DJ Slugo
  • Courtesy of DJ Slugo’s Facebook page
  • DJ Slugo

Yesterday electronic wunderkind Nicolas Jaar debuted “Ghetto,” an exultant eight-minute house track featuring vocals from Chicago ghetto house and juke producer Thomas Kendricks, better known as DJ Slugo. Kendricks, who cut his teeth with influential ghetto-house label Dance Mania, drew upon his experience growing up in the Robert Taylor Homes for his contribution: it’s a plainspoken, emotionally resonant spoken-word piece about watching addicts shoot up, gang wars, and neighborhood blight. Close to three minutes in Kendricks details the population density in public housing towers: “Low income housing, 16 floors, ten apartments on each floor, two to three families in each apartment—you do the math.”

Chicago is front and center on “Ghetto,” but Ferguson was on Kendricks’s mind when he started working on the track. Kendricks says Jaar wanted his vocals on the instrumental as soon as he made it—the pair became friends after Kendricks performed at one of Jaar’s birthday parties, and the former’s King of Ghetto House EP came out on the latter’s Other People label in June. Given Kendricks’s lengthy history with juke and ghetto house he wasn’t sure how to approach Jaar’s instrumental at first. “I instantly was like, ‘I can’t do a chant over this,'” Kendricks says. “I hit him back and was basically like, ‘All I could do is talk over it.'”

Kendricks says the images of riot police clashing with protestors in Ferguson got him thinking about his own experiences with police brutality, which in turn inspired his personal contribution to “Ghetto.” He says Jaar loved his idea for the vocals early on; the first version was missing the ending, but Kendricks found it after playing the unfinished track for his cousin’s wife. “She’s like, ‘You didn’t give him the other side,'” Kendricks says. “‘You gotta let him know it didn’t turn out bad for you.'”

“Ghetto” ends on a high note—one of hope. There’s a lot Kendricks wasn’t able to further describe on the song, including his own stint in jail. But his spoken-word part speaks volumes about his experience growing up in public housing: “I’m 45 now, I have real lengthy life story and it’s not pretty,” he says. “It took a while for me to be able to say I’m OK in my life.”

Kendricks is working on a full-length for Jaar, which is set to come out next year.