HIP-HOP: Local nonprofit the Lost Childhoods uses hip-hop against youth violence
Last week local rapper G.o.D. Jewels released “The Lost Childhoods,” a stark tune about growing up surrounded by violence. The track is part of an in-progress compilation mixtape—which also includes music from Dave Coresh, Prince Jericho, and the Boy Illinois—created in collaboration with a nonprofit called the Lost Childhoods, based in Englewood and Woodlawn. The mixtape, The Lost Childhoods: Never Forget Derrion Albert, drops Mon 9/24.
“I do believe music is one of the main components that can either hurt or help people,” says Lost Childhoods creative director Maxwell “Emcays” Mkwezalamba. He hopes to use it to address issues that affect youth violence. “Recently we’re realizing how powerful Chicago music is as it’s being recognized nationally, and I really wanted to do something positive in our city.”
Mkwezalamba is referring specifically to Chicago rap, which has surged into the national spotlight this year largely thanks to the east-side drill scene and its celebrity face, teenage phenom Chief Keef. The drill sound—a local variant of the popular strain of southern hip-hop called trap—combines dark, aggressive, often brutally minimalist beats with lyrics that can be just as bleak. Young MCs growing up in some of Chicago’s most notorious neighborhoods tend to make music that reflects or even embraces the gunplay that surrounds them.
Keef and his peers have been criticized for their lyrics, but that hasn’t stopped the press from crowning him the new voice of Chicago hip-hop. The Fader put Keef on the cover of its August/September issue, and its story focuses on his inner circle and a few key collaborators, not the city’s rap community as a whole. Recently the conversation surrounding Chicago hip-hop has been intertwined with the issue of violence, a connection strengthened in the public mind by this summer’s dismaying homicide numbers. So long as Keef remains the poster boy for the whole city’s hip-hop scene, there will no doubt be plenty more think pieces linking local rap and local violence.
Mkwezalamba hopes to offer a different perspective with The Lost Childhoods. The project is about engaging positively with communities and spreading awareness of youth violence—and its release date is the third anniversary of the death of Derrion Albert, the honor student beaten to death near Fenger Academy. Albert’s murder attracted widespread attention, but only briefly; Mkwezalamba is determined to keep his memory alive. The mixtape’s track list isn’t settled yet, so if you want to submit material, e-mail email@example.com.
RETAIL: Dusty Groove clears out its basement with a 50-cent sidewalk sale
This summer Ukrainian Village record shop Dusty Groove made the news by acquiring the bulk of the record collection that WGN had amassed over more than five decades: more than 20,000 albums, 40,000 singles, and 5,000 CDs. The radio station approached store owner Rick Wojcik in May; he looked through the collection and made an offer, and about a month later WGN accepted. The resulting haul, which covers almost every imaginable genre, began trickling into Dusty Groove’s bins and online store in early July, but most of it’s still being processed.
The WGN library is the largest private collection Wojcik has bought this year, but it’s only one of many—Dusty Groove’s basement is overflowing with so much stock that the shop is hosting a “garage sale” on Sat 9/8 to make space. More accurately, the store is hosting a sidewalk sale, which runs from 10 AM to 5 PM—all the albums and CDs they can drag outside will sell for 50 cents apiece, and seven-inches are priced to move at a quarter. It’s the first time the store has hosted a sale like this since 2003, when unmanageably huge crowds put the kibosh on future events. Wojcik says Record Store Day has since taught the staff how to handle throngs of buyers.
MUSIC & ART: Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis opens his show at Public Works
Something people tend to forget about music before the MP3 age is that record collectors were art collectors in training; the contents of your Case Logic CD book reflected not just your taste in music but also, in a small way, your taste in visual art. Photographer and designer Storm Thorgerson, a key member of UK collective Hipgnosis, makes album covers like Magrittes: rigidly composed images with playful visual puns. Thorgerson’s covers are either stark philosophical statements (light refracting through a prism on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) or sophisticated visual jokes (two men, one of whom is on fire, shaking hands on a Hollywood studio lot on Floyd’s Wish You Were Here). Often they’re both: the first three self-titled Peter Gabriel albums are variations on literal self-effacement.
“Storm Thorgerson—Computers Have a Lot to Answer For” opens at Public Works Gallery on Fri 9/7 and runs until Fri 11/2. The title refers to Thorgerson’s refusal to work with computers, a stance that makes his photographs all the more impressive. Now in his late 60s, he’s still active—he did the cover for the Steve Miller Band’s 2011 album Let Your Hair Down, which is part of the show. He’ll also be on hand opening night, since he insists on hanging the prints himself.
Chris Eichenseer, founder of the Someoddpilot design group (which runs Public Works), curated the exhibit. He believes it’s the first major retrospective of Thorgerson’s photographs in the United States. “The process of writing about the show, giving it a title, positioning it as something beyond a bunch of album covers—it’s a total challenge,” he says. “Do people value an image that they consider disposable because they’ve seen it so many times and you can buy it for 12 dollars and have your own copy of it? How do you create value from something that’s so ubiquitous? It’s cool.”