DJ Kyle (center, kneeling) with artists who came to submit their work on the 26th, including JKatana kneeling on the left, Royal in the center, Holli D. Barzz to her right, and Ivori Skye behind her. (Courtesy of WGCI)

Last month, radio station WGCI ran a music competition in partnership with AT&T ahead of its music summit this Saturday, inviting aspiring artists to submit their songs. From these submissions, the contest judges will select four artists to perform at the summit, which will also feature appearances by Fat Joe, G Herbo, and Doja Cat, as well as panels on how to break into the music industry. Two of the four finalists will be selected to receive personal meetings with Roc Nation and 300 Entertainment. 

Over the past four Saturdays, WGCI has been hosting music submission events at different AT&T stores around Chicagoland. Last Saturday, October 26th, artists gathered at the AT&T store on 95th and Western, waiting to submit their music for a chance at these opportunities.

At the store, WGCI’s DJ Kyle played top ten rap songs over the speakers, periodically plugging phone plans. It had been raining since morning and the strip mall parking lot was slick with water and gasoline. A contestant wearing pristine Air Jordans shook his head with dismay after stepping in an oil slick. The other contestants had to shake off their beautiful clothing upon entering the store—their shoes decorated in leopard print and spikes and loose strings, their sweatshirts printed with sharks and tigers, and their jeweled pendants of angel wings and marijuana leaves. They waited in line to hand off their USBs to DJ Kyle, listening to his advice with deference and distracted excitement. Afterward, on the store’s pleather couch, artists chatted and planned future collaborations together. Their friends and relatives waited while they decided where to meet and which open mics to attend.

I spoke with contestants Rock Sway, Big Mouth Bo, Holli D. Barzz, MANSION, SteveO Stoner, Ivori Skye, and JKatana about their music. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

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The artist MANSION wore a tank top, matching brown wristbands, and a white angel wing pendant on a gold chain. He filmed the store and both of us during our interview. His artist name stands for “Making A New Start In Our Neighborhood,” and he runs an organization called HOPE, or Helping Other People Eat, of which he is the founder and sole member.

I been rapping for thirty years. I grew up in Englewood all my life. I’m from the projects, man. A lot of problems right now is, they takin entertainment, and trying to make it into real life. You go into the studio and say something about somebody. These guys actually gonna come and get you for that. Artists today, man, violence is all they see.

They wake up in the morning, step out the door, and see guns and drugs. You come right now to 79th and Halsted, I could show you an eight-year-old with a banger, weed, and everything. It’s getting younger and younger. But a lot of the incidents that happen is just cause people hungry out there, and just trying to get people to hear that in their music. That’s the reason why you don’t hear nobody mention “Oh, I woke up and had a good day…” You not gonna hear that.

Lemme tell you the biggest problem. You can’t have these radio stations playing stuff, “go pop a pill,” “pop this,” “pop that,” and have that playing on the charts, number one. You gotta slow your promotion down and start doing real good music. Cause guess what? The devil was who? He was the god of music. He loves it!

You gotta look at it and say “God gave you a gift, you gotta use it in a good way.” I got a song called “Blue Skies.” That’s a song about being grateful every day, waking up and seeing blue skies. “Show me heaven,” “Flip through the pages of life,” all my songs got meaning behind it that’s not only gonna touch the Black person. That’s why I don’t like Farrakhan. If you dealing with one color, you the devil, I can’t mess with you. If you dealing with one color, you ain’t of God.

Another song, “Show out.” Meaning every time you step out, I want you to show out. “Every time I step out it’s a blowout, Im’a show out, shinin when I go out, drippin diamonds when I roll out, every show is sold out coast to coast so get yo dough out. I’m about to show out, show out.” Nice song, “Show out.” Let the world know who you are. Show out.

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Holli D. Barzz and Ivori Skye

Holli D. Barzz wore a blue vest lined with faux-fur, sparkles in her hair, a spangled fanny pack, and a heart-shaped jeweled pendant. In a recent freestyle video, she wears an EBAY shirt, a chain that reads “BOSS” in capital letters, and a dense green afro. Her live performance videos are enthralling. She met fellow artist Ivori Skye at the AT&T store and promptly decided to collaborate with her on a music video.

My basketball coach gave me the name “Hollywood” cause I used to dress up before basketball games, and he would say, “Oh you think you Hollywood.” As I got older, I just shortened it to Holli D, then I added Barzz when I started rapping. I been rapping for six to seven years, but I been doing poetry since I was eight. My friends at school used to tap on my desk and ask me to spit my poem, faster and faster.

I don’t sound the same on nothing I do. I’m versatile, which is great cause it’s easy marketing. I never look the same. I never want to be bored. I wear six-inch heels on the stage and jump up and down. I have to get your attention and if I don’t have it, I’ll grab it. And if I don’t grab it, I’ll take it. I will make you put up your phone towards me. If I get a person not paying attention, I’m just gonna stand right next to ‘em and rap. Every open mic I can get my hands on.

But at the same time, it’s a lot of janky promoters that promise you a lot of stuff and they get your money, and they’re bad with promoting and the shows don’t be packed, or your set is cut, you only get two minutes of performing when you’re supposed to get five or seven. They use famous artists on the flyer, so they make you really think you’re opening up for famous people, but the whole time they’re on tour somewhere. Or they pop in at the end of the night and they don’t take your CD. The free open mics have better energy.

Who do you like in rap right now?

I don’t listen to other artists on the radio, so I won’t mimic them. I just listen to myself. I could listen to myself all day. Not to sound weird, but I do. I listen to how I was breathing, how I spaced my rhymes. I normally come up with a song when I’m driving. I come up with a hook, saying it over and over again until I stop at a red light. Or during my lunch break. Then I write down the hook. I want to be a professional. I wanna use that, actually, as a platform to invest in other stuff. I wanna leave something behind for my kids that’s way bigger than me.

Cause my nine-year-old is my biggest fan. He’ll light a candle and get my laptop set up for me, like, “Are you ready to rap now? Can I listen?” And he’ll say, “I like that.” Right now, I’m working on a hit single. I’m gonna try to be everywhere with that single. You gonna see me standing at the red light with a sign made, with my Youtube, all of that. I’m gonna be out here doing it myself. I’m also pretty sure my new friend is gonna help me too.

I just came to drop off music, but I met some incredible people. I met her (Ivori Skye) first. I always got charged so much for music videos, I couldn’t afford them, but she charges in my price range. So, we gonna link up, and she’s gonna do my editing for me.

What are you all doing together?

Ivori Skye: I don’t know, cause when she just said that, that was the first I had heard of it (laughter). She didn’t even mention that in the car when she was listening to my music, but I’m down.

Holli: I gotta do a song that’s like “She’s so free-spirited, and she’s talented.” I got talent, she got talent. Why not put it together?

Holli then won a raffle ticket to attend the music summit and wandered off to retrieve it.

What about you Ivori, what’s your music background?

I’m working towards my second degree in the entertainment business. I’m certified in social media marketing too. I rap, I sing, I act, I make films, I do photos, and I’m starting a business called From the Ash Media.  I want my name up there so people see it on the music video and they say, “Oh they made it for how much?” I’ve done music videos, and done PA work, and worked as an actor. Anything I get to help further my brand, and get me out there and help other people. 

With my knowledge, I don’t believe in keeping it in. Even with my classes in school, I always tell all my friends what I learn, entertainment law, all that. There’s too many people in the music industry trying to be selfish, holding onto information, keeping all the wealth to themselves. Which is crazy, considering that most hip hop culture is Black, which is always our problem anyway, which is we don’t come together. I try to help in any way I can. That’s why I would hop on a song with Holli. I don’t mind at all. I’m working on an EP called Angelic Demons that hopefully will be ready by end of November. Ivori Skye all across the board. 

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JKatana and sister Royal

Royal approached me while I was talking to another artist, saying that I should meet her brother. She then seated me next to her brother, artist name JKatana, and the three of us chatted for a long time. By the end of our interview, the posters had been taken down, and everyone had left.

JKatana: I’m here just hoping to have a good time, see what the opportunities is all about, hoping we get chosen. I got nineteen tracks in total. I got a mixtape out on all platforms, it’s called ADHD. I have ADHD. I don’t wanna say I grew out of it, but I did a little bit. School was a little bit different for me. I kinda felt isolated from other students. This is something I always wanted to do, but I was insecure about it for a while.  I wanted to be an independent artist. I wanted to be in control. I wanna create my own destiny, my own legacy.

Royal: Then one day he just came to me and he was like, “Sis I want you to be my manager.” Cause I’ve been in the music industry for a very long time, doing music promotions for different artists, but I never really managed anyone. So we’re actually going through this journey together. I really want the world to know who he is. The first project I wasn’t really involved, he just did his own thing. But then we started doing the videos. Ever since then, it’s been takin off. Once he did “Ovalooked,” that’s when I knew, “Ok, we really in this.”

Seeing what he’s doing, it pushes me further in the things I’ve been doing for years. Cause I don’t always get the credit I deserve. I don’t look for that. Even when we somewhere, I always push him to the front.  He’s always pushing me to the front too. I’m learning to not always be in hiding, or be in the cut, cause that’s what I’m used to, cause that’s my comfort zone. We just gotta do this. This is for you, I don’t care if I go broke. At the end of the day, I know I did it for you. And you know that somebody believed in you. I hate talking about him cause I get emotional, I get emotional all the time when I talk about him. I’ve always wanted somebody to believe in me as much I believe in him. We didn’t come together for no reason. As soon as we came together, it was click. After that, it’s been magic. I really want the world to know who he is.

The 107.5 WGCI Music Summit presented by AT&T, Harold Washington Cultural Center, 4701 S. Martin Luther King Dr. Saturday, November 9, 8am–4pm. General admission $55, V.I.P. Artist (panel discussion, play your music and get feedback) $99. 

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Morley Musick is a writer from Chicago.

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