When it comes to the local hip-hop scene, it's safe to say that there is no one definitive style that embodies Chicago. Instead what we have is a diverse selection of tastes that span from one neighborhood to the next, and at any given moment you can hop on the L and sample a different flavor.
In the case of Vertual Vertigo, Ezekiel38 and Cerebral Vortex pull from many different influences, both locally and abroad, and capture a style of hip-hop that blends the nostalgia of the golden era with the progressive sounds of the underground. In the eight-plus years they've been performing they’ve released three EPs and two full lengths all of which have maintained a very entertaining tongue-in-cheek style of play. Centerstage caught up with the two to get a more thorough introduction to the budding artists.
You guys met in Germany. What brought you there?
Ezekiel38: yeah we met in the Nuremberg area in like 2000. I was in the military stationed over there, and Vortex was doing some school stuff. It's really coincidental that we met, and it turned out to be the best friendship and musical collaboration that I've ever experienced!
What's your take on the hip-hop scene there?
E: It's dope! There's a lot of things over there that are somewhat extinct over here. The graffiti scene is nuts! The government seems to be less concerned with buffing and locking cats up for graf, they seem to be more level-headed and committed as fans over there too. I mean every time we go back we see our fans growing with us. Not that that doesn't happen in the states or Canada too, but it just feels like we belong there a bit more. Maybe it's because we started Vert over there? Who knows?
Cerebral Vortex: Lots of hunger and dedication. The kids are really eager and righteously studying the science of hip-hop.
Tell me a bit about how you first got interested in hip-hop.
E: I was sitting on a bus, going on a field trip from a summer camp that I was in, when I was six or seven. I guess we had the cool bus driver because he was letting kids play tapes on the bus stereo. This one kid busts on LL Cool J's "Bigger and Deffer" and as soon as I heard that beat and LL like "I take a muscle-bound man and put his face in the sand..." It was over for me, I fell in love that very second. Stayed tuned in ever since.
CV: My uncle was the first rap artist to sign with the punk rock imprint Alternative Tentacles in the early '90s. Just being around that type of environment as a kid made me want to play a hands-on part in the budding culture. It was interesting to me how all of these equations formulated into one.
Who are some of your influences, both inside and outside the genre?
E: Inside, I mean there's the obvious ones that you can't help but be influenced by - Mos, De La, Tribe, Common, Nas, J etc-but then a few of my personal influences are Boogie Monsters, 3rd Bass, and Slum Village. Outside — I have always drawn inspiration off of Edith Piaf, Shirley Bassey, John Lennon and Dylan, and actually quite a bit of punk rock from the '90s. I'm a huge NOFX fan!
CV: Eric B and Rakim, Bjork, Cyndi Lauper, Kwame, Prince, Fast Eddie, 3 Times Dope, Portishead, De La Soul, ATQ, Outkast, Gant Man, Kilo Ali, Boogie Monsters, Digable Planets, TV on the Radio, Biz Markie, Pete rock and C.L. Smooth, Zelda, Tracy Chapman and A Gun Called Tension.
You mention a lot of members (of Vertual Vertigo) who have come and gone. What's kept the core together?
E: Yeah, I mean when we started it was just me and Vortex, back then Cea3 and Medisin, but we had a bunch of different cats join the group for a little while and then leave. I think when it comes down to the Vert, it comes down to the brotherhood that me and Vortex have. It makes a big difference on the road, it can get ugly, and after 2 or 3 weeks touring in a cooped-up minivan, true colors come out of cats. DJ Japandrew is here to stay though! I would do anything for that dude!
CV: What's kept the core together has been essentially the foundation. We're brothers by cause, binded by a mutual love for what was, is and will be.
What's your take on Chicago's current hip-hop scene?
E: I think the scene in Chicago is always changing, constantly. When I first moved here, it was way underground, and we used to go to jams at ITC, shouts to PYRO, PUKE, WYSE and PEPS, ALL AIR CREW, or Tuesday nights at Sub-T when Bucktown was buck. But now, it's finally all the way out of its shell. It's nice to be able to go to shows and not worry about cops or gangs, or BS nowadays. I think it took the city's most relentless heads to build the scene to what it is today, and now everyone can enjoy it! Big ups!
CV: One thing about Chicago's hip-hop scene is that it's deeply rooted, very passionate and soul driven. And on any given day or night you can be walking down the street and come across your fave artist or DJ, past or present and acknowledgement is born. That's love and respect.
Tell me a little bit about the Good Will Hunting EP.
E: When we sat down and recorded the EP it was cold as hell outside and we were all twice as broke. Japandrew started cooking up beats in my basement on a super-old PC and a dusty ass turntable, it was really minimal, but during the height of the recession it seemed appropriate. At the same time the thrift stores were our only means of new gear and a Link Card was our only means of avoiding starvation. The EP pretty much paints a picture of how much we love hip-hop, and that no matter what we can keep it moving! You can download the whole EP for $5 at vertualvertigo.bandcamp.com. Our new full length LP is on iTunes too, Sparkies Bungalow.
I've noticed that the sneakers are always fresh. Any one in particular you're feeling right now?
E: This year's drops have been kind of disappointing to be honest, but I'm scoping for a pair of the Vans pea coat Chukkas. My guy Ike showed them to me yesterday and the jelly mode kicked in my stomach instantly. I totally slept when they dropped. Also the Reebok/Bodega pumps that just dropped, those joints look like you rocking tanks on your feet, but I always keep a fresh pair of J's and Alpha force 2's in the stash. Barkley had the dopest kicks in my opinion.
CV: Being fresh is part of hip-hop. The one pair I'm feeling in particular right now is the Nike Air Carnivore trainer hybrids. I'm losing sleep at night praying that Nike is going to officially release these and they won't go out as another pair of dope ass samples that never see the light of day. Other than that I'm burning rubbers in my fives with no laces.
Any favorite spots in Chicago to relax, shop, eat, perform?
E: Shopping: St. Alfred's, Uprise, Good Will and Salvation Army, Belmont Army, Juggernaut, Gramaphone, Reckless Records, Aurora Outlet Mall. Relax: Lava Lounge, The Crocodile, Sonotheque, NV, Moonshine, Smartbar, and Nick's Beer Garden after hours is always fun! Eat: Maxwell St Polish, Underdogg, Portillo's, Logan Square Farmers Market on Saturdays, Jewel Osco and Dominick's, the Link Card baby! As far as Performing: The best spots for shows are at: Sub T, Abbey Pub, darkroom, and Black Gate Studios.