landfair. “I feel it’s time for us to take that official first step. Kids These Days, boom, take over the world.”

Jake Krzeczowski is a local free-lance writer.

Trueman: Serving up prepared foods

By Jake Krzeczowski For Pioneer Press June 5, 2012 2:02PM

Story ImageFour years ago Jon Trueman took a leap of faith. With a job in real estate he watched as the bottom fell out on the housing market in 2008 and decided it was time to try something different. Without any formal training, he started a catering company with his surname: Trueman.

With little capital or resources to make his food initially, Trueman, a native of Winnetka, turned to the community for help.

Using kitchens lent to him by friends in the Winnetka and the surrounding area to churn out his gourmet entrees for local graduation parties and cocktail soirees, Trueman built a loyal following.

That eventually resulted in a storefront at 745 Elm Street, which he opened a year ago next month.

“I’m not a restaurant, we provide food you would get at a restaurant, but that you can bring home,” Trueman said. “As it relates to catering, however, we do just about anything. With summer coming up we’ll do a lot of outdoor casual parties and whatnot.”

The store features one round wooden table set between coolers of fresh food ready to order, and a line of chalkboards featuring the week’s daily specials. While he has certain staples, the majority of his menu is always changing.

“I have fixed items that are always here,” said Trueman who sends out a weekly “email blast” to announce the changes. “I’ve also got four kids and my wife works. With everyone on different schedules I’m always thinking about what to feed my kids to mix it up, which is the essence of keeping the menu different”

That family vibe does not end at the planning stage either. Almost every person who walks through the doors of Trueman knows the owner and is greeted with a friendly hello.

As one woman enters the eatery, Trueman stands up and immediately apologizes, he is out of the buffalo chicken sauce she wants. He offers to drop it off as soon as it is made that afternoon and quickly scribbles a note to remind himself.

On a table near the register is a table full of what goods not prepared by him.

“The best owner makes sure to feature several items made by those in the community.

“It is because of how others helped me when I was first starting out that I outsource some of my desserts. The same way someone helped me, if I can do something to help someone else I’m going to do that,” he said.

Trueman is almost completely hands on, overseeing the entire process of making and delivering the food to his customers.

“Before we cater an event I tend to sit down with the clients and talk through some ideas,” Trueman said. “That discussion creates a specialized menu that they have taken part in and helped create.”

Trueman is the quintessential community eatery, leaning on those around them while providing it’s residents with quality service and food at a competitive price.

“There’s people out there who are classically trained and can create a beautiful something or another,” Trueman said. “ But I don’t think there’s anyone out there that can throw a better party with food and fun than if you’re working with me.”


Verum Magazine, March 2012

Over winter break this year I was able to go on a two week study abroad writing class to Havana, Cuba. While I was there I was introduced to Nehanda Abiodun, currently living in Cuba under political asylum. After meeting briefly I asked to do an interview and the next day found myself in  on the outskirts of East Havana with just my photographer and a backpack filled with notebooks and cameras. Sitting for three hours in the bright Cuban sun with Nehanda was an unforgettable part of the trip but the story of how she got there in the first place is even more intriguing.

The Revolution Will (Literally) Not Be Televised

Track 1: “And now I’m like a major threat, Cause I remind you of the things you were made to forget” – 2Pac

Somewhere in the U.S., 1989

The monotonous tone of helicopter blades chopping at the brisk late afternoon air snapped her suddenly from intense concentration; “Ok, what will it be?” Nehanda Abiodun stood before her open closet, carefully investigating its contents as the walls closed in from all sides. Knowing full well that her spot on America’s Most Wanted list would warrant a parade of her image across TV stations and newspapers should she be captured, she took her time deciding precisely what to wear. “Something that won’t get dirty easily, something that won’t wrinkle,” she thought to herself, carefully fingering through the hangers. Sirens sounded in the distance.

Havana, Cuba – 2012

Sitting on the creaky red bench attached to one of two tables at Los Pollos, a state-owned fast food chicken bodega in the cluttered public housing section of Havana, Cuba known to us as La Bahia I began to wonder if she would actually show up. Popping a chicken croqueta in my mouth and washing it down with an orange soda I saw her approaching from across the street, trading pleasantries with seemingly everyone who walked by.

Pulling herself away from the crowd Abiodun approached my photographer Louis and myself, wrapping us into a hug that seemed meant for an old friend. Puzzled looks followed her as she embraced the two tank-topped pale Americans. Grabbing three Bucaneros from the bodega, she sat down doling out the take, “Let’s do this,” she said with a crack of the can, a smile crossing her face.


Nehanda Abiodun, previously known as Cherie Dalton, holds a degree from Columbia University and a host of 32 felonies against her in America. She was third on the FBI Most Wanted list during her heydey in the late 70s for her involvement in the Lincoln Detoxification Center, a drug rehabilitation complex with a revolutionary message. Whether they are all warranted is up for debate. What isn’t however is the revolutionary spirit of the movement that she and her comrades were a part of.

Track 2: “Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare.” – 2pac

The phone rang, another interruption in her decision-making process. Carefully, she picked up the receiver without saying a thing. The voice from the other end informed her that police had set up road blocks around her neighborhood, were handing out photos of her asking for information. Muttering a quick thank you, Nehanda put the receiver back.

They were close; moving in.

Three decades ago, at age 30, Abiodun had had enough with community work. Seeing little positive results from her work within the system, along with the killing of a young boy by police in her neighborhood she felt compelled to do more.

“I felt I had to do everything I could to stop things like that from happening,” Abiodun said. “That’s when I decided to go about a more revolutionary path of bringing about human rights and the ending of ‘badisms’ that exist in the United States.”

To be a patient at Lincoln Detox and Acupuncture Clinic you had to take political education classes, do community work,” Abiodun said. “Doing community work, you were no longer a parasite on your community, you’re giving something back and getting a different outlook on yourself”

New York Comptroller Ed Koch, who would later go on to be Mayor and other members of the government had been keeping a keen eye on the center and it’s revolutionary ideals eventually closing Lincoln with a raid of nearly 100 NYPD officers and SWAT team members. The raid occurred at night, with only five or six attendants on duty, none of whom were Abiodun.

Lincoln was overseen by revolutionaries  like Mutulu Shakur and had loose ties to a string of Brink’s truck heists during which several police officers and security guards were harmed or killed. The attempted heists resulted in the jailing of several members of the group, also connected to the Black Liberation Army (BLA).

Stemming from the closing of the center, the attempted heists and the liberation of Assata Shakur in 1979, Abiodun was facing several charges under the Rico Conspiracy Act which deals with being a part of illegal organization for personal gain and had previously only been used in mob cases. She was also implicated in the escape of Assata.

“They say I and others were involved in expropriations of armored trucks, that we were also engaged in the ‘liberation’ of Assata,” Abiodun said. “Personally they say I was involved in the expropriations and aiding and abetting Assata’s liberation.”

The 32 felonies levied against Abiodun, likely a life sentence if tried, are the most of anyone involved in the liberations and “revolutionary” work.

Track 3: The war on drugs is a war on you and me, And yet they say this is the Home of The Free. – 2Pac

It had been eight years since skipping town on the grand jury. Eight years of living out of the public’s eye throughout America and it had come to this. Taking a deep breath she grabbed a pair of dark pants, black shirt and grey sweater. As sirens sounded in the distance, she dressed in a hurry; took a moment to smooth things over in the mirror and soaked in what very well could be her last moments of freedom.

As she put the car into gear and rolled out of the driveway, reversing to the street, she glanced in the rearview mirror, “Here we go,” she said to herself. Dropping the gear from R to D, the car jumped and she turned the corner out of her neighborhood for the last time.

It wasn’t long before what her friend had told her on the phone became reality. Sitting in a long line of cars, she peeked around those in front of her where she saw the black and white of police cars, officers stopping each vehicle with a document in their hands. With a car in front and behind her, a barricade ahead, Nehanda had nowhere to go; slowly inching toward fate.

After the breakup of Lincoln and the subsequent backlash that followed the failed attempt on a Brink’s truck, Nehanda skipped town describing it as “underground”. With a legitimate ID, a job and a home she was well within the reach of American forces but she managed to stay out of their way, for awhile.

She had been called by a Grand Jury to testify against Mutulu, but she refused and went into hiding believing the charges against her and others were bogus.

“At the first trial there was a ledger for all the money that was liberated, robbed, whatever went to do what?” Abiodun said. “To build the clinic, to finance a camp for kids, to help kids with college money. I still have people asking me ‘what happened to the $4.5 million, there must be a stash.’ Well if there is, no one’s told me.”

Speaking to Nehanda about the decades that followed is difficult, highlighted by half sentences, pauses and smiles followed by reminders not to talk about certain things. For obvious reasons, Abiodun is conservative about what she says and does. After all, she spent eight years underground across America. Helped by those sympathetic in the struggle she managed to maintain a semblance of a real life with her children still in New York.

Track 4: “And even to this day they try to get to her, But she’s free with political asylum in Cuba” – Common

As the officer approached her mouth went dry and she swallowed hard to clear her throat, thinking about the hectic schedule of the next couple of days would hold if she were recognized. A rapping on the window broke her reverie, bringing her back to the present. An officer stood outside her window, a similar bored look on his face. She rolled the window down slowly.

“Hello ma’am,” the officer said from behind thick black aviator sunglasses. “Have you seen this woman?”

She reached out and met the officer’s hand at the window,flipping the photo over over in her grip.

Nehanda had expected to see the picture, she had seen it almost everywhere for the better part of a decade: newspapers, magazines; repeatedly on television. This time though, tracing the photo quickly with her eyes she hardly recognized the woman she held in her hands in black and white. She followed the smile on her face to the dread-locked black hair she now wore up in a hat. The photo had been snapped a lifetime ago.

“Never seen her” she said, handing the picture back hoping he wouldn’t notice.

He didn’t.

Feeling herself slowly breathing again she passed by the cars and wooden blockades that made up the stop under the watchful eyes of the other officers before turning the corner and hitting the highway. It was late 1990. A couple months later she would arrive on the shores of Havana, Cuba; leaving the U.S. for good.

If Abiodun thought she had seen struggle in America, her arrival in 1991 in Havana was sure to open her eyes up to more. When asked how she got there she says matter of factly, “I didn’t walk on water.” The year marked the beginning of what Fidel Castro called “the special period” in Cuban history. Following the fall of the Soviet Union the country went through a time of intense economic collapse, felt most harshly by the people. It was normal for condoms to be shredded to mask a lack of cheese on pizzas.

“During the special period, people were just so united. If I had something and you needed it there was no questions of sharing it and vice versa,” she said. “I got used to holding on to things because you never knew when you might need it.”

She had arrived on the island fresh from her own revolution and eager to continue her support from abroad. The Cuban government granting her political asylum, however, had other plans. They ordered her to stop, to relax, allowing Nehanda the first semblance of peace she had felt in almost a decade of living underground.

“I’m really, really grateful to (the Cuban government) for insisting that I take a rest because I had spent eight years underground and even though I thought I was normal, I wasn’t. It had psychological repercussions, being underground all that time.”

Abiodun speaks of the pain she felt leaving her children behind initially, not being able to see friends or family members and a pesky habit of waking up in the middle of the night.

Life outside of the United States hasn’t been easy. Cuba, the only country listed as “self-sustaining” by the World Wildlife Foundation has it’s downsides. While she is appreciative of everything the people and government have done for her, there are times she feels it weighing on her.

“I’m comfortable,” Abiodun said. “I feel safe here. I have stress but it’s not the same stress if I was back in New York right now. I don’t worry about being put out of my house, about not eating.”

Politics now on the backburner, Abiodun had a chance to try something new. She began working in communities throughout Havana, blending into her community, picking up spanish word by word. It wasn’t long before her reputation preceded her and she was sought out.

Those looking for Abiodun however weren’t FBI operatives or military officials, but young hip-hop acts in Cuba looking for insight to the turbulent sixties and seventies in America; they wanted to hear about the struggle.

“I’m spoiled,” Abiodun said. “The youth that I see for the most part are very progressive, politically aware, involved in some sort of movement.”

The genre of hip-hop, mascaraded in America with showers of dollar bills, platinum grills and twenty-inch rims has taken on a different role in the land of socialism. It is a political tool of sorts in a country where there are few. Lyrics often work as a commentary on the government, confronting, within bounds, the issues they face.

Before long, Nehanda was tending to groups of Cuban rappers, often nearly a dozen at a time sitting on the floor of her apartment, looking to her for inspiration that is impossible to ignore when she speaks of listening to Malcolm X live or standing on protest lines at the age of ten.

Track 5: “In case you don’t know, I ride for Mutulu like I ride for Geronimo” – 2pac

During her time in New York during her community and revolutionary work there she came to be friends with a woman named Afeni Shakur, future member of famed American rap artist Tupac Shakur. For the first thirteen years of his life Tupac grew up playing and spending time with Nehanda’s children.

“Tupac was a year older than my son, but they played together like most kids that age.”

Abiodun was among those who impressed a revolutionary, socially aware spirit on the young Tupac Shakur was first impressed upon him. That politically aware mindset has carried over to her teachings amongst the Cuban hip-hop youth. Many come to hear the teachings she learned through time spent with the likes of Mutulu and Assata and the do it yourself mindset of their resistance to perceived biases around them.

She was first introduced to the hip-hop community by Dana Kaplan, then a young American college student studying at the University of Havana.

“While I was there I kept getting all these questions about the civil rights movement and racial justice issues in the U.S.,” Kaplan said. “Nehanda has a great historical perspective, I made sure they could have direct access to her, eventually she was hosting discussion groups in her apartment.”

Around the turn of the millennium the Cuban government declared hip-hop “an authentic expression of Cuban Culture,” and Fidel Castro called it “the vanguard of the Revolution.” The art form had jumped American borders and the locals were hungry.

Abiodun obliged,  bringing the Black August Hip Hop festival to Havana in 1999 along with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement of the U.S. The festival has hosted the likes of Mos Def, Common and The Roots. Today Black August is one of the most important hip-hop organizations in the country.

Track 6: “It ain’t easy, being me. Will I see the penitentiary or will I stay free” – 2pac

Life in Cuba isn’t perfect. While citizens don’t worry for basic necessities, luxuries are seldom. The government is nearing a change as the Castro brothers age every day and it is the Cuban hip-hop groups that have increasingly looked to be the voice of the youth.

Since she was ten years old Nehanda Abiodun has sought to stand up for the change she feels is right for the world. She has sacrificed her family and her freedom but the only thing she regrets is not having done things a bit smarter. She is at peace with her life but of course would jump at the chance to return to America without jail time.

Whether she is lending her teachings to the young people of Cuba or fighting for equality in “The Land of the Free,” Abiodun has never stopped pushing for what she believes in as others forced her to adapt.

“When I meet my ancestors I want to be able to look them in the eye and say ‘yes I made a lot of mistakes, but I tried my best. That’s what I really want.”

By Jake Krzeczowski

(scenes in italics early on are not necessarily how things happened)