In its tenth year, Pitchfork Festival looked to its hometown of Chicago for support. The city that birthed indie-music celebration was this year’s theme, as it helped honor P4K’s ten-year anniversary. While rain was the fest’s biggest news—it forced several Saturday artists to cancel last minute—hometown talent was Pitchfork’s most salient aspect. Chicago claimed seven of the festival’s total acts, including three of the headliners: Wilco, Vic Mensa, who was elevated to headliner last minute, and, of course, Chance The Rapper, who closed out P4K with a rousing rendition of “Sunday Candy” with none other than gospel legend Kirk Franklin.
For the past two years, writer Jake Krez lived in the house that would become the starting point for Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s Surf, sharing the house with Social Experiment members Donnie Trumpet and Peter Cottontale. Many long days and nights were spent by the group crafting the project, which was released last week on iTunes. As the album neared completion, Krez sat down with Trumpet to talk about the group’s path to the final product. Here’s his up-close-and-personal look at how ‘Surf’ came to be.
A House In Chicago, Winter 2013
It was the beginning of winter in 2013. The stark cold of Chicago in November sent Peter Cottontale and Nico Segal — known more famously as Donnie Trumpet, the creative lead on Surf — down from the attic of the house Peter and I rented just north of the Logan Square neighborhood of the city. Setting up shop just outside my bedroom door in the basement, the two began tinkering, laying out
the arrangements and initial imprint of what Surf, Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment’s just-released project, would become.
It was a different time for the Chicago music scene. Vic Mensa had yet to crawl onstage with Kanye West, and Acid Rap — the mixtape that put Social Experiment affiliate Chance The Rapper firmly in the national spotlight, thus setting the stage for Surf‘s hype — was only eight months old. At the time, the biggest thing happening was the breakup of Kids These Days, the seven-piece band that started it all. The group, which featured Segal on horns alongside Mensa and Social Experiment drummer Greg Landfair, cut ties shortly after Acid Rap released in the spring. It was a distinct moment in time for the Chicago scene at large; Kids These Days had blazed a trail right to the stages of Lollapalooza and The Conan O’Brien Show that Chance and Mensa would later build upon, respectively, as solo artists.
Segal was perhaps most affected by the breakup. It was while performing alongside Kids These Days at South by Southwest in 2011 that Chance was “discovered,” and Nico had been a big part of his growth, along with the growth of many other local young stars. I remember being invited to join some of the Kids These Days members the weekend after the breakup announcement on a trip north to a family farm in Wisconsin. Sitting around a fire that night, I remember watching Segal, ahead of going on tour with Frank Ocean, shed real tears about the group’s end. His music is his life — his trumpet rarely leaves his side. In that moment, it seemed his passion for assembling and marshaling a talented group of artists had gone forever.
“The end of the band was definitely hard. That group was all I had known since I was 14 years old,” Segal told me, sitting in the attic where Surf began. “What I realized is that I just love making music with my friends, and I’m fortunate enough that my friends are really, really good at what they do. So as much as the breakup hurt, I was lucky enough to be able to find something that I could really understand and enjoy musically.”
Last Thursday night, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s album Surf appeared as a free download on iTunes (reportedly the first Apple had allowed), its arrival sudden yet highly anticipated. Promises that the album was coming soon—before the end of the year, then “soon,” then “very soon”—had been floating around since Chance the Rapper announced it in an interview with Billboard last fall, and hip-hop fans were eager to find out what the project that most saw as the follow-up to Chance’s acclaimed 2013 mixtape Acid Rap would sound like.
Surf sounds like a party. It’s a different sonic world from any other hip-hop album released this year, and its cast of contributors is impressive, featuring local Chicago friends like NoNameGypsy, Saba, and Joey Purp as well as big names like Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, Big Sean, and J. Cole. It’s also—although he’s the most well known name attached to it, and The Social Experiment is his touring band—not a Chance the Rapper album. It’s a collaborative effort with other band members Peter Cottontale and Nate Fox, overseen by Donnie Trumpet, a.k.a. Nico Segal.
“What I wanted to accomplish on this project most was to convey to people that I’m a producer and not just a trumpet player in Chance’s band,” Segal told me last Friday morning, groggy from an all-nighter scanning Twitter and reading initial reviews. “This is supposed to be the beginning of something, the first of its kind for something new.”
April 30, 2013 was a sunny day, one of the first nice days we’d had to that point in Chicago and appropriately so. Chance The Rapper, Chicago’s prodigal son in the post-Derrick Rose world, was set to release his largest project to date and it seemed as if there was no one in his hometown who wasn’t aware. Living with “Brain Cells”, “Good Ass Intro” and “Cocoa Butter Kisses” producer Peter CottonTale at the time, I had certainly heard my share of the tracks on the project, understood it was to be something special. Pulling up to the clothing boutique Jugrnaut in the city’s South Loop though, the line was mind-blowing, five wide and around the block anxiously waiting for a chance to, see Chance. Continue reading ‘Acid Rap’ – A Year Later→
The clock had just rounded one in the morning and the party was still going strong at an apartment on the campus of the University of Illinois. I had traveled south from Chicago to catch Chance The Rapper, arguably hip-hop’s breakout star of 2013, open his Social Experiment Tour. I noticed the Chicago emcee Vic Mensa leaning against a counter next to me, idly checking his phone. Looking around, I saw many at the party gawking at the 20-year-old rapper and quickly whispering to friends, as others aimed cell phones his way. Walking over, I asked Mensa, who an hour earlier had sent the crowd of college students into a frenzy with a guest verse on Chance’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” what it was like to be the most popular person at a party that no one seemed to talk to. Escaping the glare of his phone, Mensa’s eyes snapped up. “It’s hella weird, G,” he said. “It’s been happening more and more, and it just keeps getting weirder.” Continue reading Vic Mensa Will Be 2014′s Breakout Hip-Hop Star→
The Chicago kid who released arguably the year’s hottest, free hip-hop album returns to town this week for his debut headlining tour, dubbed the “Social Experiment Tour.” For his first show home since he performed at Lollapalooza earlier this year, tickets to the first show sold out so fast that a second was quickly scheduled and just as quickly
Sometimes it’s good to just get away and listen to some good music. Last Thursday, some of Chicago’s most talented young musicians got together for a jam session on the north side of the city to do just that. Former Kids These Days members Nico Segal (aka Donnie Trumpet), Lane Beckstrom and Greg Landfair (Stix) took part while Peter CottonTale handled work on the keys and Chris Mathien kept pace on lead guitar. Check out the video below, shot by Nico Hagopian and be sure to keep an eye out for future work coming out of the Attic!
Chicago musician Lili K (Kryzanek) is jazz with a nose ring — literally.
Blending jazz with hip-hop and R&B to form a wholly eclectic sound, the 21-year-old Milwaukee, Wis., native, who sports a stud in one nostril, has begun to carve a niche with her new take on the musical style while keeping jazz alive.
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 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.”
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.”
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.”