Abstract Giants/Cary Kanno

Posted by IE in Monthly, Features (Wednesday May 31, 2006 at 12:43 pm)

Abstract Giants: Keeping It Live

With the thought of making a profit buried deep in the back of his mind, Cary “CKP” Kanno of The Chicago Drop record label/collective doesn’t make the best businessman. As unconcerned as he is about striking it big, though, Kanno is after grander things — particularly exposure. Over the past few years, this advertising rep by day/guitarist by night has made it his mission to ensure “organic” hip-hop bands and musicians of Chicago have a label behind them.

Appearing: 6/3 at Abbey Pub (3420 W. Grace) in Chicago.

“We don’t actually finance anything yet because we have no money,” Kanno says before letting out a chuckle. “But, we’re definitely producing and trying to put out the best material that we can find.”

As a member of the nine-piece Abstract Giants (AGs), Kanno is adamant about changing the notion hip-hop has to be created and performed solely through drum machines and turntables. The AGs, for example, make use of everything from keyboard to violin to create their pulsing brand of hip-hop. Taking note of full-band arrangements The Roots implemented more than a decade ago, Kanno believes keeping things live is the best way to go.

“I think it’s awesome to do shows that are a DJ and MC . . . but the majority of the shows I’ve seen with just a DJ, it doesn’t hold up to having a live band — to having like a big bass amp or kick drum going through the loud speakers and just booming,” explains Kanno. “A record is sort of flat in a live scenario. When you record it, it sounds a lot better ’cause it’s a lot more crisp; it’s a lot more clean. But when you get to a live setting there’s less people to watch, there’s less human nuances ’cause it’s a record spinning round and round. When you get five musicians all interacting and playing off of one another, it’s a lot more organic.”


Considering how the Abstract Giants accidentally formed back in the fall of 2001, you could say Kanno has always kept things organic. One night when he was scheduled to play with his former funk band, Traveling Riverside, at The Tin Lizzie in Lincoln Park, three MC acquaintances of his (Abitight, Mathismo, and Ronnie Physical) happened to be in the building. And as luck would have it, Traveling Riverside were given more stage time than they knew what to do with, leaving room for improvisation. “It was a three-hour time slot and we only had like an hour-and-a-half worth of music, so we had [the MCs] come up and we just played background music and they would do their thing,” he recalls.

As awkward as Kanno’s first experience with performing live hip-hop was, it’s evident the spur-of-the-moment jam was one he’ll forever proudly look back upon. “It was loud, and it was obnoxious, and you couldn’t hear anything, but at the same time, it had a good vibe and people were into it,” says Kanno. “And from that, I couldn’t [just] book Traveling Riverside. Everybody wanted Traveling Riverside with the MCs. And it just blossomed from there.”

Within six months of their Tin Lizzie sound clash, the AGs were already attracting attention from prominent media outlets and performing at venues like the Old Town School and Metro. Aside from the now defunct Organic Mind Unit, they were one of the few Chicago-based groups at the time bringing live instrumentation into hip-hop, thus making them one hot commodity.

Despite being onto something different at the time, Kanno isn’t quick to sing his own praises. “We never felt like it was new because The Roots obviously had made it big [and] it seems like now there’s a lot of bands doing that,” says Kanno. “We knew it was different, which a lot of times means you’re not accepted because the hardcore hip-hop heads just want a beat . . .”

– Max Herman

For the rest of the Abstract Giants’ evolution of live hip-hop, grab the June issue of Illinois Entertainer, available throughout Chicagoland.

Abstract Giants, Cary Kanno, Chicago Drop, Features Monthly