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.

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.


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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6 Chicago Songs That Changed My Life in 2016

I don’t believe in End of the Year Best Lists; Emily and I solemnly swore to never do one, a pledge I had an itch to subvert when I realized I’d never written one ever.

I’m not arguing with anyone over what the best albums were this year, or songs, or singles or mixtapes. It’s so subjective. All you can talk about is your own opinion and feelings, and that’s what I’m trying to do here.

I’ve collected six hip-hop songs that came out of Chicago that have stuck with me throughout the year. I’ve listened to them all too many times, and I have particular memories and feelings associated with them. For better or worse, they’re a part of me now.

Read the Post & Stream the Tracks

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Dead DIY Space: The Adelphi Theater and the Magic of Chicago Radio

We were huddled around an ancient, double-headed cd-player in the dark projection booth above a grand, sprawling art deco movie theater, cavernous and full of velet, and terra cotta. Around us were gelled stage lights with wires hanging loose and old projectors from every era; scattered about were countless cd-r’s and PBR’s. A tiny, tinny boombox tuned to our frequency way left on the dial served as a monitor. If someone made a golden age hip hop remake of The Brave Little Toaster, this boombox would be the scrappy protagonist discarded and confined to the scrapheap. It let us know we were broadcasting though. A grimy cover of a Green Day song sung in German was fading out.

“I’m Eric lab Rat here with Ruby Aftermath and this is the Black Power White Power Power Hour on Red Line Radio, you just heard Weisse Wolfe and this is the Last Poets with “The White Man’s Got a God Complex”.

It was a dumb joke, obnoxious by intent, mixing music about oppression with music about liberation as if they were at all equal. I probably wouldn’t make it now that I’m a humorless PC punk, but I was more of a provocative asshole back then.

Besides, I was 21, falling in love but too immature to say it, living out my “Pump Up the Volume” dreams, and probably drunk. Besides, I didn’t know enough about nazi bands to stretch it even a half hour. Our station boasted a broadcast range “from Evanston to Uptown” … maybe… if the weather conditions were right. Even if the little tinny boombox in the projection booth was the only one tuned to our show, we were radio pirates.


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Upcoming Chicago Label Showcases: Dumpster Tapes’ Demolición & Tall Pat Records’ Cuddlestock

This Friday, join five Chicago Latinx-fronted garage, punk and psych-rock bands for a celebration of mi gente in the punk community. Organizer & badass Chicana femme and Dumpster Tapes label head Alex Fryer will be playing Latin American and Latinx bands all night and donating $1 of every admission fee to El Rescate, a Humboldt Park independent living center that provides identity-affirming housing to homeless LGBTQ and HIV positive youth.

If you want to know what to expect from brown punks Cabrona, Bruised, Divino Niño, Rai, and Mia Joy Alex wrote an awesome show preview over on Medium. Or just head to Auxiliary Art Center on Friday night and be surprised. Either way, this is exactly the show the north side’s white dominated punk scene needs.

Dumpster Tapes Presents: Demolición
Cabrona, Bruised, Divino Niño, Rai, Mia Joy
Auxiliary Art Center, 3012 W Belmont Ave
Fri, October 14, 7:30pm / BYOB / 21+ / $7


Cuffing season’s fast approaching, sneaking on silent slippered feet and cozy in Uniqlo heattech. Get a headstart on little spoon bliss at Cuddlestock, Tall Pat Records‘ annual garage punk showcase that’s taken on epic proportions through four years of good ass booking, fancy posters, 5758686 shots of Malört, and drunk ass speeches from Pat fueled by the aforementioned Malört. Party with labelmates Jollys, Swimsuit Addition, Bleach Party, and Clearance at The Empty Bottle next month, and try to drink a few glasses of water between the shots, ok?

Tall Pat Records Presents: Cuddlestock
Jollys, Swimsuit Addition, Bleach Party, Clearance
The Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western Ave
Fri, November 18, 9pm / 21+ / $8

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May Your Fave Be Unproblematic

“I’m so sorry, but this is a Famous Dex fan account now,” I tweeted, an hour before r&b artist Tish Hyman posted a surveillance video of the Chicago rapper chasing a woman down a hallway and beating her (video is disturbing; please exercise caution before viewing).

Before the footage was released, Dex was one of the South Side’s fastest rising stars, aided by an alignment with Atlanta’s Rich the Kid and an ability to release new material at a lightning pace. In a city captivated by angelic backpackers, scrawny Dex stood out as deeply weird with facial tattoos, bright red hair, and an off-kilter delivery that fit right in with the rest of the new crop of emerging “mumble rappers.”

I became a vocal fan after listening to Kanye off May’s OhhMannGoddDamm mixtape. I couldn’t stop replaying or talking about the compact and catchy track that captures everything I love about being young, successful, and killing it in Chicago. “All this money on me, all this designer on me, baby, call me Kanye,” Dex urges in a radio-ready hook as samples of ohhmanngodddamm echo behind him.

Dexter’s third mixtape of 2016, Dexter the Robot, was available for download for less than 24 hours when Hyman’s footage became public. The Puma x Pink Dolphin collection he recently modeled hasn’t even hit stores yet. Though it’s hard to say for certain in a world where a Chris Brown hook on your song isn’t enough to keep it off the Hot 100, common sentiment seems to be that his extremely short and fertile career has been cut off at the bud.

I’ve written before on how to evaluate the careers of artists who were abusive to those around them during their lifetimes. All of the examples I used had the luxury of a degree of academic distance for me. The perpetrators were dead, or so deeply sus I never engaged with their work on a deep level; rumors about Woody Allen and R. Kelly have been around forever.

I’ve recently had to wrestle with quandries much more unexpected and closer to home, however. Freddie Gibbs’ track Harold’s, a Madlib-composed ode to Chicago’s iconic fried chicken, fries, and mild sauce, was already a part of my heart when I heard he was battling charges of drugging and sexually assaulting a victim while on tour in Austria.

Kodak Black created one of my all time favorite love songs, a uncharacteristically sweet track called Honeybun off the mixtape Heart of the Projects. The Florida rapper probably has as many mug shots as he does press photos; I wasn’t any stranger to seeing him booked for drug and weapons charges, or hearing colorist or otherwise problematic statements in his lyrics. When he caught felony charges for allegedly sexually assaulting a victim in a South Carolina hotel room after a show, I was given pause. Should I have seen this coming? Should I already have disowned his music? Where do you draw the line?

Some people draw the line uncomfortably far; it’s not difficult to find rambling Snapchat diatribes and earnest tweets from Team Breezy pleading for folks to, yet again, disregard Chris Brown’s abusive behavior. If you draw the line all the way at the other end – throwing any music with sexist, racist, or otherwise oppressive content in the dustbin – you’re ruling out the vast majority of rap, which I’m not willing to do.

The question of when it’s appropriate to stop supporting an abuser is hardly limited to the sphere of hip-hop, however. I spent this last weekend at Riot Fest, a three day exercise in punk rock nostalgia. I was surprised to see a woman wearing a Swans shirt and tried to put myself in her shoes. How would I feel if I had that in my closet when Larkin Grimm came forward to accuse her collaborator and abuser, Michael Gira of Swans, of a long campaign of sexual harassment that culminated in raping her and dropping her from his label? I personally couldn’t see myself wearing the t-shirt anymore. Not to a music festival.

Part of the danger of supporting the new and the novel is that you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting yourself into. Hell, it’s part of the danger of supporting anyone at all. It’s impossible to know someone’s entire history, or predict their future actions. I refuse to stop vocally supporting artists, both emerging and established, because it may turn out that they’re mortal, with all the attendant messiness and pain that goes along with being part of the human race. At the same time, how we respond when allegations come to light says so much about how we feel about justice for victims, acceptance of a societal status quo, and whether we feel fame and adulation are unconditionally granted or earned.

Do we treat a case like Kodak Black’s assault, where our only information about an incident is filtered through a racist police state, differently than when unmistakable evidence is put into our hands through social media? Why do I feel ok listening to Gucci Mane, who almost certainly killed at least one person? Is Famous Dex’s career really over?

I’m not sure there are any absolute answers in situations like these. All I know is that Kanye, Harold’s, and Honeybun are incredible works of art, ones that I won’t ever be able to divorce of association with their authors. When I think of the playlist that I want to soundtrack my life, they’re not on it.

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