Brace yourself for the 'Chicago Sound' of hip-hop

May 10, 2004

On Thursday night at 9 p.m. the Chicago band Abstract Giants will
celebrate the release of their debut album "AGrowculture" at Metro (3720 N. Clark,
(773) 549-0203.

If you don't have plans and you A. enjoy good music; or B. have any interest
in the future of hip-hop, rock and pop, check it out. It's only $8 (less if
you print the coupon at, it's 18+, and they'll be
performing with Treologic, and Small Change, two of Chicago's other live
band hip-hop acts. If you go you can witness a musical revolution.

Chicago hip-hop is hot at the moment, smoking hot. You can't pick up a music
magazine without reading something about Kanye West. In his video for
"Overnight Celebrity," Twista managed to make the Sun-Times the flyest
little paper on the planet.

And everywhere you turn in this city, the question is: Who's next?

But beneath the glamour and the glitz of the successes, there is something
else happening in Chicago. It's happening in clubs like Gunther Murphies,
HotHouse and Hog Head McDunnas, where groups of musicians set up and rock
out with live hip-hop. It's a musical movement that is incorporating the
best elements of live instrumentation with the raw energy of hip-hop. It's

vision set forth by bands like The Roots and Stetsasonic, but that bands
like Abstract, Treologic, Small Change, Organic Mind Unit and Contriband are
taking to a new level by developing sound that is not only fresh, but that
is unique to Chicago.

Out of the spotlight, they're creating a "Chicago Sound" that builds on
Chicago's blues, soul and rock roots. It's a sound that isn't easy to write
about because its parts aren't equally separated like two-parts funk and
one-part rap. With any of the bands you're likely to find a rhythm driven by
salsa or punk; a rhythm that's not tailor-made for the MC, but that the MC
adapts to and weaves with spitfire lyrics. Or you're likely to see them
morph, before your eyes, from a hip-hop crew to an atmospheric jam band.
More likely you'll hear all four: punk, salsa, hip-hop, jam band.

It's what hip-hop does. It samples and creates something new.

In this sense these bands are expanding the boundaries of hip-hop. It's so
far from two turntables and a mike. It is live musicians. As folks like to
compartmentalize things, in the end this new Chicago Sound may not even be
considered hip-hop. But make no doubt it is real hip-hop.

And if you doubt that live instrumentation is an ever-important element of
hip-hop -- or if you think that hip-hop isn't about live bands -- look no
further than Kanye West's recent three-night stand at the House of Blues.

Not only did his show incorporate live keys and guitar, one of its
highlights was Miri Ben-Ari, the Israeli-born violinist who ripped hip-hop
classics with a bow. I mean, there is nothing more hip-hop than violin, right?

Actually, if you do check out Abstract Giants, you'll see another hip-hop
violinist, Jason Vinluan, who, by the way, could rip Ben-Ari. And you
should hear what a hip-hop violin does when it's backed by a whole band.