119 Productions doesn’t let itself get pinned down. While its origins are in hip-hop groups organized among Chicago high schoolers, the collective has since expanded into videography, blogging, and freelance video work. They’ve worked with Chicago icons like Mick Jenkins, Savemoney member Dally Auston, and Via Rosa on videos and features, even collaborating with New York rappers Benny Nice and Chelsea Reject. 119 recently oversaw the production of World of Mojek, an EP from producer Mojek that has been covered in the Reader and on hip hop blog Fake Shore Drive. The Weekly recently spoke with Jackson Duncan, 119’s primary blogger, to talk about the collective and its development.
So this started when you joined up with some of your friends who were doing videography?
We had been doing 119 for three years prior to that—I think it started in 2008? We were basically a big artist collective, and we’d release our own music, from hip-hop groups we’d been in before, since even 2002. I went to college for film in New York at The New School, and worked at The Source Magazine for a while. So when I came back to Chicago around 2013, I had friends who were in 119 from high school who I got together with. We started doing freelance video, but we were also doing hip-hop music videos, stuff like that, ’cause other friends from school were now in a rap group and taking it more seriously. One of the guys is Mick Jenkins’ DJ, Green Slime.
You guys put together an event for him recently, right?
We just did our second “Damn Slime” recently, with DJ Damnage, who’s Saba’s DJ, and DJ Green Slime, and we’ve known Zach [Green Slime] for years. We’ve been collaborating on different projects for years.
You’re most well-known for your videography work, though. How have you started expanding into these other areas?
We put out music a lot first, and in New York we met a bunch of new people but were also establishing contacts with each other, since we’d all split off. 119 was a place to put out our own mixtapes, just among friends. It could be one by Zach, who’s also a rapper, Ben [Benny Nice], who just moved to New York but was our longtime producer, me, or even my friend in Brooklyn, Trevor the Trashman, who’s gaining a following there. We even worked with a producer friend of ours who’s now the percussionist in Wet.
We always had a video angle in mind, so eventually we decided to focus in on that as our main moneymaker. That’s when we became freelance videographers. 119’s worn many hats, but in the last three years we’ve honed in to be a sort of music video clique, while still doing this blog to give everything a context, both for what we do and also the scene that we cover.
How has it been moving from videography work to operating what I guess you could call a record label?
Well, we’re more like a vanity label since we’re not a “real label,” but it is a different experience. We’d made a lot of connections through music videos and events, but working on the music we just wanted to give everyone a platform and make it easy to work. The CSS mixtape was some self-brand promotion, but with the Artist Series and World of Mojek, we just really wanted to let Mojek run the show. We gave him suggestions of artists to work with, but we wanted to let  be a platform for his project.
Something called “Friday Loosies” came out about a week ago on 119. What was that?
One of our guys in New York has been putting together an every-other-Friday mix series, so that was mostly different things he likes. We’ve got a base here that we’re familiar with, and we’re trying to get more familiar with people out there. This past year I did a video with Chelsea Reject. She’s going to be on our next big tape, which will drop in June. We want to be able to try to represent everybody. If we could extend across the world that’d be great, but right now we’re just extending nationally, trying to get things set up in New York, since I think we have the base to do it.
You also have a pretty large digital footprint. Are you trying to extend yourselves through things like the blog too?
I get pretty intense with the blog, just trying to keep it up during my day job, and that can be kind of a fickle game—who knows what makes for a successful blog? But we just try to keep posting. And whether or not it’s reaching everybody, I think it’s reaching the right audiences, because they seem to really take to it and share it. It’s fun. At the end of the day, the blog is maybe ninety percent everybody else and ten percent stuff that we do, but when all is said and done, people can look back at that blog and just see what we were a part of. It’s sort of a record of the scene. That’s really our goal, to be good documentarians of the whole thing.
Do you feel like that “scene” gets enough coverage from other people, or does it still feel limited?
That question has a lot of layers to it. A lot of people, as far as mainstream sites, are just coming on to the fact that Chicago has this intricate music scene, and you know, we all listen to trap and drill music, and there are layers to that. But I don’t have the biggest connections to dudes like that on the far West Side, and that was where the main focus was for such a long time. Just like in the news, Chicago is seen as this one thing when it comes to music.
But with people like Chance, Saba, Mick getting big now, it’s letting people know that there is a bigger scene. Ric Wilson, who I just heard on the radio and who’s on the Mojek project—and who is probably going to blow up—has a huge and diverse style. So yeah, I’d say Chicago is just getting discovered.
Do you feel like the other networks—Twitter, SoundCloud, the blog—have all come together in the right way for this to be a viable model?
Yeah, I mean, we’ve had good reach so far, and we’ve just been working to get it further. Right now we’re all about World Of Mojek, so we’re just doing anything we can to let people know about it and get them to listen to it. We’ve got other ventures going, but right now we’re just really focusing on promoting the album. And SoundCloud has been great, we get a lot of listens through that—we were in the Reader the other day. It’s been really surprising—really cool to see where we pop up: a lot of local love, but also a few things just around on the internet. And of course, we have our base in New York, trying to get it out through those guys too.
How did you get your name?
There’s a lot of different geneses of the 119 name—it began as an address when some of our homies were living in Oakland—but when we were in New York we’d start to joke that it was like the reverse energy of 9/11. I once questioned the name, since in Jamaica, where I end up a lot, that’s how you dial the police—which we’re not trying to go around endorsing police activity here. But I like to stick with that explanation—that it’s the reverse of 9/11. It’s nice. I feel like that’s some good karma.
And what about 119 is better than working with a traditional label?
I’ve seen shit get so messy and complicated when you’re dealing with a massive label or record company, and we wanted to just give artists like Mojek a platform. We’re only a small part of it. It’s been a blast, having the ability to give input on it and all that, but really the purpose is to put the spotlight on the artists.
We would never want to have any pettiness, not just as an outer, superficial thing, but also on a person-to-person basis. Having someone have the trust in us to release their music? That’s enough weight to want to do it right.