There’s plenty of shit about the Chicago press to be mad at; one of the most frustrating things is how backpacker-focused much of the rap coverage is. I mean I like plenty of backpacker shit don’t get me wrong; Diverse is dope in an underground-Jeru sort’ve way, and I like jazz, I like rap, jazz rap sounds hot in theory. Still, the coverage of Chicago hip-hop is utterly segregated.
Traxster at the Grammys
One of the most talented rap producers in Chicago is the Legendary Traxster. Depending on when/where/how you got into his music, you probably know Traxster even if you don’t. He produced one of the best tracks on Mariah Carey’s last album, “One and Only” featuring Twista; it sounded like a Hendrix ballad with better singing, plus Twista, and he got a grammy nod for it. But Traxster’s probably most well-known for producing some of the best Chicago rap music from the last decade plus, starting with early Do or Die (“Po Pimp” was his) as well as D.O.D. and Twista’s Kamikaze. He also did the entirety of Twista’s Chicago classic Adrenaline Rush. Speaking of – all the Cam fans (and I know there are a lot of y’all out there) one of the best tracks on Purple Haze was “Adrenaline” which was a redone version of the old Twista track. I like when Cam talks about dealing on Pulaski; local color via west side streets named after our Polish heroes. Anyone could sound hard over this beat though, even a rap blogger.
I should note that Traxster’s brother, the rapper Dun D, passed on earlier this year. I don’t really know the details although it was scooped by Matt Sonzala. Chibangin.com still has a link up to a Dun D Mega-mix up which you should check if you get a chance; he was a talented cat. They also recently added this new cut from Traxster’s upcoming album The Return of Gangsta Music. I’ve YSI’d it here too, its a familiar Al Green sample, and painfully beautiful. RIP Dun D.
The Return of Gangsta Music was supposed to drop along with a Dun D solo debut EP on the 21st, but I imagine Dun’s passing may have offset that. I haven’t checked any local record spots yet but there hasn’t been any word on it in the usual channels. Its definitely one of my more anticipated records this year though.
The last major project Traxster really worked on though was E.C. Illa aka Whitefolks’ 2005 album, Whitefolks. Honestly over the course of an album sometimes Traxster-style beats can sound samey, dry/generic mob-style shit, but on the whole this album is fresh throughout. In one interview, Traxster gets the inevitable “are you EC Illa’s Dr. Dre?” and his answer is key to understanding Illa’s appeal; he dismisses the suggestion, arguing that EC Illa is less of a lyricist in the Biggie lineage, more influenced by Pac emotive side, representing his hometown.
EC Illa kicks off the album by clowning Kennilworth, IL, which deserves to be clowned. E.C. Illa is from the north side of Chicago (uptown) so he knows my area; this song is called “Thanks” and he shouts out the Fish Keg on Howard! What y’all know about the Fish Keg or the Dairy Queen across the street, everyone’s 90+ degree summertime sweat destination? The parking lot is packed in the summer, kids outside and Young Jeezy and Mariah Carey oozing through car windows. (And a couple blocks west you’ve got the 24hr IHOP which has so much community energy at 4AM considering how much weed people smoke before they go, where I’m guaranteed to see folks I knew in high school, tobacco clouds over the smoking section, drunk kids tripping over their own feet following the waitress to their seats.) Back to Illa: “I feel like Ashanti in this mutherfucker!” And “Respect” is with Dun D and has them shouting out the CWAL mob (Traxster’s crew); beat is the dark g-mob mid-90s shit Traxster is known for, one of the harder tracks on the album. Listen to the squirming bassline rumbling around underneath – this is music made for trunk speakers, groundswell bump. The production is very clearly labored-over, pristine and precise.
Ultimately what makes this different, what makes it notable is the dearth of Chicago street rappers with any sort of profile, street rappers with the kind of access to the Chicago press given indie bands and backpackers, guys who bring the G shit that became the blueprint for grassroots rap nation-wide in the mid-90s. Traxster and CWAL Mob fill a void, repping Chicago, rapping from 71st street to (ultimately) streets nationwide, and (ideally) the world. His music deserves it.