The collaborative spirit of Chicago’s young hip-hop scene is beautiful, but for somebody trying to keep track of everyone’s affiliations, it can be confusing. Rappers, producers, and singers rep their cliques and crews with pride on recordings, but they’re also likely to hit the studio with people from a different set. I’ve seen people mistakenly claim that Noname, Alex Wiley, and even Virginia rapper-singer D.R.A.M. are members of Save Money—I assume because all three have recorded with the collective’s most prominent member, Chance the Rapper. There’s nothing like having best friends, but it enriches our lives when we bond with people outside our usual circles. Chicago rapper-producer L.A. VanGogh, half of hip-hop duo SafeNSound, benefits from that line of thinking on his new EP, Friends First.
L.A. teamed up with two other Chicagoans for the EP’s strongest two tracks: the gentle, minimal “Ahead of the Count” benefits from the calming vocals of Sean Deaux from excellent production collective ThemPeople, and the nonchalantly jubilant “H.O.T. (Heads or Tails)” features Femdot, an MC who fires up his careful performances with rap-battle bluster. L.A. is a fluid performer, liable to rap in clipped verses and then swerve to half-sing a few lines—as he does on a single from earlier this year, “No Service.” He can shift like a chameleon to fit the mood of any song: on “Ahead of the Count” he comes close to crooning, and on “H.O.T.” he hardens his flow, occasionally delivering lines with a noticeable staccato. The fact that the beats feel custom-made for all parties involved—whether L.A. created them or just chose them—makes it clear that his EP’s title isn’t just talk.
At Subterranean on Monday night, L.A. VanGogh headlines a bill packed with friends from different crews: UG Vavy of Fight Me, Calez of 2008ighties, Joseph Chilliams of Pivot Gang, and Via Rosa of ThemPeople.