I routinely scroll through all the new music people have uploaded to Bandcamp using the “Chicago” tag, and in January I noticed something curious: Still Paying, the previously unreleased second album by local hip-hop duo Abstract Mindstate. The group recorded it in 2004 and planned to release it in ’05, but the material got shelved and they broke up that year. Rapper E.P. da Hellcat became a behavioral analyst, and her former bandmate, rapper-producer Olskool Ice-Gre, immediately began working more closely with one of the contributors on Still Paying, Kanye West. Over the past couple years underappreciated, forgotten, or never-released Chicago hip-hop recordings have made their way onto Bandcamp with greater frequency, so I didn’t think twice about seeing a wealth of Abstract Mindstate music—demos, EPs, mixtapes, solo work, unreleased recordings—materialize on the site throughout that month. Perhaps I should’ve guessed something was afoot, but I can’t imagine anyone predicting that Abstract Mindstate would reunite at Kanye West’s behest.
Kanye’s public behavior has been abhorrent since he cozied up to Trump a few years ago, and it’d be irresponsible to forget his garrulous recitations of right-wing talking points. From a certain angle, Kanye reuniting Abstract Mindstate—and producing the entirety of their brand-new full-length, Dreams Still Inspire, and releasing it to launch his new label, YZY SND—can be seen as an olive branch to the hip-hop community burned by his recent antics. Dreams Still Inspire is a deliriously joyous sample-based hip-hop album that captures a sound that old heads swear died two decades ago. Abstract Mindstate have retained all the magical chemistry that ignited between E.P and Gre when they met at Jackson State in Mississippi in the late 90s. Their brief, burly bars on “A Wise Tale” provide as much of an adrenaline boost as the skipping, soulful vocal sample that propels the song. Abstract Mindstate’s members are both in their 40s, and they bring the wisdom and perspective of their longer lives to their lyrics. On “My Reality,” when E.P. raps about balancing mundane tasks at her day job with the surreal experience of reuniting with Gre, I find myself wondering what other great storytelling this duo could’ve committed to tape during the 15 years they were split up. v