Three Years of Running the Best (and also Worst) Music Blog: Queer Teens & Teklife

In 2017, Store Brand Soda lost our two-years-running Best Music Blog title in the Chicago Reader’s annual poll to neonpajamas, a beautiful dream machine of slowly unfolding music and art that sincerely deserves the crown.

In a way, I don’t need the accolades anymore. While far from defunct (don’t call it a comeback), it’s no secret that the blog’s taken a backseat to my work writing for publications I’ve long considered far-off aspirations (like The Fader and Complex). Like. I’m chilling.

With the news filled with disturbing allegations of endemic institutional sexual harassment across many industries, articles like The Art is Not The Artist: On Holding Abusers Accountable and Enjoying Problematic Media are suddenly receiving more hits. Salvation Emily and I are happy to keep the site online as long as it’s still useful.

Instead of apologizing for not posting more, here’s four pieces of art I’ve been enjoying (including cinema, music, and an IRL experience). I hope you get as much out of them as I do.

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So Long Suburbia is Samuel Shanahoy’s hourlong homage to 90s teen movies. It’s Ghost kitsch World Meets John Waters camp, with a shiny gloss from Clueless laquered lip-smackingly on top.

I’m fine with the central plot conflict of a film being “straight people suck” — I loved Todd Haynes’ Carol, another recent watch — but it’s refreshing to have access to media that portrays trans and gay and bisexual people in a positive way. We need to hear stories about our friendships, crushes, and relationships that take place in a supportive atmosphere, with actors whose own identities reflect those of the characters.

Send the link to your favorite teen or preteen; with characters sipping orange juice at all ages shows and using their local bus system to find community, it’s the perfect positive influence for the budding riot grrl or teeny bopper in your life.

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DJ Manny – ‘Greenlight’

I’m on the Teklife workout plan, which is just listening to this album on my way to work and walking extremely quickly to keep pace with the accelerated percussion. I’ll be listening to “Way You Move” and “Like That” while power walking through Humboldt, and for a moment, I have to pause, catch my breath, and give thanks to live in a city where I can see RP Boo drop tracks off this album not long after its release at a fundraiser for Puerto Rico full of sweating bodies who can’t footwork dancing any which way they could to keep up.

Spicy Boi Karaoke at 2Fun

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Josh Lambert isn’t just an incredibly drummer, powering his way through the frayed-denim psychedelia of Chicago’s own Vamos; he’s also an incredible Karaoke Jockey, singing background vocals to “Africa” by Toto alongside amateur singers sloshed on frozen piña coladas at 2Fun, the vermillion drinking den cozied above Won Fun Chinese. Head over on Thursday nights for Spicy Boi Karaoke, his karaoke night transplanted from the still-thriving Sundays at Logan Square’s Cafe Mustache.

Maudlin by LEGIT

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The product of two years of intense focus, Chicago rapper LEGIT’s new project Maudlin isn’t what you’d expect. It’s a r&b ep meant to croon you through lonely late nights soundtracked by Silent Party, a group of session musicians who sit in on drums, guitar, keys and more in the studio for artists like Alex Wiley, Vic Mensa and Smino Brown.

“I’m happy as fuck that it’s finally out, but I really don’t feel any different other than that,” LEGIT tells Store Brand Soda. “Like no big sigh of relief. That’s mostly because this is just a prelude to my album that I’m dropping in the Spring.”

“When that’s out, I will feel a lot better,” he laughs.

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The Best Rappers on the Lollapalooza 2017 Lineup

Let’s be honest; the Lollapalooza lineup is overwhelming. If you’re anything like me, you picked Uzi, Yachty, & the Migos out of the typographical blur and knew you were going to be there one way or another. If you still haven’t started squinting at the four day weekend’s schedule, though, you might be relieved to see that I’ve put together a neat guide to which hip-hop acts you should be sure not to miss this summer.

The list below is in CHRONOLOGICAL order, not order of importance, from the first ATL trap demi-gods to hit the stage to the Sunday headliners. All apologies and an honorary mention to Wiz Khalifa.

Migos

Few have been able to ride the meme-rap zeitgeist with the agility of the Migos, whose Culture made club dancefloors and the subwoofers of lowriders shake all spring. Dudes have put in dues, though, with years of loyalty and underrated mixtapes under their belts and a live show so turnt even just videos of their performances have gone viral.

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Lil Uzi Vert

Don’t stand anywhere near the stage structure or stacks of speakers if you don’t want four foot eleven of (currently) green hair and iced out Ben Baller chains launched at your cranium at some point during the set. You’ve been warned.

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Aminé

I’ve yet to see something unique from the Portland-raised rapper with the recent Freshman Class nod from XXL; his infectious hit single “Caroline” was a pastiche of Andre 3000 pauses and bits, and other cuts make me think “this kinda sounds like _____” more often than not. This may be lazy listening on my part, but it actually makes me more interested to see him live; I want to see if I can spot the spark that sets him apart.

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Madeintyo

The Japan-obsessed Atlanta MC famous for “Uber Everywhere” and “Gucci Polo” will be presiding over the BMI stage in BAPE. Roll through and keep your fingers crossed fellow Lolla 2017 artist Big Sean shows up to hop on their collab, a remix of the excellent track “Skateboard P.”

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21 Savage

ISSA was an accomplished entry into the ever shrinking genre of grown ass man rap that’s neither by and for dads (Jay-Z’s 4:44) or aimed squarely at teens with the same marketing subtlety of Hot Pockets (Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotions). I’m also heavily fucking with 21’s persona away from the stu, where he’s been singing SZA songs into his frontfacing camera in bed with gold fronts in and no shirt, defending the autonomy of women against Rob Kardashian style controlling machismo, and caking up to Amber rose over dinner plates with his grandma.

I cannot fucking WAIT to see him perform the En-Vogue-sampling, Metro-Boomin-produced “Thug Life.” That is all.

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Chance the Rapper

How many puppets and guests do you think bro can fit into an hour and a half?

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Duckwrth

One of the most insightful and forward thinking critical thinkers in the field of “what the kids (and brands) are listening to,” Melanie McClain, tipped me off to this Oakland based rapper who collages soul, jazz, funk, indie rock and Sun Ra style psychedelia into the structure of his songs, which celebrate the sensual rhythm of a bicycle or share the experience of a child growing up surrounded by a dangerous neighborhood.

Recommended if you like Anderson .Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid, or the Bandcamp instrumental hip hop beat scene.

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Noname

Chicago’s own poet, singer, and rapper has blown up globally. Last time I saw her, it was during her run at the Metro after Walt passed, and I was completely a mess when she brought Saba and Joseph Chilliams out for a tribute.

I’m bracing myself for this set, which is going to be vividly emotional and beautiful even if you don’t have the same connections. The themes of family love, pain, trauma, loss, addiction, recovery and healing shared in her music are pretty much universal, and that’s the reason it’s touched so many people.

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Lil Yachty

If you read the site, have been to my house and seen the giant framed poster and sailing team hockey jersey on my wall, or have hung out with me while I’m wearing my custom LIL BOAT Adidas slides, you already know I’m a stan, even though the last project with an overbloated smorgasbord of every type of trap pop and EDM lite a team of marketing executives agreed that The Teens Might Like. The Lil Boat mixtape was sublime, and that garners you more than 15 minutes of goodwill in my book.

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Big Sean

If the universe wants to make Migos pop out for “Sacrifices,” their feature off Sean’s recent album I Decided, I would be fine with that.

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Rae Sremmurd

This goes up against Justice, which is a tough decision for anyone who lived through bloghouse, but the Sremmlets put on a packed set that involves a lot of shirtlessness, Gucci fur, pineapples, splashed water, outfit changes and fun.

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Thank you for reading the Store Brand Soda guide to Lollapalooza! If you’re reading this and planning to be at the same sets I’m at, stay hydrated, use sunscreen, avoid hitting me in the face with your Camelbak, don’t shove in front of me if you’re taller than me, and don’t sing along with racial slurs if you’re white or a non-black person of color. Thanks, boo. I appreciate it.

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Rich Forever 3 and Taking Abuse Against Women Seriously

Rich Forever 3 (the much anticipated collaborative project between rappers Rich the Kid, Famous Dex, and Jay Critch) was released Friday after several delays, but not without controversy. In September of 2016, a video surfaced online which displayed Famous Dex brutally assaulting his girlfriend. A couple of weeks later in October, Rich the Kid’s wife took to Instagram and came forward with allegations of abuse throughout their 3 year relationship.  The overall response to the issue has been disappointing.  Famous Dex and his team have refused to address the issue, hoping it goes away over time.  Many fans simply do not care what an artist does in their personal life.  They believe you have to “separate the art from the artist.”  As the profiles of both Rich the Kid and Famous Dex continue to rise, evident by the outrage when both were excluded from the XXL Freshman list, issues such as these become more pressing.  Rich Forever 3 is an enjoyable and vibrant project, but one with a dark cloud looming over it.

Rich Forever 3 expands on the 2016 project Rich Forever 2 with the addition of Brooklyn native Jay Critch.  This serves as his formal introduction to the rap world, and he shines.  Rich the Kid and Famous Dex take a backseat on the project to Jay Critch and follow his lead as he performs over half of the hooks on the project.  His deep voice also fits like a puzzle piece in the Migos-esque back and forth rapping style used between the artists.  Critch’s flow on the project feels as if Takeoff of Migos had the cadence of a Brooklynite, displayed at it’s best on the Laron produced “VVS” where his knack for saying every single word with confidence could be the aspect of his persona to get full support in a New York City climate desperate for new stars.  The bouncier “Did It Again,” which is a project standout, also works as a substantial platform for Critch to display his versatility and ability to create a catchy hook.  

Famous Dex on Rich Forever 3 seems to hide behind the smooth production (mostly handled by Lab Cook and Laron).  His energy is considerably lower than Rich the Kid’s and he defers many of the hooks to Jay Critch, which is surprising.  With his buzz at an all time high, you would think he would be featured most prominently.  The high points on the project do not involve Famous Dex, as the chemistry is strongest when Jay Critch and Rich the Kid are participating in their rapid back and forth such as on “Nintendo.”  At their best Jay Critch and Rich the Kid are an effective duo finishing each other’s line and feeding off of one another.  The problem is that Famous Dex feels tacked on, as if he is only associated with the project to raise its profile.  

Rich Forever 3 is a consistent project that doesn’t stray far from its comfort zone, the production is clean and Jay Critch’s flow is refreshing.  But can we really move on as if nothing has happened with Famous Dex and Rich the Kid, ignoring the issues at hand?  Famous Dex’s continuous growth as a popular figure says something about how lightly we treat assault issues.  It took nearly 60 allegations of sexual assault for the public to completely turn on Bill Cosby. Granted, Bill Cosby was an enormous cultural icon, but it proves that the point where we draw the line is far beyond where it should be.  Is good production and energetic ad libs all it takes for us to dismiss these allegations?   Assault against women is an issue in every crack and crevice of society, from rap culture to The White House.  It’s time we fully address the Famous Dex and Rich the Kid situation.  No matter how good Rich Forever 3 is, sometimes things are just more important than music.  

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Laying Low & Blocking Numbers: Eight New Songs for Your Memorial Day

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Block List by Rico Nasty

Rico Nasty is a camera ready living cartoon with an endless array of candy colored wigs, doe eyes frosted with the expertise of a beauty vlogger and mannerisms perfectly adapted to the finite frames of gifs.

The jewel in her finely polished album Tales of Tacobella is the Kidz Bob ready sing-song ditty “Block List,” a bubbly revenge fantasy and declaration of power for anyone who’s ever had someone’s delusional romantic or sexual fantasies projected on you via SMS.

I don’t need to tell you not to underestimate her versatility or prowess as an MC based on her pop star artifice. She’s a self directed businesswoman who knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s happy to rob you blind while you’re distracted.

Go With the Flow by UnotheActivist (produced by Krookz)

Our first glimpse of Uno’s next project is a dancefloor-grind-worthy single perfect for fans of Key!, Sahbabii and Chief Keef’s singing (we exist, ok?).

With the anticipation for Live.Shyne.Die building, I’ll be exactly zero percent surprised to see him grinning from the next XXL Freshman cover, probably next to his buddy Thouxanbanfauni.

YSL by Gunna featuring Playboi Carti (produced by Pierre Bourne)

The most common criticism levied at Playboi Carti’s breakout self-titled mixtape was that it’s simply a beat tape with ad libs over it. Pi’erre Bourne’s unmistakable production (which of course I’ve written about before) absolutely does contribute to the character of the mixtape; Magnolia woulda been a bop no matter what you put over it.

If all a Pi’erre Bourne beat needs is a “yo, Pierre” drop and a random rapper, though, why does Carti sound so different than longtime Bourne collaborator (and relative of 21 Savage) Young Nudy? And why does Gunna, a YSL signee and Thug protégé who delivers a solid performance across the Drip Season 2 mixtape, fade in contrast to Carti’s incandescent flame over a beat they had equal opportunity on?

26’s by Valee featuring Hoodrich Pablo Juan (Produced by DJ Bandz)

Valee makes music for that moment when the molly hits and your stomach flips like you’re strapped into an ascending airline. His mixtapes are cool-to-the-touch roadtrip records for ill-advised forays on driving on acid with two bitches in the backseat; music for the moment during an orgy where you say wow, we’re really doing this right now.

Out of his versatile toolbox of flows, the most undeniably unique is a wheezy falsetto, the last word in each bar drawn out creakily as he runs out of breath. It pairs beautifully with a bouyant feature from Hoodrich Pablo Juan on “26’s“, a cut off one of Valee’s two recent tapes.

I hate myself for not researching Hoodrich Pablo Juan when Lil Uzi shouted out the Atlanta rapper on Twitter months ago, because I slipped and nearly missed the excellent HoodWolf project which is just like, the most deliciously nasty and decadent trap shit.

Lay Low by D Savage featuring Joey Fatts (Produced by Milan)

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California rappers and A$AP Mob periphery figures D Savage and Joey Fatts teamed up to create this mellow track; there’s something incredibly relatable about the teenage D Savage singing an autotuned melody about hiding out in the house, even if I’m just watching episodes of Japanese Style Originator in bed and not ducking the opps or my enemies.

Gotta Have Some More by Lil Bibby Featuring Tink

Bibby’s Free Crack 4 (Free Crack 3 The Epilogue) has faced endless release delays, the released singles “You Ain’t Gang” and “Aww Man” (with Future) already past their East Room expiration date – I mean, I wrote about “You Ain’t Gang” in my 2016 roundup and the album still hasn’t surfaced in late May of 2017.

Still, Bibby’s staying busy, raising his puppy and dropping WorldStar loosies like “Gotta Have Some More,” with Bibby’s hoarse voice crunching like toasted wheat bread next to fellow Chicagoan Tink’s rich creamy-peanut-butter vocals. There’s a reason why Ja Rule and Ashanti made so many goddamn songs, and there’s a reason Bibby and Tink keep working together.

Don’t Come Ova Here by Drayco McCoy featuring Mathaius Young (Produced by DZY and Grimm Doza)

Drayco’s long been a favorite of mine; Baby Guillotine is back dragging bloody medieval weapons and smirking at your doomed fate with fellow Indiana rapper Mathaius Young.

Different Color Molly by Smokepurpp

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The word “Florida rapper” doesn’t have ultra pleasant associations for me at this point, often conjuring visions of kool-aid dipped white boys with rictus grins of metal glinting in dirty sunshine like Riff Raff or Starfox La Flare, domestic abusers like XXXTentacion, or brown boys throwing around antiblack slurs like Lil Pump.

Those aren’t all equal offenses or anything, I’m just listing reasons why it might seem like I listen to more music out of Atlanta and Chicago. I just do. But I also fuck with a lot of the Sunshine State’s artists who manage not to offend my probably hypocritical morals or aesthetics, and Miami-Dade’s Smokepurpp is near the top of that list along with Palm Beach’s Wifisfuneral.

Lil Purpp rhymes “make the choppa sing like Beyoncé” with “counting chips, chips, chips like Frito Lay” on this dreamy, hazy, and downright relaxed song. I understand that some people don’t like artists who half-sing and half-rap, but then why are you listening to bleeding edge Soundcloud rap from teens with facial tattoos anyway?

I saw Smokepurpp perform in a crumbling movie theatre a few days ago, the historic-building-turned-derelict-shell packed with anti-smoking sponsors and kids in Anti Social Social Club and (Knock) Off White shirts by promoters. Purpp rapped a cumulative total of maybe six lines over the course of the set and invited all of his fans to hop the barricades and climb on stage. Even if you don’t fuck with it, there’s enough teenagers who do to start a riot.

More Recent Articles by Lorena Cupcake:

Five Songs You Can’t Stream on Spotify on Store Brand Soda

Feature on Mykele Deville for Bandcamp Daily

Profile of Chicago streetwear destination Fat Tiger Workshop for MEL Magazine

Primer on Mexican soda for AV Club

Articles for High Snobiety on Kanye, Drake, slang and Nicki Minaj

Observations on 90s references as subcultural currency for Mel Magazine 

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Five Songs You Can’t Stream On Spotify

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With songs like Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3” permeating the cultural consciousness before ever hitting a streaming service besides Soundcloud, the discussion about the cultural ramifications of the upending of all traditional metrics of song popularity by the shifting landscape of music consumption has reached a fever pitch…

…and I haven’t been listening, because I’ve been too busy playing these extremely sick songs that happen to not be available on Spotify, Apple Music, and probably Tidal. I don’t know anyone who has a Tidal subscription to check.

Don’t let the lack of a Distrokid/Tunecore account keep you from getting acquainted with rap’s next wave.
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I Got Wateva by Valee

Lean, unsmiling, hooded eyes peering through satin ribbons of blunt smoke and heavy hair shot with turquoise tied on the back of his head. The appearance was a surprise, but I recognized Chicago rapper Valee the second he stepped onto the stage at Fake Shore Drive’s Lil Bibby & G Herbo show to perform his breakout Soundcloud/YouTube hit “Shell.”

I was starstruck. Most of the crowd was not, confused who the unannounced interruption was.

Valee has an album with producer ChasetheMoney (his collaborator on the most ominious and threatening tracks off the recent 12:12 Again! project, including “I Got Whateva” and “Molly Fun Ride“) coming 5/21. This time next year, the entire venue’s going to be screaming when he drops into a show.

Seeing Faces by MfnMelo

Loss and those left behind are a constant theme for Chicago’s Pivot Gang, who lost a founding member right before heading out on a North American Tour in support of Saba’s phenomenal Bucket List Project. No matter why those you love are no longer near – “god took em or they caught some cases” – anyone who’s come to terms with their own particular ghosts will find this emotional track heartbreakingly relatable.

Eat Your Heart Out by Drayco McCoy

Indiana’s most global thinking local rapper Drayco McCoy recently dropped the 19 track Skull Collecta mixtape. While he displays range – “Let’s Do Drugs” is a hookup generation Piña Colada frappe where he reassuringly coos “I just wanna do some drugs after midnight” – the majority of the tape is aggressive turn up music, which rules. I’m obsessed with “Suck My Dick I’m Popular,” but it’s been out for a while, so for this list I picked “Eat Your Heart Out“: a proudly bitter, misanthropic, petty, and ultimately cathartic fuck you to everybody you’re not fucking with.

Trap Star by Lite Fortunato ft Squid Nice

Famous Dex (blech) protégé Lite Fortunato links up with fellow New Yorker and adolescent autotune crooner Squidnice after previously teaming up on tracks like “Who?!” for sing-song street rap over a barely-there beat on “Trap Star.” Their interplay is fluid and affectionate, meriting pet names like “Squiddy” and “Nato” as well as your time.

#FREESMOKE by UnoTheActivist

So, if the cover art didn’t tip you off, this is a diss song about Lil Yachty. Basically, Uno & Thouxanbandfauni allege that Yachty orchestrated a stain on chain(s) belonging to one or both of them. Fauni attempted to confront Lil Yachty at SXSW and was instead dragged off by an assortment of escorts and security, all captured with a cell phone camera for the internet’s amusement. Uno & Fauni are like that (gestures to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich), so this song got made.

It’s worth noting that producer Pi’erre Bourne also produced Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert’s Woke Up Like This. His credit turns up on the better songs on mixtapes throughout the Atlanta rap scene’s scene, but with a running clock ticking down to Carti’s debut mixtape, Bourne’s beats are about to get a larger audience than ever.

More Recent Articles by Lorena Cupcake:

Feature on Mykele Deville for Bandcamp Daily

Profile of Chicago streetwear destination Fat Tiger Workshop for MEL Magazine

Primer on Mexican soda for AV Club

Articles for High Snobiety on Kanye, Drake, slang and Nicki Minaj

Observations on 90s references as subcultural currency for Mel Magazine

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Remembering John Walt / Dinnerwithjohn

In a city where so many people were not just John Walt’s friends, but his family – literal blood relatives, or damn-near-might-as-well-be – we weren’t that close. He was quiet with me, talking softly enough that he’d have to dip his head to talk to me in crowds, smiling broadly in answers to questions, responding to texts briefly: Yep. Wyo. Bet em up.

I wrote before, in my Top 6 Chicago Songs That Changed My Life in 2016 list, about how the release party for his song Sundress Season introduced me to people who I still see around, who I still spend time with, who I still care bout and try to help where I can.

Maybe that’s why his death has me fucked up. The knowledge that retweeting a new song or writing up a SoundCloud isn’t enough. The knowledge that my ritualistic worrying about my friends, neatly prioritized by which neighborhood they live in, doesn’t do shit.

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The Author & John Walt at Lollapalooza 2016

I have a huge tattoo of Santa Muerte on my thigh. Despite her origin in God-fearing Mexican Catholicism (the bootleg flea market version of our occupier’s weaponized religion, a way of continuing our indigenous beliefs under the watchful eye of Spanish priests) the Mexican goddess of death has a vague whiff of the occult about her: the burned-wax smell of botanicas and intimations of her worship by murderous drug cartels clinging to her long cloak.

Despite this, she’s a calming presence in my life. You learn to live with the omnipresence and acceptance of death. There is some comfort in acknowledging death as capricious and cruel. “God has a different plan for him” doesn’t comfort me. I can’t imagine a God whose plan leads to the side of the Metra tracks. I can’t imagine devising a plan for a talented young man that ends before his twenty-fifth birthday.

The knowledge that the people you love can be taken from you at any time is as indelible as my tribute to Santa Muerte. There’s a lot of people In Chicago, including people who are now mourning John, who had to learn that lesson earlier than I did, in more ways, with more trauma, who shouldn’t have had it hammered home again.

I’m going to do everything I can not to remember him as a figure in incredibly disturbing security footage that I wish I never ever watched. I’m going to do everything I can to not line his unique story up with well worn tropes and narratives about violence in Chicago: street justice, senseless death.

Instead, I’m going to remember John on stage, singing about the joys of Pineapple Wildwood, a bright yellow soda that you find in drafty convenience store coolers next to the Little Hug Fruit Barrels.I’m going to remember him taking the stage with Saba at Lollapalooza, larger than life on stage. I’m going to remember him pouring out shots of Hennessy for girls in sundresses in a beautiful, expansive Oak Park backyard.

I’m going to hold my friends a little closer, knowing Santa Muerte is always lurking around Chicago’s streets.

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Dead DIY Space: The Beach House

It’s a crisp night on the tail end of a prolongued summer, and the leaves on the trees are making one last ditch effort to stay relevant and fashionable by taking on the hues of pumpkins and other decorative gourds.

Hungry eyes flit and flicker about as the gamemaster clears a bong and exhales an Impressionist landscape of clouds, announcing what we already knew, “The game is SPIN! THE! BOTTLE!” A spent bottle of Andre Spumante is placed sideways at the center of the circle.

Behind us a bald man with a wispy goat beard, baggy eyelids and a lineless, smiling Gerber Baby face is plucking out the melody to “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a banjo.

Defying Newton and his laws of motion, the bottle spins a near infinite amount of times, even hopping, skipping and chipping on the uneven backyard gravel before making its choice.

A bonfire surges behind the banjo player (he could be any age between 17 and 70, he’ll likely look the same for that entire span, and I can only guess he’s on the younger end of the spectrum because of his tolerance for shit beer and his ebullient roommates), and the flames illuminate a stack of Frankenstein bicycles leaning against the wooden fence: choppers, tallbikes, trikes, and small-talls.

The bottle lands, decisively indecisively between two more babyfaces, a vegan straightedge boy and a trans boy goth, maybe not actually a rivethead but rocking the look in his studded coller and long, black Keanu-in-the-Matrix overcoat.

“BO’FUM!” the entire circle shouts excitedly.

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