The three members of Growing Concerns Poetry Collective all juggle other practices outside their collaboration. Their CVs are too extensive to discuss exhaustively, but poet McKenzie Chinn has built a career acting onstage (she’s a Goodman Theatre regular) and on TV (she has a recurring role on CBS’s Chicago-based drama The Red Line). She also wrote, produced, and starred in the indie film Olympia, which premiered at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival. Rapper and poet Mykele Deville acts too: he’s appeared on Showtime’s The Chi and Comedy Central’s South Side, and last fall he went to Louisville to take on a lead role in the Actors Theatre’s production of Hype Man: A Break Beat Play. Lastly, producer Jeffrey Michael Austin is a multimedia visual artist who has mounted solo exhibitions at Heaven Gallery and the Chicago Artists Coalition. Since the three of them began collaborating as Growing Concerns Poetry Collective a few years ago, they’ve learned to feed off one another’s strengths to infuse their music with spirituality and gravitas.
On the trio’s self-released second album, Big Dark Bright Futures, Austin weaves together wafting, elongated guitar notes and gently pulsing minimalist percussion, creating a dreamlike atmosphere that helps the clarity in Deville and Chinn’s performances hit like the cold light of dawn. For most of the album, Growing Concerns alternate lead vocalists track by track—Deville drops spitfire verses for an entire song, and then Chinn delivers meditative poems on the next. When they share the mike on a number, such as lead single “Shout Across Mountains,” they sharpen the complicated combinations of emotions—joy, sorrow, grief—in each other’s lyrics. Growing Concerns often address racial injustice, police violence, and inequality from an intersectional perspective, and Chinn criticizes white feminism on “Peace After Revolution” by describing how she wishes her would-be allies would join that fight: “If my body was free / I would’ve gone to the Women’s March / All the women there would’ve also been the women saying Eric’s name / And Rekia’s name.” Throughout Big Dark Bright Futures, Growing Concerns treat themselves and their listeners tenderly, even when the news they have to deliver is bad—they know kindness can be a crucial part of building the coalitions we need to destroy white supremacy. v