From the day she got her first ghettoblaster while growing up in Chatham, Jana Rush—aka JARu—has always been connected to Chicago music. Her ascent into the scene reads like folklore: at ten years, she called Kennedy-King’s WKKC 89.3 FM to schedule an audition. “Once they were done laughing,” Rush tells me, the DJs showed her the ropes, and juke icon Gant-Man took her under his wing. By 1996, Jana had put out a single and a split 12” with DJ Deeon on the legendary house label Dance Mania, where she was billed as “The Youngest Female DJ.”
When the Weekly profiled Benn Jordan (aka The Flashbulb) in July, he explained that he was always most eager to share new music that sounds nothing like his audience had heard before—and Jordan’s new album Piety of Ashes, out September 1, does not disappoint. Every track is its own musical journey, but each transitions seamlessly into the next to create a cohesive album that covers sounds from the crunching of leaves and the blowing wind to metallic, electronic beats, all contributing to a complex narrative of transitions and loss.
There’s something unusual about DJ Deeon’s Friday night set at Pilsen’s Fiesta del Sol: it’s clean. Tonight, his stage is within earshot of neon-lit carnival rides and family friendly attractions, so the raunchiest matter has been scrubbed out, presumably for the children’s sake. But as the bobbing and juking of the crowd suggests, even some conveniently placed backspins can’t dampen a cut like “Let me Bang.”
Right now, Benn Jordan, aka The Flashbulb, lives just outside of Atlanta. But that doesn’t stop him from repping Chicago: he continues to be influenced by his South Side upbringing in his performance style and experimental artistry. Using everything from acoustic guitar to ambient sound recordings, no track of Jordan’s is quite the same.
The various sounds across the hip-hop landscape are often region-locked. Describing a singular artist as either East or West Coast can simplify them to a certain sound and aesthetic. The recent burst of Chicago’s rap bubble has been a breath of fresh air for modern hip-hop. For possibly the first time, Chicago has a definite scene. The recent exposure is so rejuvenating because a singular idea, sound, or style didn’t follow with its fulfillment. Chicago’s scene is enigmatic because it isn’t locked by a singular approach, possibly due to its youth. No two artists are doing the same thing and every young MC has something distinct to offer to Chicago’s palette—which is why the St. Louis-born, Chicago-made rapper Smino is such a perfect fit.
With the release of the self-titled album by Bottle Tree last week, the International Anthem Recording Company continues to build its reputation as one of the South Side’s most adventurous record labels. Founder Scottie McNiece, along with his partners David Allen and Joe Darling, have built a catalog of outsider music that stands up to the best that has ever come from Chicago. Although the Bridgeport-based label has developed a reputation for releasing great avant-garde jazz, their sound is less predictable, dabbling in funk, electronic, noise, and singer/songwriter music. Renowned artists on the label’s roster include post-rock, free jazz guitarist Jeff Parker (of Tortoise fame), the Nick Mazzarella Trio, and hip-hop-inspired drummer Makaya McCraven. As every example of success, such achievement first started as an idea—an idea that suddenly came to Scottie McNiece.
On Thanksgiving night and again in January, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a Chicago tradition unfolded at Hyde Park restaurant-venue the Promontory. Revelers packed the floor until the early hours of the morning, dancing to the music of the Chosen Few DJs. The guys behind the turntables blasted a slowly evolving soundtrack of classic disco, pop, R&B, hip-hop, and punk over an omnipresent bass drum thump. Club-goers went home bleary and content.
Like many musicians, JoVia Armstrong’s journey began early: she went from playing on pots and pans as a kid to becoming an accomplished percussionist, as member of the band JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, and an experienced teaching artist. JoVia is now onto her latest project: a music school that she runs out of her own apartment called Sounds About Write, which she started last September. Students can take lessons in a variety of instruments and sound technology, both in groups and one-on-one sessions. With different lessons taught by different teaching artists, the lessons range from guitar to songwriting to conga drums, and nearly anything in between. The school aims to make music education more accessible, and to instill a passion for the arts in every household.
Nobody said out loud that night, on February 23, that it was the last night of A.M. Frison’s residency at the Stony Island Arts Bank.