PJ Gordon Credit: Illustration by Daniel Zalkus

PJ Gordon, 24, has been involved in Chicago’s hip-hop scene since his senior year at Whitney Young Magnet High School in 2014. He contributes to Fake Shore Drive, organizes concerts, and works as a curator for streaming service Audiomack—he makes its playlist Hometown Heroes: Chicago.

As told to Leor Galil

I was graduating high school and wasn’t too sure what I was gonna do next. Two of my best friends were starting a rap group. They needed help e-mailing blogs and coming up with a rollout and a marketing plan, so I started helping them out. Basically I became their manager. This is May of 2014. I got into putting on shows and doing rap journalism, and from there it all snowballed.

A few of the local guys went to Whitney Young—Vic Mensa, Alex Wiley, I believe Joey Purp. I would see them around. The music scene was such a big part of high school, ’cause all of those guys, they were about my age. They would be at the parties, or they were the center of the parties, or they threw the parties. If you were a kid that went to a high school in the city at that point, you knew who they were, and so by extension you were at least a little into the music scene.

I started seeing how the sausage was made. I saw more of it from the inside. I was obviously still a fan, but just seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff, it changed my perception of it. I started thinking of it more business-like. Andrew Barber, who hired me at Fake Shore Drive, he was a really big part of helping me get to the next level, but also kind of seeing things from every angle. He looks at it as a fan, but also the business elements—looking at the way musicians moved and the way their teams were operating.

My cousin was a friend of Hebru Brantley‘s, and they’re both friends with Andrew, so they introduced me to Andrew. After I’d been writing for a number of local blogs for a little while, they pretty much just saw, “He’s serious about this.” So my cousin reached out to Drew, like, “Hey, check him out.” And he liked my writing. So it went from there.

I went from a guy that was trying to get a bunch of people to listen to my artist, to a bunch of artists reaching out to me to either submit their music or just in general. I was someone from Fake Shore that they could talk to a little bit easier, because I was more likely to be at an event, because I was still trying to network everywhere. So it introduced me to a lot more people and taught me how to operate in the peer group of the music scene.

I started working at not just doing small community theaters—I went to bars and I threw stuff there. I helped book stuff at Metro. I was widening my network and keeping my ears to the ground. I went from just trying to get as many people on, to tailoring my events—I hate shows that are just all over the place, like, music that doesn’t really go together. I put more effort into making it so, like, “Hey, this is a show where I want to see everybody performing. I’m not just here to see my friend, or I’m not just here to see one person. I want to stay for the entire thing.” It’s how I got into playlisting. It’s a full experience, a full something for people to enjoy.

Working for a music blog is in some way curatorial. But I have a pinned tweet on my page that says, “‘I fucked someone to that playlist you made’ is the highest compliment you can give me.” And Audiomack marketing director Joe Vango saw it; I guess he checked the comments to see if it was valid, and he really liked my work. He hired me to do Chicago playlisting for Audiomack—I think it was early 2019.

I make sure that as many artists as possible get signed up for Audiomack—not just Chicago. When I go to other cities, I talk to people and see if they’re with us. I maintain the Chicago Hometown Heroes playlist. I curate other ones, whatever I’m feeling. When Juice Wrld died, I made one to commemorate him.

In general, I was surprised by how few artists knew about Audiomack, or they thought that it was something that they had to pay for, or they didn’t realize, “Hey, we’re just here to make sure your music gets out and you get paid for it.” For my part, I’ve been educating as many people about it and just making sure everyone uploads all their new material there. I realized it was kind of a case-by-case basis, where people would upload to Audiomack, so I kind of just made it happen where every time a friend of mine released a song, “Hey, make sure you put this up there.”

We also had the Hometown Heroes concert at Metro for All-Star Weekend, which is more or less the live version of the playlist I curate. That was a big part of the Chicago engagement. It was really cool that we got to be a part of All-Star Weekend; I’m glad they saw that opportunity.

I just like learning as much as I can and seeing things from as many angles as I can. I work for the local operation, which is Fake Shore, and Audiomack is more of a national thing. I’m meeting new artists all the time; I’m meeting new managers. I feel like every interaction I have makes me a little bit better at my job.  v