Shawn Childress, who releases funky hip-hop tracks under the name Awdazcate, has a thing for waffles. It’s in the name of his loose collective (Waffle Gang), his online radio show (Waffle Season), and his annual festival, aka Waffle Fest, which celebrates this city’s underground hip-hop scene. Since its debut in 2011 the bash has showcased a multigenerational array of local acts, and Waffle Fest Four is no different: the bill includes Molemen rapper Astonish, long-grinding rapper Longshot, and Wogz, a youngster who raps, sings, and plays violin.
The Empty Bottle hosts Waffle Fest Four on Saturday, and it all starts at 7 PM. The afterparty goes down at Dimo’s Pizza in Wicker Park; New Deal Crew leader Chris Crack will perform, and Dimo’s will have beer specials and slices of chicken-and-waffle pizza. To prepare for the festivities I talked to Childress about the history of the event, networking, and a macaroni and cheese cook-off.
What started Waffle Fest?
Shawn Childress: Chicago never really had a fest, you know what I’m saying? One day we’re in a group—my people, I just said, “Man, how about a waffle fest? We get waffles and shit, get in music.” And they laughed. It wasn’t like the good laugh, it was like, “Man, you’re just trying to eat at a show!” Dude that amped me up to actually put it together. And in two months I got some of the acts I respected and we did the first one at Multikulti and it packed out.
Did you have waffles there?
Yeah, we had waffles, nachos, we even had a macaroni and cheese cook-off between Psalm One and my girl Panda [note: there was a third contestant, Rob Collins, who won]. So it was a good night for cheese and waffles. And music, man, we had Mass Hysteria there. To have onstage Psalm One and Ang 13, you can’t duplicate that.
That’s generations of Chicago hip-hop right there. How did you expand it from the first one to this annual bash?
I mean, the people really kept it alive. The people that didn’t make the first one was like, “OK, when’s the next one?” “Hey, when is the next one?” And then our crew at the time was Waffle Gang, so we were doing shows and people always said, “You know, we’ve seen photos and we’ve heard about Waffle Fest.” So it was just like, let’s just keep it going to the point they’re doing a Waffle Fest out in Elgin. The world spread along and people just caught on to the concept and hopefully trying to expand it to Texas and other places.
Did Waffle Fest start Waffle Gang? Which came first?
Waffle Gang came first because I used to go to . . . after shows I was just on a waffle kick. I’m like, “Man, I really got a thing for waffles.” So just going to Hollywood Grill or a breakfast spot just eating waffles and posting pictures on Facebook—I would just say “Waffle Gang.” The next thing you know, “Hey man, I’m a foodie,” “No, I’m a foodie,” “Oh, I can make better waffles than my momma.” And then, bam, it just became my whole crew of people eating food late-night and making music. It started off like 25, 45 people, and then those members broke down over the years but I’m still carrying the torch. There’s still Waffle Gang.
You mention people you admire getting involved—how did you reach out to people for the first one?
It was through ordinary favors. I’ve hosted shows and did this and that, and did stuff on peoples’ projects and vice versa.
Some people I’ve known for years that was on that lineup. Ang I looked up to. Mass Hysteria I looked up to. I knew Phillip Morris and Johnny Cosmic from Fluid Minds. These are all relationships that I’ve either had in the past or just met through shows from previous years, and it’s still going on.
If I have a show or I ask artists to submit music for Waffle Gang radio I’m like, “Man, this dude is dope, let’s see if he or she can do a dope 15-minute set.” And if the set is dope then I ask them to do Waffle Fest. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hip-hop, it could be some rock shit, whatever. Every year I’m just trying to bring something new to the table.
Who are you most excited about for this year?
Graphic Nature, Astonish, Jon Content. Man, I really, all of them—Dream Teck, PozLyrix. I’m geeked to see the whole show, but those are the ones that really stand out right now. And Wogz, she’s dope.
Where do you see these people in terms of how they fit in with the rest of the Chicago music scene and the hip-hop scene?
You’ve gotta sprinkle some of your knowledge on them, and if they can take it—the whole point is, when we started, was networking. The whole point is if they’re in the show and they can see this, then maybe they’ll do their own fest, or pass the word on on how to make an event, and continue doing events and making music. The music is only gonna last so long, as long as you have the ears, keep making music, but the older you get you gotta look into other things.
All these people—Pugs Atomz—are moguls in the making, so I just see them holding the torch for Chicago hip-hop and then hopefully making much more moves beyond music.
What else can folks expect at Waffle Fest?
I always tell people, expect the unexpected, man. You might get a porn star in there, you might, you don’t know, you don’t know who might show up. I mean, dude, every year I just be like, “What? Who? Huh?” And so, I mean, I’ll just say expect the unexpected, but expect good music and good food, man. When you have that consistency of every time you look at the bill and then you also get the people that see the lineup and say, “Damn, can I be on the bill next year?” To me makes you just want to step your game up to be on it. So I would just say, man, expect the unexpected, but come knowing that you’re gonna get a good show.