As one of the founding members of the famed underground rap group, Typical Cats, Qwel has worked tirelessly to establish his own brand of Chicago hip-hop. His solo albums have drawn heavily upon Chicago-centric experiences, and have garnered attention worldwide, which is a testament to how quality homegrown rap is possible when the emotional investments are made. With the completion of his last album, So Be It, Qwel has wrapped-up his four horsemen/seasons project (with producer Maker), a series of albums that boldly characterize the relationship between Chicago's polarizing weather and the intense emotions that come with it. What's next for the ambitious artist? A lot, including a new Typical Cats album, another possible project with Maker and even a book release.
You've been a veteran of the Chicago hip-hop scene for some time. What's your synopsis on it now in comparison to other cities?
The Chicago scene without a doubt is way more honest than other scenes throughout the world, not only very honest but more than willing to voice its honesty at the top of their lungs. It comes from taking pride in a city drowned in diverse excellence.
What about hip-hop as a whole, do you see it moving in one cohesive direction or fracturing off further into sub-genres?
It's honestly hard to call right now. We at galapagos4 have just kept our heads down making raw hip-hop that we like. I know right now there seems to be a trend of heading down the electronic road a bit, but with all trends that have been added to hip-hop music, heads never wander too far from home.
WHPK was a big part of your development. What was your reaction when you heard JP Chill was hanging it up?
It makes me feel old man! We as a culture seem to take a lot of the beauty and hard work that the giants before us put in for granted. You never know what you got till it's gone man.
Last year's album So Be It wrapped up the four horsemen/seasons project. For those who don't know, tell us a little bit about that concept and what went into it?
Well from conception to completion the project took over five years of daily observing and reporting. I guess we as a crew wanted to capture a whole block of time-capsule music to reflect on. I was lucky to write the four seasons in a very important time in human history. We observed different subjects and reported as they seemed fit according to the thematic soundscape. We did the topics of abrupt change throughout The Harvest, which reflected the swiftest change in season (American politics, gun violence, music puppeteering). We then followed with a tribute to the trudging frozen Chicago winter in Freezer Burner. I tried to touch on how we spiritually and psychologically have become freezer-burnt as human beings from the slow and consistent numbing of the human emotion. Then The New Wine came with a very wide range of clean, crisp "springy" sounds. Topically the spring record tried to capture the young hunger in art that so many have tried to pronounce dead so recently. So Be It wrapped it up with the duality of summer's harsh extreme, really hot hard day followed by quenching breezy nights. I hope this helps, I'm trying not to ramble, but over a couple of beers I'll eat your ear off for hours about any of the records. I'm very proud of the fact that we actually captured the feeling of each season through the soundscapes.
Your working relationship with Maker has spawned some amazing results; how does a producer of that caliber bring out the best in you and vice-versa?
With the amount of respect I have for his opinion sonically, he frees me up to focus hard on the writing. If you know your boy makes bomb rice, you have more time to salt the beans right. Plus he forces me to step my game up. I'm not trying to get shined by his beats.
G4 is a name that's synonymous with Chicago hip-hop. What direction are you guys moving in now?
Straight ahead. We always have made music that we like to bump among ourselves. It feels good to know other cats enjoy what we enjoy, but we make it to have somethin' raw for us to bump. That's what we will be doing forever.
What projects can we expect out of you (personally) in the future?
We are mixing the new record as we speak. We are headlong into this new Typical Cats record too. Me and Maker have been thinking about doing a free project. I been fancying the idea of writing a book soon enough, too much man. People keep telling me to slow down, and I keep thinking to myself how will the world handle it when I learn to really focus and start doing as much as I really want?!