OLD ESSAY// The Rise of Angelenah

angelenah

From Side by Side Magazine, November 2014.

This piece is unconventional in regards to the general form of music journalism. That given, its intimate lens gives insight to a broad spectrum of music’s effects and meaning. Thank you to Angelenah, formerly Angel Davanport.

I don’t think I’ve seen Ashley Hart in years. What I remember is that we were in a smoky house, she was busting rhymes with her friend over some Wiz Khalifa instrumental Youtube re-creation playing from a wack laptop. I played her some Taylor Allderdice, we met up with some people and got ice cream. She wanted to make plans to work on music but I didn’t think her raps were good, she had literally just started rapping. It was always crazy good vibes but we didn’t like hang like that. I never got in contact with her.

Ashley falls in with my friend Speedy Calhoun’s Skighwalker clique. Speedy and I went to and rapped at the same high school, I love him. She becomes Angel Davenport. I check her out every once in a while and still don’t really like it. Don’t really buy the persona she’s putting forward, the sweet girl I know about is a pussy-taking nigga-smacking monster, who still can’t rap that well. It fits well though in Team Skigh’s rough-spitter framework.

Last week was the latest entry in the Femme Fatale show series, Femme Fatale: High Honors, featuring Angel Davanport, Noname Gypsy (Headlining), Daryn Alexus (Headlining), Rebecca B, Belladonna Devereux, and Brittany Nacocain. I’d been to the last Femme Fatale show, a celebration of Chicago rap’s female side; it was the bomb. It was kind of weird. It was kind of amateurish, a lot of things went wrong, but it was still fun. At High Honors, everything goes smoothly.

My phone is out, it’s after the High Honors show in the cold. Speedy Calhoun says into the recording Android “Ashley in 2010: she was incredible, she was not there. She was not there. She used to Skype us every day with a new verse. Me and all my roommates including [actor] (!) who is a star on [NBC drama]. He’s the black guy on [NBC Drama]. That guy. Me and him used to sit on the couch and look at Ashley rap and be like ‘She’s gonna be incredible.’ Three years pass and now we’re here.” He’s making his way toward calling her the best rapper alive.

I’m in the greenroom at Subterranean interviewing Angel Davanport before her performance tonight at Femme Fatale: High Honors.
angelenah 2

+: …Your, um, So, you’ve developed technically a lot, do you feel like your perspective has changed as you you know like, you rapping like 3 years ago versus you rapping now, are you still [unintelligible] you’re better at saying the same thing or do you believe you’ve shifted?

Angel: I’ve definitely shifted.

Sometimes I say same thing, you know, because some things are repetitive. But I have more content. The content has definitely changed whereas it’s not so general. I’m moreso diving into my topics now [rather] than just like ‘Oh, here’s some heartbreak.’ It’s more like ‘What does that feel like? What is that, how does that relate to people?’ And really asking myself those tough questions that sometimes we don’t really want to think about. So the content is definitely tougher.

Angel Davanport takes the stage. She doesn’t wait for anyone to finish setting up, or breaking down, or stop chattering. She has dots around her eyes, she’s wearing a velvet dress, she sings until the room pays attention. It doesn’t take long.

‘They just see my waves, G, they call me what they can.
Well that’s bullshit, money, drugs, niggas.’ Angel Davanport, “B$DN”

I haven’t seen Ashley in years because she fell away from the Young Chicago Authors scene. She don’t come around no more. In the interim, Angel Davanport has fallen in with rap cult leader Tech N9ne’s Strange Music brood. She’s gone national with a group of passionate experimental “technical” artists who garner feverish followings through hard work and perseverance. She tours, does photo shoots, is in a rap group with her manager and a Midwest rap legend.

angelenah 3 rapperchicks

‘My body’s always been a canvas, y’all not the ones I paint for. I’m knowing they can’t stand it
how it ain’t got no one’s name on it. Hidden like Atlantis. Don’t wanna sink, then swim for it. It’s hidden like Atlantis, don’t wanna sink then swim for it.’ Angel Davanport, “B$DN”

Hologram Kizzie, formerly known as Psalm One, creeps down the stairs at the back of the SubT stage. Her posture is meek, she’s almost hiding in her big winter coat. But she can’t hide, she’s the artist formerly known as Psalm One and her hair is a full, powerful afro. Kizzie, Angel, and Fluffy trade off dexterous floaty verses from their Rapperchicks project.

Rapperchicks is a supergroup put together from Fluffy and Angel brainstorming during collaboration. They just toured the Midwest and have released the not-quite-gel’d “It’s 1973” clip. They look and sound awesome on stage no matter what anyone involved is doing. Even when Kizzie misses her cue before her last featured verse and Angel has to start the song over, they’re naturally charismatic enough that it’s just kind of funny.

Later in the night Noname Gypsy also allows a sleepy charisma to charm over the technical slip-ups in her set. She’s easily the most relaxed performer in the night, whereas Angel is the most impassioned. Toward the end of her set she’s making eye contact with me, with all of us, a slightly frightened look in her eyes as she bares her fears in a hurricane of poetry. To be a spitter is to be a fighter.

ESSAY // the southside of chicago is why i don’t vote!

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The Bus Ride

‘When I look outside my window I can get no peace of mind’
– Rihanna, SZA “Consideration”

I try to take the bus down Kedzie now. It’s a more middle class and diverse route. No one is screaming or selling counterfeits; there are less boarded up buildings. I feel like there is a lesser chance of me getting made fun of,  robbed, or shot. I have that choice. Yesterday, riding the 52A, I almost cried at the difference.


 

The House

‘Tell me what you’re willing to do’
– Rihanna, “Kiss It Better”

When my parents moved into this house 25 years ago, this was a white neighborhood. Between the divorce, the housing crisis, the house’s crises (Electrical and other structural problems), the rising violence and disinvestment in the neighborhood, my college debt, and my sick brother, my mother will never get out of it. Almost all of my grown cousins and their young children live with their parents in the house they grew up in. Just like my brother and I. We are trapped.


 

The Distance

‘Better wake up and act like nothing’s wrong. Just get ready for work.’
– Rihanna, “Work”

It takes me an hour on the bus to get to anywhere in the city with, like, a café. I’m an artist. If I want to educate at a school where I came from, chances are it’ll be in an area where gangs have risen up to replace and compliment the rule of government.  If I want to perform at a show, chances are I’ll have to travel across stretches of homeless and buildings that no one can inhabit until I get to a train that takes me to the other side of this city.


 

The Names

‘Dear Desperado,’
– Rihanna, “Desperado”

The names of the streets are taken from people who live just like us. “Indiana,” “Washtenaw,” “Michigan,”: these people currently live in areas where suicide, homicide, and failing infrastructure is high. Where a conflict that started against their will hundreds of years ago continues to kill.


 

My Mom

‘Run it back like you owe me something,’
– Rihanna, “Woo”

When I watch the news with my mother, it drives home how powerless she feels. When the TV says something about Obama recommending Supreme Court Justices, she comments “They’re never going to let him do that.” in a way that is resigned and matter-of-fact. When a man is sentenced to hard labor in North Korea, she blames him first for not knowing “how it is.” She has no faith in the system, though the other night we got into our traditional argument about voting. She says she does it because she feels like it’s her duty to those who died for it. I asked her what about the blacks who died to be free altogether.


 

My Dad

‘You needed me,’
– Rihanna “Needed Me”

When I returned to the Southside for the first time, I eventually ended up working with my father at the United States Postal Service. I quit two years later, after 8 seasons of waking up before the sun. It was a corrupt, dysfunctional workplace. I felt very demoralized there. When I quit to be an artist  it was a shock because it doesn’t make sense – especially as a black person from the Southside – to leave a job where they offer free healthcare and vacation time,  things we call “benefits.” No matter what, black people tell me, I should have stayed there. My dad likes to say “The Post Office isn’t for everybody.” A lot of people say that there; he’s worked there 30 years.


 

My Job

‘It’s pulling me apart this time; everything is never ending.’
– Rihanna “Never Ending”

My job isn’t to be an artist or a black person. It’s to be alive. I want to move into science by the time I’m 30, five years from now. I want to code, I want to cure death. I just want to do cool stuff with this big working brain of mine. I want to understand feelings and the universe, I want to feel normal and safe. Out here, walking home, looking for food, my job is to not get killed.


 

Money

‘Must be love on the brain! That’s got me feeling this way!’
– Rihanna, “Love on the Brain”

The President of this country is a black man who came into his political own on the Southside of Chicago. Perhaps the most critically and popularly acclaimed entertainer of the 21st century so far grew up here. Chicago is one of the richest metropolitan communities on Earth and my mother lives in constant fear of losing her sons.

Don’t leave me stuck here in these streets.

Voting is to recognize and support a kind of power that no one should have. It’s the power the Northside has over the Southside: money.  How long would it take money and the government to save this ghetto? Who and how when so much of every industry is designed around the Southside existing this way? The food companies, the school systems, the prisons, the tax collectors, the real estate agents and banks + the policymakers they invest in. How long until we could enter those buildings? Give the fresh food rotting in dumpsters behind restaurants right now to people who are hungry? How long until progress would reach the mentally ill on the bus rolling, rolling, rolling by my house at 9:36 AM, March 17th? How long til the prisoners born in a place like this could be free? Everybody has to go to work in the morning to make more money, when the heck are they gonna be able to stop and save us? Why are black & white people shaming me for empowering my self in a way that isn’t based on corrupt systems?

We are here and we are better than this!  If no one has told you today, let me be the one to say: don’t vote, it’s okay. we can make another way! 🙂

OLD ESSAY// Kyoko, of Psychedelic Noise Group OOIOO, Has Passed Away

 

kyoko

This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine,  July 2015. 

Kyoko was a founding member of OOIOO, often attributed as the most notable offshoot of noise lords Boredoms. She played guitar and contributed vocals to OOIOO’s first three albums before leaving due to the unnamed illness that eventually claimed her life. Bandleader Yoshimi P-We memorialized Kyoko yesterday, breaking the news via an Instagram post containing an old photo of the group.

Her caption reads:

This is Yoshimio.
I regret to inform you that my friend, Kyoko has passed away morning on July
19th.
Kyoko came from same hometown as I am . We started OOIOO together. She was
the first guitar player of OOIOO. She left the band to concentrate to cure
her illness but she came to help selling merchandise sometimes to our shows.
She started the band with Itoken who was also her longtime partner.

Kyoko was 183cm tall. She was on her own pace , optimistic and natural blur.
I loved her very much. I do not like to believe she is no longer with us
anymore. I love to see her again.

わたしとhometownが同じで一緒によく旅行行ったり遊んでた身長183センチの恭子
ちゃん。OOIOOも一緒に始めて初代ギタリストだった。病気になって治療とOOIOOの両
方は無理だったので身体第一にOOIOOはやめました。あ、やめてからはOOIOOの物販の
売り子でよくライブきてくれたな。で、身体も調子よかったりで、いとけん(恭子
ちゃんのパートナー)と面白い音楽始めたりもしてた。マイペースで前向きでかなり
な天然ボケで、大好きな人間だったが、7/19の朝、病院で旅立ちました。信じられな
いけど、また会いたい。

#ooioo #harpykyoko

From 2000’s Gold and Green.

OOIOO’s last album was 2013’s Gamel, released here via Thrill Jockey. Rest in Peace, Kyoko.

OLD ESSAY// The Moment Transcendent: A Brief History of Daymaker.

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This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine,  June 2015. 

So how did you start with music? How did that come into your life?

Dina: I would have to say it started in high school, it’s kind of like a love story/musical love story.

I liked someone who was in the drumline. And I thought it was the coolest thing ever that this person was in the drumline. In fact, I couldn’t really tell whether I liked him more or the drumline.

Egon: I had a secret friend crush on the kid with the Dead Kennedys t-shirt (that always got in trouble). And at that point I was already into like Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Green Day.

Eric: I started playing bass in high school, oddly because that was the thing  to do at my high school. Like, everyone played bass. And, I don’t know, I’d wanted to have something to do, I guess. Bass was fun, and yeah.

Erin: When I was in high school I had this chorus teacher. She gave me voice lessons and I learned how to sing jazz. And like shape note music and old hymnals and gospel. And some Byzantine operatic stuff that I was really into. I never thought I was very good. The first time I ever sung onstage was this Distillers cover at the Heartland Cafe open mic. And it was so bad that when it was finally over I said “Sometimes you have to fail to remind yourself what you’re good at, which is poetry.”

Eric: I’d mostly play with my friend Max, he had like fifty instruments or something. He mainly played mandolin but he had all these things that I hadn’t really heard of. He had this one thing that was called a mandocello. It’s called that cuz it has four strings and you play it like a mandolin but it’s in the same range as a cello. It kinda looks like a guitar.

Dina: It wasn’t like this burning flame for most of my life, you know, it was totally random for me.

‘I remember 2006, when you could still get away with shit.’ – #summerhit

daymaker live
Emporium, photo by Liz Nerat

 

Now is it like a burning flame?

Dina: Yeah! With years it became something much stronger. For example, this week I had four or five shows. In the realm of playing music I honestly do feel like it’s burning and taking up all my time in a good way.

Egon:  I’ve been playing guitar for over fifteen years now so it’s a huge part of my life.  And a little while ago, maybe two years ago, I told myself that I would practice everyday. Even if it was only for fifteen minutes. And I’m pretty good at doing that.

How often do you write poetry?

Egon: Poetry is the one thing even greater than music that I just do compulsively and it doesn’t matter how well or bad I’m doing or how rich or poor I am or whatever it is a compulsion that means the world to me.

And I’d like to see and do more of that, and to see if we can somehow build a platform for that. [Erin & I] are talking about trying to do a book when we go on tour, just to have something else that people can look at and engage with.

Erin: I try for daily. But – all we can do is try. Also sometimes it’s terrible. I realized, in talking to my mother, at bars I write poems on coasters, at work I write poems on receipt paper. When I’m trapped in a situation I find these listening objects that allow me to express a little something upon them.

Writing has always made me feel real. Like writing in a journal and the tangible act of putting your thoughts into this finite, real space of a page and ink and language, it’s like the only thing that makes me feel like I actually exist.

dm coaster

– Erin’s coaster poetry

Did you see yourself in high school as being this person you are at this point at this time?

Dina: I don’t think so, no, at the time it was very intimidating to me. I never really thought that I could get to this point. I was a closet musician for the first couple years of playing the drums. ‘Hey, I’m gonna play my drums in the garage when no one’s listening and uh if anyone in my house hears me I am gonna feel very embarrassed.’  I never really thought that I’d have the confidence to be where I’m at now. I feel very happy about where I’m at, playing with all kinds of people. It took me a few years to get to that point.

I think that I just didn’t have anyone to tell me that I could make it. And I just had to take baby steps.

So you wrote- is that song actually called “Dina’s Song?”

Dina: The one we’ve been playing live?

Yeah.

Dina: Yeah, we decided that it’s called “Dina’s Latin Number.” This particular song we were jamming one night and it was a struggle, that practice. We were trying to write new songs – some of the songs we were trying to write are on our new album. Toward the end of practice we were thinking we should call it quits and I was just being silly like “You guys let’s just play like a Latin-based [thing]” and I started playing *mimics drum beat* going along with it, you know.

And next thing you know, Erin’s getting all warmed up and like “Ok, let’s do this,” and Eric starts to play and Egon starts to shred.

Egon: I blew up my hand on that song!  The guy from Longface and Regular Fucked Up People, Anthony, I bled all over his guitar! My hand just like blew up during that song and it’s interesting cuz it was there and very palpably there. You knew what it sounded like,  but it probably took us another month to figure it out. And it was something that Erin and Dina always wanted to play live and Eric and I were like  “Nononono, uhhh we don’t know what in the hell we’re doing!”

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Dina

Egon: But it was there, you know. And it kind of took Eric and I kicking and screaming, not that we didn’t wanna do it, we just wanted it to be perfect. I think a lot of our songs get written that way. Where you’re like “Well, SOMEONE has entered the room here! Who are you?”

Eric:  I think the first time we jammed together he just belted out “#summerhit”

Egon: Emanuel, it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Monica [Wizgird, multi-instrumentalist and former member] was like “My friend Eric is coming over we’re gonna have band practice,” and our relationship was very young at this point. I was like “Oh, that’s really cool let me grab my things I don’t wanna like intrude,” trying to be considerate. And she was like “It’s really more of a casual thing if you wanna sit in I’m sure no one would mind, it’d be really fun, I know you play guitar.”

I was noodling around on her keyboard and her synthesizer and at certain point she said “Here do you wanna play the guitar? And I’ll play the keyboard?” And that’s when “#summerhit” was written.

And there was this really funny moment – cuz we recorded all of our early practices – where we make the skeleton for “#summerhit” and it finishes and you hear Erin go “Monica, I hope it’s okay but you know he’s in the band now, right?”

 

Photos by Monica Wizgird

So what was CONDO and how was it different from Daymaker?

Eric: CONDO was totally different from Daymaker. It never became a serious thing it was always just like me, Justin [Booz], Erin, and Viviana [Gentry Fernandez-Pellon]  jamming.

Justin was also super into noise and stuff and we would just kind of meet up once a week or at random times and just jam.  That’s pretty much how Daymaker started writing songs and still writes songs.

What’s weird is how CONDO and Daymaker both were weird, droney, experimental projects at first. I was playing guitar through my laptop and we would just improvise stuff and Monica and Erin would play synthesizer also through, like, Ableton.

And we would write some songs but it was a super super super loose thing basically until Egon came along and started playing guitar and I switched to bass, you know, which was my first instrument.  And then songs just started coming together.

How’d you meet Dina?

Eric: Erin met Dina. I met Dina when she showed up to practice. I mean, I had heard of Regular Fucked Up People and I think I had checked out some of their music and thought it was cool but I didn’t know Dina and I didn’t know Anthony (from RFUP) or any of them pretty much until Dina showed up to practice.

What about Ruby [Dunphy, former drummer]?

Eric: Ruby was another Erin find. I didn’t know Ruby until she showed up to practice too. I hadn’t heard of Haki or any of that. Erin just has a knack for finding cool people.

*A note on the author’s process: This Feature was compiled from four separate interviews with the members of Daymaker. over the course of one week!