Dinner With John Credit: Via Dinner With John's Facebook page

Yesterday Chicago rapper-singer Dinner With John died at age 24. Born Walter Long Jr., he founded west-side rap group Pivot Gang with Saba, Joseph Chilliams, and MFn Melo. According to the Sun-Times Homicide Watch, he was stabbed to death in River North, near the Metra tracks north of Kinzie.

Long had previously recorded as John Walt—that’s the name on what’s now his last solo mixtape, Get Happy 2.0, which features the irrepressible “Kemo Walk.” The track showcases what he did so well—he leans into the somber, twisting synth instrumental, steering his performance in a resiliently joyful direction.

Long blurred the line between rapping and singing, and made no bones about his interest in R&B. He’d been working on the follow-up to Get Happy 2.0, titled Dinner With John (styled as a single word). He took the title of that unreleased mixtape as his stage name last year, around the time he dropped a single called “Sundress Season,” where the charming nonchalance of his vocals makes it sound like he’s quietly singing to himself. It’s an ode to a lover, but his performance isn’t just about wooing someone—it’s about comforting anyone who’s listening.
I met Long in 2014, when I interviewed Saba about his second mixtape, Comfort Zone. I talked to Saba about being shy growing up, though that afternoon Long was the quieter one. I could’ve easily mistaken his gentle, affable demeanor for shyness, but he usually just seemed relaxed—whenever we crossed paths after that, he’d crack a wide grin, and he was always a good sport when I needled him about when his next mixtape would be coming out. The singles he dropped in recent years—some with big local names such as Mick Jenkins, Noname, and Supa Bwe, and often produced by his fellow Pivot Gang members—built on same low-key euphoria that first caught my ear on “Kemo Walk.”
Last week Saba released the video for his fantastic Bucket List Project single “West Side Bound 3,” which opens with the line “I’m from the part of the city that they don’t be talking about.” The single and video act as a corrective to bleak media narratives about the neighborhood, and they let everyone see how its people and places make it a home. Poet, activist, teacher, and rapper Malcolm London and MC ZMoney appear in the video too, but one of the first folks on-screen is Long. He’s wearing a pink cap and raising his left hand, the fingers arranged in the shape of a “W.” Saba wanted to show people the real west side, and his vision will always make me think of Long.