If you looked up the word “multi-hyphenate” in the dictionary, you might see a picture of a radiant Vicki Street with a microphone in her hand. The twenty-eight-year-old rapper, director, talk show host, audio producer, and mental health advocate is a staple of Chicago’s underground creative scene. She’s no stranger to hard work, whether that means performing, directing videos and podcasts, or giving a platform to other creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators in the city.
Through music that pays homage to her love of ‘90s and early 2000s hip-hop and R&B, Vicki Street has created a unique sound that truly reflects Chicago’s musical culture in a way that’s substantive and refreshing. There’s her latest album With Everything Going On, carrying phenomenal R&B features from artists like Schenay Mosley. There’s her Cereal & Cyphers visual series, with guest features from Freddie Old Soul and Cassius Tae, to name a few. And there’s her powerful relationship with her mentor and manager, the legendary Lyrical of Lyrical Eyes Management, which played a key role in the success of Ravyn Lenae, Tink, Lil Durk and others.
Vicki carries that passion into her newly revamped YouTube show-turned-podcast, The Vicki Street Show, where she interviews innovators and creatives that are also making a difference and shaping the scene.
In an interview with the Weekly, we got the chance to discuss Vicki’s journey over the last ten years, how a breakup inspired her to take herself more seriously, her experience of overcoming the shame of living with mental illness, and the next life she’s entering.
This interview has been edited for length and style.
SSW: What does it mean to be the Voice of the Streets?
Vicki Street: You know, that is something that I’ve been thinking about in-depth as I’ve been getting older. When I first started off in journalism at Columbia College, I literally just picked the name—the Voice of the Streets—because my last name is Street. But I’m now pushing thirty, and recently, I realized that being “the Voice of the Streets” has a social activism piece to it. It has done me no good just to be the turn-up queen, as many people have referred to me. At a certain point, when you got the mic, you gotta actually be saying something; you gotta really be a voice for the people. I’ve always tried to create space and have a platform for people, for their voices to be heard, but in recent years, I’ve been making sure that I’m doubling down on certain social issues and speaking up about the things that are important in my life, and what I hope to create, like a face for people and a voice for the voiceless. Because I do have motion, for lack of a better word, I do have people who look up to me, and I do have access that certain people don’t have. So being the Voice of the Streets, to me, really just means being aware of and taking responsibility for the influence that I have in the community.
What type of responsibility comes with donning that title like that?
Well, that’s a good question, because it also poses the question: do artists have a responsibility [to advocate] for certain social issues? Technically, we are not out here to save people’s kids; that’s parents’ responsibility. But I do personally feel like, if you are a person of integrity—which is a big value of mine—you should be aware of the influence and the value that you hold and the people who look up to you. And so, with that being said, you have a responsibility. And that responsibility, I feel, is to create safe spaces and to promote positivity all the way around.
The biggest message that I always preach is the fact that we have to have full-circle moments and create community and put people on when we’ve been put in positions to be blessed ourselves, when we finally get to a certain point. I’ve gotten to a certain level in my journey, and I’m still not done yet. But the biggest responsibility that I feel I have is to always reach back, because a lot of people get on and then forget how they got there. And sometimes you even surpass the people who helped put you on. So I feel like that’s what my responsibility is as the Voice of the Streets: to make sure everybody eats.
We know that native Chicagoans can be closed off towards non-native Chicagoans [i.e., those who grew up in the suburbs]. How does pursuing music and other creative endeavors help you feel connected to inner-city Chicago?
Well, I feel like if you grew up in Cook County, then you are basically the sister and the brother of people who have a 606-whatever type address. Yeah, like this is the conversation people aren’t trying to have, and a lot of folks from the inner city or who have Chicago as an address try to shun people who are from the surrounding suburbs. But I’m from the south suburbs proudly.
Still, I’m not about to sit up here and name which specific suburb to somebody in California, because if we’re being honest, I’ve moved around about fifteen times. Chicago, to me, is about the culture. It’s not necessarily about what block I grew up on all the time. I’ve lived all the way from the ’burbs to the city and back and forth. So I have a little bit of a different story in that aspect.
How do you feel that’s inspired your aesthetic?
In my younger years, I was inspired by old-school rappers like Biggie, Pac, a lot of East Coast and West Coast people, even folks in the South. When it comes to Midwest people, it’s Crucial Conflict, the whole Bad Boy era on down. But as far as modern Chicago, its influence on my music career really didn’t pop off until I got to college because that was the first time in my life where I was all on my own. I was able to build a whole new identity for myself.
I really wanted to create something new for myself; I did want to be a huge big entity. I did want to be a mogul. In college, I carried myself like I was somebody. I also went to school during the 2012 blog era, I was a freshman, and that played a part in my music and journalism career. Because Chance was going to school right across the street at Jones College Prep or, you know, he was at Jugrnaut doing these listening parties, or I was at Reggie’s watching the shows right down the street—I really was able to get a front row seat into the street culture. And in some cases, I became friends with these up-and-coming rappers who were superstars to the world, but just the most meaningful people to me in my backyard, although I wasn’t practicing music full-time at that point because I didn’t know if I should be majoring in music—like I was trying to get a whole actual degree.
I kind of took a backseat to music because all of my friends were actual musicians who had been doing it since they were two years old. So I just really spent the beginning parts of my music career in journalism, giving everybody else a platform… This is before I really knew the substance of what I could do. You know, sometimes we as people have good talent as well in our own selves, and we just haven’t delved all the way into that.
You said that at one point in your career, you used to give everyone else a platform but not take it for yourself. What made you want to start pouring back into yourself and putting yourself out there?
I feel like it’s important to know that I dated somebody who I feel wanted it worse than me. When you’re that close to someone who wants something so bad, it actually does something to you. It made me realize there are people out here who may want your spot. Or, you know, you can’t let somebody want something worse than you because there are people out here who are less talented than you, but they’ll work at it harder than you. So I just realized I was around people who were getting opportunities that I wasn’t getting yet because they were working their butt off.
So here I am with this raw God-given talent where I do this stuff in my sleep. But I was taking it for granted, I was taking all the connections or resources I have for granted, and I just felt like I didn’t have anything else to lose, really. After the breakup, I felt like my time was wasted. So unfortunately for me, a person sometimes has to be hurt or learn things the hard way for things to change. You know, I just had to have an eye-opening experience, to be honest. And that’s when I told myself, “You’ve been having his mind for a long time. And I don’t think you want to just be a person who’s consuming empty calories. Like, you got to say something at this point, you’re grown. And that whole party scene stuff, that was cool, everybody around you was growing up. But what do you want to do now that you got the mic?”
Do you think that if you had never experienced that relationship and eventual breakup, you would have found the courage to pursue that passion?
No, probably not. I don’t know where I would be without that breakup. And without the pandemic giving me the time to be in forced isolation with these new experiences, because honestly, I have never been through anything so traumatic. I’m a hopeless romantic and a person who sometimes wears their heart on their sleeve, but I’ve gotten better at moving past that version of myself. But in that space, that’s literally what it took to push me towards artistry, to get to a place where I had to dig deep within myself. And the only way that I knew to express myself at the time was through music. I had a therapist, and she encouraged me to just write my feelings, and so my assignments for therapy were to write songs. And that’s honestly how my last EP came about.
What is the difference between the Vicki Street of the “blog era” and the Vicki Street we see today?
I feel like this Vicki Street today is more refined and has more direction. And as a grown woman, I feel like that Vicki Street—she was very colorful, very expressive, some might even say wild. She was innocent. She was pure-hearted. She still is pure-hearted. But now she just has the wisdom and the discernment to know how to move in certain situations. That’s honestly the best way I can frame it. She just grew up.
What are some of the lessons you learned from that era that you keep close to you?
VS: Well, you definitely can’t trust everybody. But also genuine relationships and relationship building is so important. And in between these, the ten-year span, you know, we went through a whole entire pandemic, which, if anything, I feel like it has taught me the importance of checking in and checking up on people. Because the Vicky Ttreet back then I used to make intentional time to check in on people, go to lunch with people, I would always take time, at least two minutes on my way to class because I will run into a lot of people on my way to class. And I will always take the time, even sometimes being late to class because I was politicking with people on my way. And ever since the pandemic, something that I have been trying to make sure that I get back to is genuine relationship building. A lot of people out here today are just trying to make quick dollars, they’re trying to come up real quick, and they just forget the art of humanity. And so that is something that I would like to encourage people to get back to is just, you know, remembering that we are all people first and foremost before our artistry.
You are a huge advocate for mental health. Recently, you had three Black therapists on your The Vicki Street Show. How did you find the courage to speak so openly about mental health?
I just had to get to a point where I didn’t care anymore. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live my life for anybody. I had a few traumatic incidents where, at first, I wasn’t speaking about it, but it happened. I’ve healed from it. But I was admitted into the psychiatric unit twice. And I really felt like it was important for me to be vocal about this because people always put me up on a pedestal, and they’ve known me as a happy person in general. People really don’t think that I go through anything. And they might have been right. It wasn’t until that moment that I felt like, oh my God, like I’ve been through something. And I felt like I had to hide. I disappeared on social media for a minute. People actually noticed for the first time—and that is when I realized I had influence. Because people noticed that I was missing from social media when I was away in the hospital and didn’t have any access to a phone.
I went through the whole secluded embarrassment thing; I went through the whole, you know, my mother really wanted me to be private about this. And you should be private about certain things. But this specific instance was a moment where I felt if I’m truly going to be the Voice of the Streets, and this is not just a cool moniker that I live by, this is something that I’ve got to tell because this is an issue that a lot of people are dealing with. I can proudly raise my hand and say, “Hey, I’m a person who suffers with manic bipolar depression, and it’s okay, you can still lead a normal life, here are some of the things that you can do to combat that.”
I just feel like we need more people raising their hands. And since I’ve been vocal about it, I’ve gotten people who hit my DMs and say that they too have dealt with that. Even my own parents are coming to terms with certain things about their mental health, and they’re being open about it. Because, you know, the older generation, they really aren’t as open about these types of things, so I’m proud to have even inspired my own parents in that. It took a minute, I had to step back and heal and get over the initial embarrassment and what people might think, I had to get over the fear that no job would hire me because of this. But what I knew for sure was, if you really fuck with me, tell my truth, and whoever doesn’t mess with me, you’re not my people anyways. And that’s how I got over that.
What inspired you to create The Vicki Street Show?
So when I was back in college, you know, I was a broadcast journalism major. And nobody was hosting events at the school. Like if I could just hype myself up for a minute, I’m gonna say I created a line for myself. Nobody was hosting anything. I started hosting everything. And so it got to a point where the television department reached out to me and they asked if I would like to have my own talk show. So I had a live talk show with the studio audience. I believe this was my junior year of school. And at the same time, I was a radio minor. I was balancing my radio show at WCRX at the same time as the TV show on frequency TV. So we had the Vicki Street Show on TV and on radio at school at the same time, and we had two seasons at the school. I interviewed a bunch of students who were doing things and I interviewed the president of the college on my last episode of the second season. And then it was supposed to come back around a second time, like when I got out of college, I shot a whole remix music video to the second installment, but due to mental health reasons, it just didn’t come back out again.
The third installment we just put out a couple of weeks ago, we just started it back on February 20. This is the third installment but this time is given very much. So grown, raw, unfiltered and uncut, we’re not held by the bounds of a college. And I’m just so happy to bring it back as a podcast because I feel like I can be more free. I have all the creative leeway on it. So you know, this is very special for all the people who was around during that time. So I have some big things planned for the podcast, as we are celebrating my tenth year in the game of media and artistry.
So in your music—and especially your visuals, like you have some of the best visuals out here—you’re very hands-on and very creative. I’ve read that you direct and edit about ninety percent of your visuals. What keeps you inspired to do all that?
I’m a dreamer. Pretty much anything you’ve ever seen me do is because I dreamt it. And then I knew how to get up and get it made, whether I’m doing it myself or I know somebody who can do it. And that just comes through the many good connections that I’ve built and maintained over the years. But, you know, a part of that journalism degree was video editing.
So I’m all about aesthetics. I’m a visual person. If I can, I try to have a video or some type of audio piece associated with everything that I do. It can take me a little while to find someone who can do things in the way that I need it to be done or the way I see it. But I’ve definitely built with a couple of people, and those are my longtime people now. So as you may notice, Bert from Ryder Visuals shoots a lot of my videos, then I’ll collab with them and edit or throw some sauce on it with some transitions. Will Mass also shoots a lot of my stuff. I went to high school and college with him, he shoots very cinematically and I love that.
And I recently started working with a woman director by the name of Nicolette Shegog. I love that I connected with a woman director, because it’s so important that women stick together in his game, and that you see more women’s work, because we’re very attentive to detail. So I have a small team of people that I work with, just because I feel like no one can articulate my vision like I can. There’s something to be said for, you know, can’t nobody else do it like you, so learn how to do everything that you need to do. That way, you don’t have to find nobody else to do it.
What are some of the joys and challenges you’ve personally experienced as a woman in the industry?
I’ve been tapping more into my divine feminine energy. And I feel like divine femininity is something that’s missing right now in womanhood. Not to down any of the women rappers who rap about violence, drugs, gangs, all that, you know. There’s a place for that, and we know it, we have it as a genre here in Chicago. But also the aspect of femininity that is light and airy and fun and flirty. So that’s been something fun. For me, it’s just tapping more into my feminine side. Everything doesn’t have to be so aggressive. Like, just chill out and have some fun. And know that you can do that because you are a woman.
The side that’s been more challenging is when you’re trying to get ahead in this game, and you’re trying to do the right things. You’re trying to be just like the guys, you’re trying to come up the good way. You put in your work and do what you have to do, and somewhere along the lines, you might get somebody who’s like, “Okay, well, can you do this for that type of deal?” I feel like all women know what I’m talking about. And I don’t look down at any woman who may have compromised anything, but I’m definitely not trying not to get caught up in the compromising aspect of the game. When it comes to just advancing in your career, it’s always going to be a challenge. Be careful how you navigate that.
I can confidently and proudly say that I’ve never compromised my artistry to get ahead for the sake of appeasing a man or anybody else for that matter. I’m really proud of myself, but also, shoot, get it how you live.
What advice would you give to other multi-hyphenate creatives trying to figure it out?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
I have been told by people I’ve tried to seek advice from that there was something wrong with that. But my advice is that you should find the things that you are good at naturally,perfect those things, and then move on to the next thing. Because you never want to be looking all over the place. What good is it to be good at five different things if you’re not even half as good at one or two of them? Also, I don’t do things that I’m not good at. So to a lot of people, it may seem like I’m good at everything when in actuality I’m just really good at a good solid amount of XYZ things, and I don’t do things that I’m not good at. I appreciate a challenge, but I’m also not here to waste my time either. Some people will tell you to focus on your weaknesses. No—we focus on the strengths and get better and better at those. And that’s just that, and for everything else that we’re not good at, we find somebody else to do it, and we collaborate, and we deal with those people. And that’s how you build a team.
Now that you are entering a new decade, what can we expect from you?
My goal is to be in Forbes 30 Under 30. I’ve only got about another year and a half to make that happen, but I don’t doubt that I can. I see myself in mogul status. I really look up to people like Issa Rae and Diddy. And I feel like I’m on some bridging music and media and events together, because I’ve done all three of those now at a certain capacity. I have a company that I started during the pandemic, a media company with a music label aspect to it and an event curation side aspect to it.
This year, we’re really going to be funneling out more events and more projects, and it will really be something that the community can jump on. Because that’s what I’m about, beautifying the community through the arts. This company is going to be something that will provide access to people, which is a big thing that we’re missing in Chicago, but access at an affordable rate.
That’s something that people can look forward to—besides the music, because we got music that’s definitely coming. A catalog is being built in that aspect and we’ve got a new sound that’s rolling out for the spring and the summer. But as far as what can we expect: it’s big, it’s exciting, something long-term, and it’s not just music. Vicki Street is a business owner, and she’s a mogul. And that’s what people need to know. Because I feel like it circles back: a full-circle moment, being the Voice of the Streets, helping people.