5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings from the past week, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
Chicago’s Closed Sessions Wants to be the Motown of Rap
Closed Sessions founder Alex Fruchter has a vision: “I feel like the music industry is kind of shifting to boutique labels that are really entrenched in their local music scene linking with large distributors to create a new method of getting music out there. I think we’re at the pulse of that in Chicago, and it’s shown through our catalog.”
Over the past five years, Fruchter has worked to make his Closed Sessions a hub for the varied talents of America’s most exciting city for hip-hop at the moment—a crown challenged only by Atlanta’s continued stranglehold on the popular consciousness and recent, visible surge in creative output.
For this week’s 5 On It, a bit of a change of pace as we speak to Fruchter about the label’s origins and his aspirations, and run through the five songs he thinks are the most under-appreciated in Closed Sessions’ first five years.
And then we dive into the usual.
When was Closed Sessions founded?
Officially in 2009 after our first session with Curren$y, which was really just an experiment. We knew we had something with the original song/documentary aspect, but worked for a few years to perfect it. In 2012 we made the conscious effort to start doing more with local artists and transition to more of a true record label. In 2013 we fully committed to the idea, I quit my other jobs, we signed some artists and haven’t looked back since.
I’m tired of seeing our best artists go to other places and other cities telling us what Chicago hip-hop is. Closed Sessions comes from that.
In light of how difficult it is to run an independent label, what inspired you to start CS?
I think the inspiration stems from when I was a kid circling release dates on my calendar, going to my local record store Dr. Wax everyday, and watching way too much Behind The Music as a teenager. We have always had this desire to be a part of the music, and work with creative people. I was also tired of everyone saying you had to leave to Chicago to make it. I came up DJ’ing & writing in this rich underground community of artists, DJs, writers, videographers, and producers that nurture and build with each other. But at a certain point everyone felt like they had to leave. I’m tired of seeing our best artists go to other places and other cities telling us what Chicago hip-hop is. Closed Sessions comes from that. We saw we had the tools and it was time to connect the dots.
What was it like getting the label off the ground? What were the first releases?
I’d say in some ways we are still in the “getting off the ground” stage from really having big records and being all the way going. We’re eating Ramen in that respect and have some tremendous people eating Ramen with us like Andrew Zeiter who does all our videos/photos. We were embraced by artists and the Chicago music community fairly quickly because they all saw that everything we do comes from an authentic place and there’s no shortage of artists that want to work with us and vice versa.
The tough part is getting everything to line up, getting the label to a spot to handle more releases, as well as compete fully with the shine and deep pockets of major labels that still come through the city and try to woo people we’ve literally been telling them about for years. That’s the tough part and what we continue to improve upon daily.
It started with releases with our closest friends, some of which I’ve known since I was a kid or in high school. Before Closed Sessions officially formed, I did mixtapes with Naledge, Rockie Fresh, YP, GLC, Rhymefest, BBU, and others, which were recorded a lot and mastered at SoundScape. Our very first release with the Closed Sessions stamp on it was the Curren$y record, “Rapper Weed.” That started it all. Then we did records with Tanya Morgan, Chip Tha Ripper, Bun B, Emilio Rojas, Treated Crew, Rhymefest, Mikkey Halsted, one kind of leading to the next. GLC would tell Bun B, Naledge would tell Curren$y, Amanda Diva would tell Skyzoo, Action Bronson would tell eXquire so on and so forth. This new phase of CS started with the Thelonious Martin records, Alex Wiley’s Club Wiley, Tree’s Sunday School II, ShowYouSuck’s Dude Bro, and Mic Terror’s Fresh Prince of Darkness. Our next release, Alex Wiley’s Village Party, drops June 5th, and it will be our best to date.
I think only in the last 6-12 months though, as the artists we’ve been screaming about and working with for years have started to turn up on major labels and major tours, and the albums we’ve been a part of have hit best of the year lists, has the more mainstream Chicago community noticed us.
When did people in Chicago start to take notice?
I think that a very core group of people in Chicago took notice immediately. RubyHornet was really well-respected in the community and a big part of the scene. SoundScape has been a top notch studio for a longtime, and I came up as DJ and makeshift journalist here, so we had a foundation. That foundation continued to grow and we were able to start releasing records with people like Action Bronson, Mr. MFN eXquire, Raekwon, Freddie Gibbs, and more people got on board. I think only in the last 6-12 months though, as the artists we’ve been screaming about and working with for years have started to turn up on major labels and major tours, and the albums we’ve been a part of have hit best of the year lists, has the more mainstream Chicago community noticed us. We just got our first newspaper cover story on Tuesday from The Chicago Redeye. So it’s only up from here.
Do you actively try to bring in artists that reflect the various sides of Chicago’s rap scene or has that happened naturally?
For the most part it happens naturally. The earliest artists we worked with were the ones that I was DJ’ing for or covering at RubyHornet and they also were SoundScape clients. It’s not so much that we bring artists in as it is we find each other. Everyone is really connected and the studio, the office, the events we do are all hubs for the community just like the different clothing boutiques like LDRS, St. Alfred, Jugrnaut and sites like Fake Shore Drive. Our goal now is to work with anyone dope, and bring in people that rep all sides of the city while still carrying some of our aesthetic. It’s like we run into someone enough times and have a mutual “aha” moment and realize it’s time to come through and do a Closed Session.
What do you have planned for the future?
We plan to continue to grow and be able to handle more projects and more artists. I feel like the music industry is kind of shifting to boutique labels that are really entrenched in their local music scene linking with large distributors to create a new method of getting music out there. I think we’re at the pulse of that in Chicago, and it’s shown through our catalog. Our next release is Alex Wiley’s Village Party, dropping June 5. I think that it will stand as one of the best projects of 2014 by December and Wiley is going to the next step in his career. We are very excited to be a part of that journey and it’s a priority for us. Following Village Party though, we are going to release Carry On Tradition, an LP from the producer A-Villa. He’s the best producer no one has ever heard of. That project will drop in the fall and features Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Kool G Rap, NORE, Freeway, Gibbs, and 30 other dope rappers, Other than that, we have Closed Sessions Vol. 3, which only focuses on Chicago artists, we just brought Odd Couple into the fold, and we have more new artists that we hope to do projects with. It’s an exciting time, and we’ll see where it goes.
ALEX FRUCHTER’S 5 MOST UNDER-APPRECIATED CLOSED SESSIONS RECORDS
5. Skyzoo & Rhymefest - “Crack The Code” (prod by K-Salaam & Beatnick)
4. Sir Michael Rocks & Vic Mensa - “So Stupid” (prod by DJ Babu)
3. Alex Wiley & Scheme – “Game Face” (prod. Thelonious Martin)
2. ZMoney – “I Can’t Stop” (prod by Odd Couple)
1. Wyclef Jean – “Bang Bang Bang”
And now back to our regular 5 On It coverage.
Well$ - MTSYD: The Revenge Of The African Booty Scratcher
Charlotte, NC rapper Well$’ new mixtape has a hell of a name–MTSYD: The Revenge Of The African Booty Scratcher. What does MTSYD, you wonder? “Make them suck your dick,” of course. It’s intentionally over-the-top, as Well$’ manager explains the familiar sentiment behind it: “Pretty much he felt like he made the first project and even though he thought it was pretty dope, it didn’t get the reception he thought he deserved.”
While still developing to the point where he can legitimately be pissed off that people aren’t paying attention (let’s face it, a lot of people aren’t paying attention to a lot of the music that comes out—it’s par for the state of the musical union), the attitude behind an over-the-top title, a palpable hunger in Well$’ raps and lyrics, gives MTSYD the energy of a rapper who looks at music as a zero sum game, the stuff of his survival. There’s room for improvement (it’s a bit long and occasionally repetitive), but Well$ has managed to cultivate a cohesive collection of beats, sampled quotes, and perceptive rhymes that points to his potential to give focused life to concepts—a difficult task for any artist, let alone one still finding his voice.
Lil Mase and Su Na – “Lust x Oleander”
With XXL making an exception to include two R&B singers on its annual Freshmen cover, it seems only fitting that 5 On It include a little singin’-ass-rappin’.
Lil Mase (and isn’t it about time we had a Lil Mase?) doesn’t have prodigious range or even a particularly pretty voice. On most of his songs, he raps pure and simple (and quite well, as you can hear below on “Quiet”). “Lust x Oleander” sees Lil Mase making the most of his range, meandering across a beautiful Su Na beat, giving melody to rap cadence—an enjoyable product of a post-Drake/Weeknd landscape. “Lust x Oleander” never gets quite as dark or emotional as some of the transmissions from its stylistic forebears, but it more ably executes their influence than many other Soundcloud wannabes.
Youngin – “Butt Naked Nasty or Naw”
If the gods of twerking are merciful gods, then Washington, D.C. native Youngin’s “Butt Naked Nasty or Naw” is a YouTube clip or two away from becoming a Vine anthem, strip club sensation. And, to paraphrase Marilyn Manson, if you’re making music that’s perfect for strippers, you’ve already won half the battle.
Twelve’Len ft. Lil Champ FWAY – “Laka”
Florida band Twelve’Len’s “Laka” is the perfect bit of breezy, bass-heavy hip-hop to ring in the summer. Nothing heavy in the way of content (lyrics include “My earrings shine/She on my line”) and only very loosely structured, it is, in its lo-fi way, an encapsulation of idealized versions of the season ahead, meandering and focused on enjoyment rather than driven by any grand concept or even tight musical vision. It’s the sort of song that would extend into an endless jam if played live.