Brian Wharton aka Sharkula Credit: <a href="">Victor Grigas</a>, licensed under <a href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>

If you’ve spent much time in Chicago’s artsier north-side enclaves, you’ve likely crossed paths with Chicago rapper Brian Wharton—he goes by Sharkula, but he’s also sometimes known as Thigahmahjiggee. And if you’ve ever talked to him, he’s inevitably tried to sell you something: a homemade CD-R, a T-shirt he’s drawn on with Sharpie markers, or (more frequently these days) a graffiti-indebted painting on canvas or a piece of cardboard. And if like me you devour old-school hip-hop, fringe music of any genre, and artwork by iconoclasts, chances are you at least own a few of those CD-Rs, bought from Sharkula on the sidewalk, on the Blue Line, or in a bar he’s wandered into, selling his wares out of a bag like the Tamale Guy. Sharkula has become such a frequent presence in my everyday life that he defines my picture of Chicago as much as our stalagmite skyline, even as we’re sheltering in place; a couple weeks ago, I ran into him outside the Dill Pickle in Logan Square, where he’d brought his art to sell to the few pedestrians in sight. Thankfully his music is also accessible online, which is all the more important now that the social interactions that typically fuel his sales have temporarily vanished. (On Tuesday, April 14, Natalie Figueroa and Mike “Shazam” Bangles launched a GoFundMe to help Sharkula during the pandemic.) At the end of March, Sharkula released a new full-length, BBQ Fingaprints, on local label Static Switch. Sharkula famously colors outside the lines in his songs, with non sequiturs that sometimes clash with his beats and a flow that sometimes departs from logic, but on BBQ Fingaprints his free-associative raps are a little easier to follow than usual—and as charming as ever.   v