SqueakPivot and MFn Melo Credit: Michael Salisbury

Producer SqueakPivot has long been a crucial member of the Chicago hip-hop collective he’s incorporated into his stage name, applying his talents largely to mixes and DJ sets—I’m hard-pressed to think of a Pivot Gang show I’ve seen where Squeak wasn’t behind the turntables. He’s infrequently released his own music, though that began to shift when Pivot dropped the playful 2019 group album You Can’t Sit With Us. Squeak brought an understated cool to the songs he coproduced, two of which (“Jason Statham, Pt. 2” and “Clark Kent”) feature MFn Melo. As Squeak recently told These Days writer Pedro Gonzalez, he got close with Melo while Squeak’s brother, Pivot rapper Frsh Waters, served time in the mid-2010s: “Melo was my big brother when my big brother left. I instantly looked at Melo for guidance as far as teaching me how to move or just learning from him.”

Melo and Squeak’s kinship invigorates their new collaborative EP, #EnRoute (Pivot Gang LLC / Lil Pack Productions). Squeak excels with subtle production touches; icy keys ripple behind brief, limber bass figures and a thin percussion loop on “One With Me,” while murmuring bass intensifies a watery fingerpicked guitar sample on “Ball Is Life.” Melo’s easygoing verve, lighthearted lyricism, and rich, sumptuous voice make him a great foil for Squeak, and he knows how to adapt his flow to match Squeak’s energy. On “Risk,” Melo switches up the speed of his raps to mirror Squeak’s multipronged percussion, then shifts gears again to deliver the song’s smooth hook in a velvet coo. On the relaxed, joyous “Handheld,” an EP highlight, the duo recruit Frsh Waters to lend his suave grit to Squeak’s dreamy instrumental and Melo’s laid-back, debonair performance. #EnRoute hits a lot of targets in its short run time, and I get the impression Squeak and Melo are only beginning to flex their muscles.   v