Phalair Carter Credit: @thirdeyeviews_

In the late afternoon of March 28, it was typically lively in The Silver Room on 53rd Street. Bubbles and smoke hung in the air, obscuring cabinets of luxury jewelry and handbags. The boutique—which offers big, colorful art books, novels with Black people on the covers, and an eclectic wall of eyewear—has recently reinstated its monthly open mic series, where Black artists gather to build community and share art. Phalair Carter, the new host, made his rounds around the room, wearing a woven sweatshirt illustrated with the cover art for Richard Wright’s memoir Black Boy

Over the course of the evening, various local rap artists performed everything from conscious to rock rap, with improvisation and backing from Josh Robertson & the Saints. Some were on stage for the first time. Others were veterans. I saw future pop icons and slam poetry about respectability politics. 

Phalair introduced himself to the audience as a rapper, poet, and producer, before performing “Star n Sky.” He walked amongst the crowd, interacting with his community as it swayed back and forth, hands lifted high. The audience chuckled and whooped towards the end of the chorus, when Phalair repeated: “and these bitch niggas won’t get nothing.” 

“Star n Sky” is the first single from Phalair’s mixtape WHY, which will be released everywhere June 9. From a bird’s eye view, WHY is about a Black man wrestling with the reality of success. It’s a hero’s journey with catchy bebop hooks and mysteriously soft breakbeats, grand yet hollow. As Phalair says in an intro track evocative of gospel, gracefully layered in autotune: “Just talk to me / We need to lock in / help me. I’ve fallen.” 

Phalair opens the mixtape by welcoming the audience into the story and introducing himself. “Star n Sky” specifically shouts out South Shore, with the first verse describing a childhood memory of “watching the spider eat the mosquito.” In confrontational and nuanced verses, he takes offense to his peers rapping for clout or external validation, with phrases like “gatekeepers being jumped in like frat bros” rapped over a sample of “You Send Me” by the Ponderosa Twins Plus One. 

“Promiseland” has a dreamy beat and bitingly historical bars, ending with: “I’ve been led astray again.” The next song, “Tired of Tiring,” is a poetic interlude. The instrumental is an electric hum. Art has become a clown suit. The American Dream is a weak idea. 

But WHY gets personal, too. “Thing Called Love” explores masculinity, poverty, and familial responsibility over a sample of Dee Dee Bridgewater’s “When Love Comes (Knockin’),” while “1st Million” honors Black motherhood even as it focuses on money. Phalair’s mother, Ms. Robinson, graces the audience with voicemail, which works as a manifestation. It’s a mother affirming to her son that no matter what happens he is loved, even in a song about dreams of materialism. The record ends with a soft piano solo fading into silence. 

WHY ends with its protagonist welcomed home, and dedicated to staying for good. The first verse of “Welcome Home” dynamically details a drive downtown with the windows down on an autumn day. In “Home 4 Good,” Phalair expresses gratitude and paints his family tree over saxophone. A line of poetry stands out: “I become the blockade to sink the rival ship.” 

Phalair is at once charismatic and pessimistic in WHY, a project that is both hopeful and marked by a looming concern about exploitation. It marks Phalair as part of Chicago’s latest generation of rappers—not for his youth, but for his expertise and cultural reverence. 

Four years after speaking with him about his last mixtape, Blssd, the Weekly caught up with Phalair at Woodlawn’s Robust Coffee to discuss WHY

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South Side Weekly: What was it like for you growing up with hip-hop? 

Phalair: It was the back burner of my life. I didn’t realize how important it was in my life until I got older. I was always the little guy around my dad. He would do these open mics and showcases, and I would always be around it, but not really understanding. 

What is it like to be raised by a fellow MC? 

It’s challenging and very, very fun. Me and my dad have a very special relationship because he really gave me the blueprint to being my own artist. And it’s weird because now I’m in my own position with an expertise to help him and his artistry, but he has the wisdom to help me and mine so we have a really interesting synergy going on right now. It’s really fun and he raw as fuck. 

Tell me about your training as a poet and producer.

I was in LTAB [Louder Than A Bomb] coming up. I only did it for one year cause the rest of that shit was lame as hell. When I was trained as a poet, it taught me how to put myself in all my art and stop rapping about being cool and how to make everything in my life a single. Even if I’m sad, I can make that palpable. If I’m happy, I can make that feel sad; I can change my perspective on anything. I can make anything sound cool, that’s what I learned from poetry. What I learned from producing is how to orchestrate real songs into having a theme and a message because production, that’s half the battle. That’s half the world your raps on. Producing taught me how to world-build, and poetry taught me how to describe what that world is giving.  

How did going to school in Florida shape your career? 

Well, it taught me how to develop myself as an artist, it taught me how to develop other people as artists, and it really taught me that everybody is at a different levels. Also taught me how to promo shows and get my stage presence up. But what it really did teach me was the idea of how to build out my own show and how to work with people and be a curator. It challenged my career because I had to start all over. I had a fan base I had built from the project I dropped called Blssd, and then I ended up leaving to go to Florida a month after that, so I never got a chance to perform those songs to the people who liked that music. I had to build in a completely foreign place. Florida is weird as fuck; just saying it on record. And for a Chicago kid to go Florida and try to succeed there, it was very difficult. 

How will this mixtape be different from your other work sonically and thematically? 

A lot of my work leading up to Blssd was about practice and cohesion. Respected was my most cohesive project, at the time, because I used the same producer and figured out I really liked soul samples. A lot, a lot. This new record is gonna be about everything it took for me to be a rapper while Blssd talked about if I had what it takes to be one. So it’s kinda like the inverse of things that I had to sacrifice to become what I am now and the people that I lost, the dreams I gave up, and the responsibility I have to be someone with influence. 

How did you come to host The Silver Room’s open mic? 

My homie Tyler Martin was the original host there. He was hosting it for a long time, and then I ended up working at the Silver Room. I was really excited to work with him and just kinda help in any way I could. He ended up not being with the space anymore, and then I ended up getting that position. 

Phalair Carter Credit: @thirdeyeviews_

How do you think the open mic went? 

That shit was awesome. Top ten, period. It was amazing, we had a live band, my dad came through, a lot of old Kenwood alums came through and blessed the microphone. It was almost like a reunion, almost. Everybody had fun, and I’m just really glad I got to perform my new song, “Star n Sky,” with the live band for the first time ever. That was really inspiring to me.  

What can you share about your upcoming second project, samples, and collaborations? 

I’m handling over half of the production on this one. I work with the same niggas. I’m working with Miles Gillespie, Abnormal. The type of samples—we got a lot of Jasper Harris; he’s a composer I really like. A lot of soul samples, but it’s done in a different way. We got some different arrangements of strings. I was kind of really into a lot of orchestral stuff because when I went to SAE Institute they taught me how to make sound differently. It’s gonna be my best work, for sure. 

 Phalair Carter will launch WHY with a performance at The Silver Room (1506 E. 53rd St.) on June 8, 6-9pm. Follow @_phalair on Instagram for further updates.

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Imani Joseph last wrote for the Weekly about Noname’s Sundial.

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