Few grassroots Chicago hip-hop artists play as well with others as Clinton Sandifer, aka ShowYouSuck. His collaborations tend to turn into friendships, and those friendships lead to new collaborations—not just in hip-hop but also in punk, pop, indie rock, experimental R&B, electronic music, and even stand-up comedy. His warmth, positivity, and enthusiasm act as catalysts for all sorts of genre-crossing hybrids that might not exist without him.
Hood Internet producer Steve Reidell recruited Show for his group’s 2012 album Feat—specifically “Nothing Should Be a Surprise,” which also features Arizona rapper Isaiah Toothtaker. “It was definitely a track that wasn’t made in the same room, but it still vibed well—that springboarded and ended up with those two collaborating further,” Reidell says. “It’s a cool testament to the infectiousness of ShowYouSuck. People work with him, or even if they end up on a track with him they maybe didn’t intend to collaborate on—someone just gets put onto a track—it seems to result in further collaboration.”
In his hyperactive live sets, Show seems at least as excited to be onstage as his fans are to watch him, and he practically bounces off the walls—he’s in midair more often than he has both feet on the ground. He’s witty, goofy, and approachable, with a nonchalant magnetism that’s a big part of his crossover appeal. In a ShowYouSuck crowd, you’re as likely to see studded leather jackets as you are streetwear and hoodies.
Show’s contagious energy extends to his omnivorous, idiosyncratic music. His lyrics feel like late-night conversations that ramble from a hit TV show to a new favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint to a great metal concert to the heartache of a bad breakup. On his October 2011 debut, the One Man Pizza Party mixtape (the first of a series of four), he references back-flipping Bad Brains front man H.R., 1990s Nickelodeon summer-camp show Salute Your Shorts, and a “smorgasbord of hoagies, oatmeal, cannolis.” In December 2012, when the bleak, nihilistic drill sound ruled the Chicago scene, Show dropped One Man Pizza Party III: Rest in Pizza, where he rapped about using binge eating as an emotional crutch on “25 Slices” (a silly nod to DJ DMD’s “25 Lighters”). “He marches to the beat of his own drum,” says Fake Shore Drive founder and editor Andrew Barber. “I don’t think he watches what other people are doing—he has a unique way of doing things.”
Dan Deacon, Marijuana Deathsquads, Air Credits
Sun 2/19, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600, emptybottle.com, $15, $5 with RSVP, 21+
Over the past year, ShowYouSuck has continued to reach out and forge new relationships. The 31-year-old made his entrance into the local comedy scene, performing his songs twice at the A.V. Club’s monthly stand-up showcase, Bell Hop; he teamed up with Dark Matter Coffee for Intellectual Curiosity, a music-inspired roast that came with a ShowYouSuck cassette called Awesome Tape; he got onstage with garage-pop group Today’s Hits; and he guested on a couple Chicago installments of Daybreaker, an early-morning dance party that begins with an hour of yoga and exercise. His highest-profile new project, though, is Air Credits, a band with frequent collaborators and mashup machines the Hood Internet (aka Reidell and coproducer Aaron Brink).
Air Credits debuted with two singles in July 2016, and in October they released their first full-length, the pop-centric, stylistically slippery Broadcasted. The group hit the road with Doomtree rapper Sims for 22 dates in November and December, then returned to town to open for the Hood Internet at a sold-out New Year’s Eve gig at Lincoln Hall. New musical collaborations are pretty much standard operating procedure for Show, though. He’s also working on a project in a medium that’s new to him: television.
Show’s TV show, Good Luck Hunting, debuts this month through Chicago-based JBTV. Founded in 1984 by former audio engineer Jerry Bryant, JBTV was originally a single music-focused program (it’s been aired on a variety of independent, digital, and cable-access channels during its long life) and expanded last year into a 24-hour network, available on WPVN 24.7 (you need an HD antenna) and at jbtvmusic.com. Filmmaker and editor Jeremy Franklin, who’s worked on music videos for ShowYouSuck and singer Lili K., has spent the past few weeks helping Show finesse the program’s 28-minute debut episode. They haven’t let many people see it yet, aside from Bryant and JBTV executive producer Greg Corner, but Show is willing to drop some hints. “I call it a visual magazine. It’s a mix of animated shorts, music videos, interviews, live performance clips—like, random shorts that I find on the Internet and stuff that we make too,” he says. “This is my version of MTV’s Liquid Television. Also this is my Headbangers Ball. This is my Yo! MTV Raps. This is my Rap City. All in one.”
Show stumbled upon JBTV the show while growing up in west-suburban Bellwood in the 90s. “JBTV gave me an alternative—an alternative to see a band that I’m really stoked on get interviewed,” he says. “They would interview bands that I never saw get interviewed before. I got put on to a lot of bands by watching JBTV, just randomly.” Through the show, he discovered Veruca Salt and first heard Billy Corgan talk (instead of sing). He developed an appetite for all sorts of public-access TV. “That’s how I saw anime for the first time,” he says. “I saw superweird videos of people doing random stuff on public access.”
As a kid Show got obsessed with all sorts of pop culture—not just music and oddball TV but also sneakers, vinyl toys, and clothes—and they eventually became as integral to his music as his love for hip-hop, metal, and punk and his predilection for rapping about food. On One Man Pizza Party 2: Mo Slices, Mo Problems, which he dropped in December 2011, he nicks the “What the hell do I know” line from Kanye’s “Dark Fantasy” to set up a lyric about late-night tacos, compares weed to Folgers coffee (“The best part of waking up”), and raps about watching cartoon dogs while surfing Pitchfork’s website.
Show’s first two OMPP mixtapes, released within a couple months of each other, earned him a reputation as a rapper to watch. “The style of his voice really resonated right away—all the pop-culture references, that real classic ShowYouSuck style and content,” Reidell says. At the time, the Hood Internet were working on Feat, their debut album of original material (as opposed to mashups). Listening to the first OMPP gave Reidell an idea. “We had this beat and I was like, ‘Maybe this dude would want to rap on this,'” he says. ShowYouSuck, who liked to pass the time at his retail jobs listening to Hood Internet mixtapes, jumped at the chance when Reidell send him a DM on Twitter.
Show’s work on Feat began one of his most fruitful musical partnerships. His 2013 Closed Sessions EP, Dude Bro, included the triumphant, pumped-up jam “Make-Out King,” produced by the Hood Internet. In March 2014 both acts performed at the inaugural Chicago Made, a city-presented showcase at South by Southwest, alongside the likes of Psalm One (performing as Hologram Kizzie), Archie Powell & the Exports, and Chance the Rapper, whose headlining set attracted such an overwhelming crowd that it got the concert shut down. Psalm One enjoyed sharing a bill with Show and the Hood Internet so much that she invited both acts to travel to Europe with her in fall 2014. “Me and Clinton ended up being roommates on that tour,” Reidell says. “That’s when we started toying around with, like, ‘Hey, we should—once we’re back in the States—maybe get together and make a whole project.'”
ShowYouSuck and the Hood Internet scheduled a recording session with producer Professor Fox in July 2015, but after that the collaboration seemed to stall. It wasn’t till early the next year that Reidell found an opportunity to kick things back into gear: Black Moth Super Rainbow leader Tobacco offered the Hood Internet an opening spot for a couple road shows in March 2016, and Reidell figured he could invite Show along. “I did that classic move where you have a new band and maybe it’s not quite ready for a show yet, but you book a show and then you have a deadline,” he says. “I hit Clinton up. I was like, ‘Hey, would you want to do a set where I DJ some ShowYouSuck tracks but we also do some new stuff?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m down.’ So then we started getting together with a pretty high frequency to start working on whatever that was.”
ShowYouSuck and the Hood Internet rehearsed and recorded in preparation for the tour with Tobacco, and though they appeared under their own names, they were essentially operating as a distinct project—the band that would eventually be called Air Credits. The four or five songs they cut before hitting the road established Air Credits as anchored in sci-fi imagery—Show says he got that feeling from “Camaro,” the very first track. “He [Reidell] played the beginning of the beat—it made me think of weird, futuristic shit,” Show says. “I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just gonna rap about it.’ Steve never was like, ‘This is weird,’ he just let me do it.” In April, after the shows with Tobacco, the new group made “No Water,” the song that cemented Air Credits’ identity: “It just unlocked something in me that I wasn’t able to make with any other producer.”
The dystopian world Show describes in “No Water” provides a common ground for the stylistically disparate songs on Broadcasted. Atop the song’s hazy G-funk melody, he raps about a postapocalyptic wasteland ravaged by nuclear war, which has decimated the earth’s population and evaporated or poisoned much of its fresh water. It’s not clear how far into the future the song is set, but humans are able to travel to Mars. Trump is still in power, having abused a cloning program to ensure that a version of him will stay in the Oval Office. (Broadcasted came out a week and a half before the presidential election, when this might have seemed funny.) Show portrays himself not just as surviving but as having amassed a fortune that allows him to buy enough air to live. “Air credits don’t come cheap,” he raps on the hook. “Broke boys ain’t breathing like me.”
Teaming up with Reidell and Brink has been rewarding for Show: “[Steve’s] frame of reference is huge, which is perfect for me, ’cause I live in references,” he says. “I can be like, ‘Yo, can we make this sound like the intro to Pretty in Pink?’ and he knows exactly what I’m talking about.” Forming a new band also helped Show find a better perspective on his own work. “What’s really cool about this situation is that I learned that I control my narrative—I call this a band, so people call it a band,” he says. “I guess I’m outing the Jedi mind trick about it—instead of calling it a rap group or something.” Andrew Barber sees Air Credits as a major step up for ShowYouSuck: “Show and the Hood Internet coming together—I hate to use this comparison, ’cause probably everybody’s used it, but I feel like it could be their Run the Jewels moment,” he says. “You hear them and see them together and you go, ‘Oh, this makes perfect sense—this is a perfect fit.'”
ShowYouSuck changed his narrative in another way last year. Though he’s built a reputation as the Energizer Bunny of Chicago hip-hop, he proved that his lyrics and perspective could work with somber instrumentation too—his Bummer EP, released in May and produced by local guitarist Walking Shoe, has the darkest beats he’s ever used. “I feel like certain people started to look at me in a different way—in a good way,” he says. “I really unlocked something while working on that project, for sure, and now overall I feel really open creatively—like I’m realizing my potential for the first time.”
Show says he made Bummer because he’d been depressed and struggling to figure out what he wanted from his career. He’d quit his last retail job in 2015 to pursue rap full-time. “Music, and I even think art—it’s a completely illogical business to be in, ’cause when you do A, B, and C it doesn’t necessarily equal D,” he says. “You can have the manager, you can have this great opportunity, you can have the publicist, but sometimes it doesn’t pan out. You can drive yourself crazy worrying about this stuff, and I did for so long. I just got lost in what I wanted, and my brain had a realignment—it just got it together, and now I make things because that’s what I want to do. I do it the way I want to do it, and I make it with who I want to make it with, and it’s awesome. Now making the art gets me really stoked, and the results of the art is just extra.”
Encouraged by this new mind-set, Show pitched his idea for a TV program to JBTV last summer. He’d had a personal relationship with the show since 2012, when his friend Greg Corner joined its staff. They’d met at a Rehab party earlier that year, after which Corner, then playing bass in Kill Hannah, quickly became a fan of Show’s music. JBTV had historically focused on rock, and Corner saw an opportunity to help diversify its programming. “I wanted to open up the demographic and genres of music that were getting booked there—[Show] was one of the first hip-hop artists that I booked,” he says. “His style and demeanor—even what he wears—is such a bridge between rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop.”
Show was such a hit with the JBTV crowd and crew that Corner started calling on him to interview performers (and to do interviews at the North Coast Music Festival and Riot Fest in 2015 and ’16). When Show sat down with rapper Taylor Bennett on JBTV this past July, he learned about the new 24-hour station from the show’s staffers. “I asked them, ‘What do you guys show all the time?’ They said, ‘Archive footage,'” he says. “I was thinking, ‘They probably need content.'”
Show began working on Good Luck Hunting in November, mostly by e-mailing people whose work he liked to ask them to contribute to the first episode. “I can connect people. I feel like that’s where a lot of my skill set comes from—connecting people that wouldn’t normally come across each other,” Show says. His entry into the local comedy scene demonstrates this talent. Matt Byrne of the Bell Hop stand-up series encountered him on Tim Barnes’s comedy podcast, It’s All True!, in October 2015, and ended up booking him twice. “Just coming off of those two shows, I’ve definitely passed his contact information on to a lot of folks,” Byrne says. “I know a lot of comedians that saw his set at one of the two shows were very excited.”
Good Luck Hunting doesn’t have a fixed format, which Show hopes will make it easier for him to draw from the various overlapping communities in which he’s involved. He’s already found a new collaborator through the program—avant-garde rapper and singer Sen Morimoto, who’s been a fan of Show’s since seeing him open for Yelawolf in 2012. Morimoto worked with Show on the lighthearted theme song for Good Luck Hunting. “It’s very cute and beautiful—it makes my heart warm,” Morimoto says. “That’s how I’m assuming the show’s gonna make me feel.”
Franklin, who’s been working with Show since he became a fan about five years ago, is the rapper’s main collaborator on Good Luck Hunting. He’s helped edit the first episode, which ought to be broadcast early this month (JBTV had yet to settle on a date when this was published). “Clinton is different from some other artists I’ve worked with, because he’s very open to ideas and really trusts people,” Franklin says. “As a creative, you always want to be able to collaborate with people that allow you to express your vision as well as their own.”
The in-progress excerpts of Good Luck Hunting that I’ve seen are full of other peoples’ visions: the shorts include an animation by rapper Probcause and local filmmaker Elijah Alvarado, a comedy bit with Chicago pop duo Celine Neon, and a Claymation piece by UK animator Maxim Northover that stars a skeleton character from his videos for ShowYouSuck’s “Make-Out King” and “Daria (Everything Sucks).” Show’s own music floats in and out of the episode, which also features brief live clips of Air Credits. Good Luck Hunting is playful and hallucinatory, a collage of creative visions whose only shared element is ShowYouSuck. He’s making things up as he goes, and the show doesn’t yet have a fixed length or format—there’s so much time available on the JBTV network that he can stretch out as much as he likes. He’s not sure how often new episodes will arrive, either. “Who knows how long the next episode is gonna be, or the episode after that,” he says. “If I want to make an all-Saint Patty’s Day episode or, I don’t know, a half-hour montage of people puking all over the place, let’s do it! This is an ever-changing art piece.” v