David Evans, Regal Radio
This past Friday at The Shrine in Chicago’s South Loop, the crew from Jamla Records put their flag down in one of the hottest cities for hip-hop today and showcased an artist that’s hoping to make things a little better in the game going forward.
Super producer and DJ 9th Wonder is in the process of building the next sustainable and innovative independent hip-hop label and has spread its reach out from its Research Triangle, North Carolina origins to New York (Skyzoo) and Oakland (GQ) among other places. Now, Chicago is in the crew’s grips with its latest signing of South Side native Add-2, who celebrated his latest release, Between Heaven and Hell, that night with 9th, Rapsody and Heaven and Hell producer Khrysis in tow.
For over three hours, Shrine patrons were treated to extended DJ sets from Khrysis and 9th Wonder along with performances from Rapsody and Add-2. Each Jamla member’s performance was excellent, captivating the audience. There was a sense throughout the night of unity and purpose put forth through the music that underscored the party atmosphere, it was as much a rally as a concert.
Khrysis opened up the evening with an half-hour set plowing through his music, a resume through beats comprised of soul, electronic and boom-bap. 9th later came on and led his set with several songs from Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show, maybe still seen as his creative zenith.
Later golden era hip hop and 80’s dance songs ramped up the crowd in well-meaning nostalgia in time for Rapsody — one of the best lyricists (not just female, but lyricists period) — to perform several tracks.
Rap has firmly established herself as an MC on the rise in the past year plus, which featured the release of her first full length LP The Idea of Beautiful and the recently released She Got Game mixtape.
It’s hard to say that an artist who is headlining a show in fact stole it, but Add-2 stole and claimed the show at the end of the night, his set was a mixture of music, comedy and messages of social activism, keeping the audience’s energy stoked and proving that Add is a plus to the skilled artists that had already made up the Jamla imprint.
Prior to the night’s performances, 9th summed up the appeal of Add to his group in front of a small conference of local media.
“One thing I’ve learned… there’s somebody in every city that speaks your language,” 9th said. “When we first threw our feelers in getting a new artist, Add-2’s name kept coming up. It just made perfect sense and he fit right in.”
Before Add’s set, to introduce those that still weren’t familiar, screens fell from the ceiling showing a short film on Add’s life and his background as an artist. We got a peek into his time growing up in Englewood and his close family ties — a large contingent led by Add’s father took up the VIP section and later made their presence known during the performance.
Good trivia came from the video, including how Add got his MC name, which is actually an summation of his real initials (Andre Dijuan Daniels) and his being the second of three children.
“My father gave us the initials cause he wanted us to always “add to” our legacy and always progress, never take anything or move backwards,” Add says in the video.
While on the stage he pointed out his two brothers and father.
“The guy making noise in the back is my dad,” Add says about a man in a white cap. “You see that? That’s something I’ve had to live with my whole life.”
In his set, Add-2 brought out fellow Chicagoan and frequent collaborator Slot-A and with 9th on the turntables performed several tracks off Between Heaven and Hell, including “Don’t Go,” which the Jamla boss said was the track that helped him make the final decision to sign Add.
Much of the rest of the nine-track EP was done prior to the Don’t Go-sendoff. Add also performed songs off of 2012 standout mixtape Save Our Souls and went even further back into his already-extensive mixtape discography, which includes the three-part “A Tale of Two’s City” series. Highlights from the older material included “Relax, Relate, Release” and the devastating pop culture critique “Modern Day Coons.” “Love Jones” smoothed things out for those in the mood and “Losing Me” provided a touching tribute to his grandmother’s struggle with dementia.
A number of examples of Add’s flair for comedy appeared during the evening, particularly in an interaction with an attractive young woman whom he pulled on stage before performing “Club Church/Club Hell” to play what would be a game of TV karaoke, testing her ability to recite the theme songs from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Good Times.
“How did you get your hair like that?” said Add, referring to the young woman’s curly hair while helping her on stage, she replied “water.”
“Water, huh? That’s hot.”
In addition to entertaining the audience, Add incorporated messages of social commentary and calls for activism. Prior to “Modern Day Coons,” Add said that black people descended from kings and queens and that they exploit themselves and present false representations through some acting and performing in reality shows that boost the ratings of networks like TBS and VH1.
Before his “Death of Chicago,” also on Between Heaven and Hell, Add tells the sad story of a young child whom he knew while working for the Chicago Park District who was recently killed, nearly bringing himself to tears in the process of a call for change in Chicago and an end to the gun violence which claimed Tay-Man’s life.
Admittedly, I wasn’t too up on Add-2 prior to this night but in a short time he’s proved himself to be a highly skilled rapper, social commentator and comedian. Not only is he a great addition to Jamla Records, but to the notable products of the Chicago rap scene as well.
Add-2: Small in stature, big in talent
With releases dating back to 2005, Add-2 has dropped several mixtapes and has worked and toured with The Roots, Kendrick Lamar and Gerald Walker among other but in his extended collaboration with founding Jamla representative and Soul Council producer Khrysis he’s established a clear breakthrough moment to build his career on and his relationship in one of the independent rap game’s standard-bearing crews.
Like Buck, Add doesn’t stand above 5 and 1/2 feet, if that, but he commands the mic with authority.
While it falls in the realm of great producer/MC collabs this crew has done before, I found myself also comparing this project to another low-key Chicago hip-hop traditionalist — Rashid Hadee and his 2007 release Dedication. In both, you see an everyman rapper navigating the streets of Chicago, taking in its negative spoils with caution but looking through the struggle and unearthing moments of hope and clarity along the way.
Heaven and Hell begins with “The Birth,” which opens with an ethereal sample, the sounds of a baby crying and a nurse talking to a doctor. Add describes his birth as a happy event for his parents, but says life for his family, peers and neighborhood has been difficult ever since. His acerbic rhymes on this track drip with verbal irony.
“Don’t Go,” is just about undeniable to those who have long been fans of Khrysis and 9th Wonder’s more soulful jams. Underlined with vocals from a Motown-like sample singing “though I love you, and I need you and I want you,” looped throughout the song. The song sees Add describing his struggles as an up and coming rapper trying to make it.
In “Club Church/Club Hell,” Add uses a clever allegory which he presents two nightclubs representing heaven and representing hell and how a night out can begin enjoyably (Heaven) and end up deadly (Hell). “Runnin” stands as Add’s roman a clef (coming of age) story, describing his interaction with the violence that can plague Chicago and has the potential to be an anthem, similar to Lupe Fiasco’s 2006 breakout hit “Kick, Push.” On “Glorious,” the EP comes to a conclusion with Add fiercely rapping over a Steely Dan sample, a final showy effort proving he is one of Chicago’s best rappers today, if not one of the best in the game period.
In summation, Heaven and Hell has no weak spots and nothing negative to take from it at all other than its adhering to its EP status with a length of 35 minutes.
You’re going to find yourself hungering for more of Add’s acrobatic rhyming skills after finishing this listen, but the project’s principals said Friday at the Shrine that they needed only two weekends to make this one. We should be getting plenty more goodness down the line from Add-2 and Jamla.
Between Heaven and Hell is available for free download or streaming at DJBooth.net. Follow David on Twitter @davidevans9 and Regal Radio @regalradio1