Pivot Gang DJ and producer Squeak in front of a bush covered in brilliant yellow flowers
Pivot Gang DJ and producer Squeak Credit: Evan Brown

I met Squeak in Saba’s grandparent’s basement. The walls were plastered with magazine covers, the space stuffed with recording equipment and video games. A memory not easily forgotten—I’ve probably told this story a thousand times, in writing and in person.

It was 2016, a year after the first time I interviewed Saba and a couple years after I first learned about Pivot Gang. I was so invigorated by Chicago’s music scene that I’d moved here on a whim. I didn’t know much about the city, but that didn’t matter to the guys—they didn’t treat me as an outsider and immediately welcomed me.

There in that basement, in the first Pivot Gang studio, sat Joseph Chilliams, John Walt, Saba, MFn Melo—and among them Squeak, who was beaming from ear to ear as they went around the circle and introduced themselves to me. I honestly don’t remember exactly what anyone said—I have the audio recording somewhere—but I remember Squeak making a quip that loosened everyone up and got them laughing.

The entirety of Squeak and MFn Melo’s collaborative EP En Route, released in spring 2021.

What I instantly saw that night was their collective light. It was my first glimpse of a brotherhood that would take this crew far, and together. The West Side’s Only Boy Band: Pivot Gang.

There’s a reason Squeak’s name trended on Twitter as news of his passing hit the Internet—there’s a reason for the outpouring of love on social media. Another person taken too soon. Only later did we find out that both Squeak and his uncle Derion Hood had been killed in a shooting.

Squeak at work Credit: Evan Brown

Squeak’s authenticity was legendary. He continued to carry out Pivot Gang’s impact and legacy on the west side. He made a lot of moves on a micro level to uplift his Austin neighborhood and Chicago: producing events, DJing (often out west), and helping build the John Walt Foundation. Search his name on Twitter and you’ll find countless stories of Squeak advising young artists, giving them the opportunity to DJ, or just generally being helpful. And anyone who’s been aware of the crew’s presence has seen their work enlighten and energize the city’s youth firsthand. We’ve seen fans flock to their shows. We’ve seen tours sell out. We’ve seen Pivot travel the world. Squeak was Walt’s first DJ, and he went on to DJ for Melo, Joe, and Frsh Waters. He DJed and toured with other Chicago artists, including Jean Deaux and Femdot. He produced music for Pivot’s debut studio album, You Can’t Sit With Us, and released countless mixes. He was omnipresent and indispensable.

Pivot moves as a unit. The brotherhood is immense; the love is deep. They’re a family that the whole community has seen grow into adulthood and into their artistry—we’ve watched each member take off, one by one. A crew with immeasurable talent and kindness. A crew with unending perseverance. A crew who never did anything without one another. A bond you can feel.

Pivot not only carry the city on their back but have taken Austin and Chicago’s entire west side worldwide.

Squeak’s 2018 track “Perfect for U” features Xone White.

My own work and life have been charted by Pivot Gang, and I think many of us can say the same. From the moment Saba’s Comfort Zone dropped, all eyes were on this collective. Whatever moves they made benefited their family, the city’s youth, and the west side.

Sadly, it’s hard to talk about Pivot Gang without talking about loss. The entire community grieved after the passing of Walt in 2017. We became stronger. And here, we will do it again—continue to pour love into Squeak’s daughter, into his son, into his brothers, Frsh and Jaw, their siblings and family, into Pivot, into everyone who cared for Squeak.

Green balloons rise into the sky at a tribute for Squeak and his uncle Derion Hood in La Follette Park on August 18. Credit: Tara C. Mahadevan

We’ve already seen how our community shows up. Yesterday evening, Squeak’s family held a balloon release at La Follette Park, where hundreds of people from every side of Chicago assembled, green balloons in hand, all of us freeing them into the sky simultaneously—lime- and kelly-green balloons dotting the sunset in commemoration of Squeak and Derion.

Squeak was always smiling. I just saw his big toothy grin a few weeks ago, and unexpectedly too—on a breezy Sunday in a friend’s backyard. He’d really been in his bag with DJing and producing. He had just released a new project with Melo. En Route on repeat.

The En Route track “Handheld” features Squeak’s brother Frsh Waters.

Long live SqueakPIVOT. Long live John Walt. Long live Derion. May their memories be a blessing.