Let the beat 'Drop'

Live Chicago hip-hop groups get together for new collaboration
By Niema Jordon

January 27, 2005

While Kanye West receives Grammy nominations and Twista secures radio air play, there is another face of Chicago hip-hop that is still waiting to be seen.

"Chicago Drop," a compilation CD that showcases members of Chicago's live hip-hop scene, will bring its act to the stage when several participating groups perform at The Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., on Friday.

The show will expose listeners to an unorthodox style of hip-hop. Instead of MCs rapping to the beats that a DJ spins, the participants in Chicago Drop implement drums, keyboards and even strings. The bands have musical influences ranging from old school hip-hop and jazz to rock, which are obvious after a listen to "Chicago Drop."

"It's such a unique hip-hop show," said Idris Goodwin of Farm Crew, who will be performing at the show. "One of the criticisms of hip-hop shows is that the hype man is making more noise. But here the groups have a level of showmanship."

This showmanship has developed from years of practice and performing professionally.

"I've been playing for three years and I've played with hundreds of bands and these are the best," said Abstract Giants' Cary Kanno, who is coordinating the event.

The bands involved in Chicago Drop have shared the stage with such accomplished musicians as the late Ray Charles, Arrested Development, Jean Grae and R. Kelly.

The Chicago Drop CD features tracks by ten different bands, five of which are performing Friday. The rest of the artists involved performed at the Double Door on Jan. 22. The decision to promote the CD through concerts came from the realization that mass media might not be the best way to expose people to a different sound.

"I don't think the market is ready for it," said Treologic's Lance Loiselle, who plays keyboards for the group. "This music is experimental, innovative and lyrically progressive."

Some observers might be tempted to draw comparisons to mainstream hip-hop artists who use live instrumentation.

"None of (these bands) really sound like The Roots," Loiselle said.

While "Chicago Drop's" performers may not sound like Philadelphia's most famous hip-hop group, the bands involved cite The Roots, along with other acts like Outkast and the Black Eyed Peas in paving the way for such a movement.

As Chicago Drop's musicians introduce the audience to their sound, they hope to garner new respect from the rest of the hip-hop kingdom.

"There is somewhat of a divide between traditionalists and organics," Loiselle said.

While some people feel that music should only be called hip-hop if it follows the path set out by hip-hop pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa and Run-D.M.C., those involved with "Chicago Drop" see themselves as part of the progression of hip-hop.

"My concept is taking it back using real instruments and reinterpreting," said Josh Thurston-Milgrom, a member of Starpeople and a jazz musician when not performing with the group. "Old-school hip-hop artists took instruments from songs and turned them into break beats; now I'm taking the break beats and turning them back to instruments."

Despite differences in style, some elements of hip-hop always remain the same. "It still comes down to spinning over a break," Goodwin said. "We still spit 16 bars."

The unique stylings of the groups involved in "Chicago Drop" may be representative of a change occurring in the hip-hop scene. Whether they're pushing boundaries or returning to the essence of hip-hop, the groups are taking advantage of an opportunity.

"There's a cycle," Loiselle said. "They (the music industry) find a group of cats and shove them down our throats and then those cats fall off or retire and that leaves the industry wide open."

With events like Friday's concert, the bands involved in "Chicago Drop" are trying to squeeze into this opening. If they can do this successfully, they just may find the route to lasting success.

Medill freshman Niema Jordan is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at<.

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