Ever since he was a young kid growing up on Chicago’s Southwest side rapper YOUNG XAV has always possessed an unusually high degree of intelligence. He says he taught himself computer coding when he was in the 6th grade. He also stated that later on, he taught himself graphic design and video editing as well. In casual conversation, XAV is poignant and well spoken. He leaves no stone un-turned when getting his points across and is very expressive about his goals, ambitions and thoughts about the world around him.
Like a lot of brilliant people, XAV spent a lot of time on his own growing up. Stating he was bullied a lot, XAV had trouble making friends and says he even transferred schools five times as a direct result. However all of this time spent on his own served as the breeding ground for the intense introspection that has become a defining characteristic of who he is as an artist- More on that later.
Much like his rare level of intelligence it is easy to see where his musical roots stem from. His father was a DJ growing up and he says that music had always played one role or another in his life. XAV says some of most vivid memories from childhood were listening to early Eminem records on car rides with his mom which led to him discovering other artists such as 50 Cent and Dr. Dre.
XAV attended high school at Muchin College Prep in Downtown Chicago and he says it is here that he really found his place. He says it was here where he discovered his love of attention, stating he would go far as to campaign for his birthday; meaning that he would talk to as many people as possible in an effort to get as many happy birthdays as he possibly could. After graduation XAV attended Tribeca College in Downtown Chicago to study Film, leaving after a year when he realized it was not what he wanted to do. It was right around this time where XAV started to pursue a career in music.
After dropping a series of singles as well as an EP XAV decided that he wanted to get more serious with his craft. He came up with the idea that he wanted to throw a show and says he worked nonstop for two weeks selling tickets, promoting the show and even making an intro trailer for it. The final product was the After Dark Show which XAV says was a big success. After the show was over XAV was asking himself what he wanted to do next. He decided he was going to start working on his next EP. Despite wanting to make another short project the final product came to be something much greater than anything XAV could have realized or hoped for.
What came of it was XAV’s debut full-length studio album After Dark which is a 15-song time capsule documenting XAVs’ experiences over the most trying sixth month period of his entire life. Over the course of these 15 songs XAV puts his struggles with substances, heartbreak and depression on full display for the whole world to see. He conveys a stunning amount of honesty in his bars, getting more personal than a lot of artists are willing to go.
From the very beginning the album has a very cinematic feel. The intro track features an energetic brass section and planking pianos as well as a car revving up and driving away. It really feels like the opening scene to a movie. XAV views this album as cyclical and that he structured the songs in a way that would resemble a heavy night of drinking followed by the morning after. Early in the album on cuts such as Sinners and Life is Grand XAV is living the rockstar lifestyle, musing on misadventures with alcohol and women. However this is presented simultaneously with the consequences of his actions as cuts such as After Dark and Still Alive explore the dark side of substance abuse and excessive indulgence in an effort to escape ones demons.
XAV does a beautiful job painting a full picture of what it is like for one to be drowning in their own vices. A true highlight on the album arrives with the Dear You interlude and the following track Dancing in the Dark. These two tracks see XAV coming off as apologetic and remorseful for past mistakes towards an ex-lover as well as addressing his general experiences with love up to this point in his life. XAV has described this part of the album as the part in the night when one is drunk and in their feels. However this sentimentality of these two tracks is abruptly followed by the track On the Low, a banger of a track featuring more themes of vice and excess.
The back end of the album features more moments of introspection from Xav. The 12th track Chasing Dreams finds XAV contemplating his current place in the rap game and dreaming of one day rising to the top. XAV describes this track as the thoughts of somebody sitting drunk and alone in a bar at 4 am dreaming of better days. The 14th track Til Dawn is a beautiful meditation on the relationship between XAV and his mother. The track has a nostalgic ring to it and really is a beautiful moment on the album.
After Dark closes out with the song Road to Legend which sees XAV reflecting on more past experiences and coming grips with where he is currently at in his life. XAV views this track as the sun rising after a long night and coming back down to earth to face the reality that awaits. Aforementioned, After Dark has a very thematic feel to it throughout its duration. Everything is concise and orderly. XAV pulled together a sequence of tracks that truly tell a powerful story. For him to be so young yet able to pull together a conceptual project like After Dark is a true sign of the intelligence he possesses.
Today XAV is a lot more extroverted than that young kid who used to sit on his computer all day. However it is clear that XAV got to know himself quite well during that time as introspection and taking self-inventory are a big part of what makes his album work so well. Despite finding a sense of contentment at the end of the After Dark XAV is still far from the finish line. He is now waking up to the sun in his eyes that is his own brutal reality. However the LP gives you a sense that he is now inviting the suns daunting rays into his soul with open arms.
These days YOUNG XAV is only focused on whatever comes next. He has found closure in the mistakes of his past, now looking forward with two feet in front of him. He says he is solely focused on promoting his album which has done quite well and is now past a hundred thousand streams. He is also planning his next album which he says will be entitled Dead by Dawn and that it will be tied back to After Dark in some way. He says he has not started work for this project yet and that there is no timetable for its release date. If it is every bit as tight and conceptual as After Dark, rest assured that it will be worth the wait.
Early in the month I have gotten the opportunity to interview the three powerful women known as the Rapper Chicksfrom Chicago. Consisting of Hologram Kizzie, Angel(ee-nuh) and Ill-Esha, the three had a lot to say after quickly catching their breath after their performance at the Taste of Chicago Festival in Grant park following a Chance the Rapper performance a day prior. Their performance was packed with live vocals, drumming, bass guitar and beat work and a ton of energy and stage presence for a diverse crowd enjoying their vibes in the mid day sun.
After a welcoming meet and greet with their fans at their merchandise table where I bought an album because support your locals. We headed backstage to enjoy what turns into more of a conversation about a little bit of everything. From getting to know them to talking their experiences in the music industry as female artists to the breaking boundaries in music and societal ideals. All within the limits of a dying battery and a few hours preparation, here is what we picked out the minds of the Rapper Chicks.
“We can bring people together who… just want to listen to good music and create art and live consciously and be meaningful”
What is your favorite city to perform in?
Kizzie: As far as the Rapper Chicks I love Chicago but regularly I love my hometown and over seas, i love playing Paris and then of course the bay area.
Angel(ee-nuh). I have two favorite places. First is Toronto because they have always showed us love from the start, and then obviously Chicago because this is where I’m from and this is the first time we’re playing a festival with the 3 of us together.
Ill-Esha: I got a soft spot for my new hometown of Denver which is why I moved there its full of amazing people and amazing music. If we’re just talking cities in general I also have a soft spot for New Orleans; the music scene, the food, there’s so much inspiration like the classic jazz that just happens in the street and as a producer I’m always listening to the sonic textures of a city and New Orleans has this raw thing that something else I get.
Any influence from New Orleans in your music?
I definitely think a lot of my music is influenced by jazz and R&B and New Orleans is a jazz center piece. I’m a live musician as well, I love horns, guitars anything real and New Orleans is full of that so definitely would say I have a strong jazz influence in my music.
What is your favorite instrument ?
Well the keytar would be my answer, that’s normally what I do in an Ill-Esha set its become a hall mark and I bring it everywhere I go. I like it cause I’m a keyboard player and I can flex like a cool guitar player, cause most keyboard players are nerds haha.
Any alternate instruments aside from vocals you two?
Kizzie: I play drums. When I was 10 I got bored going to church so I was like let me play the drums. I’m not trained or anything I just did it as a hobby and got decent at it. but yea I love the drums
Angel(ee-nuh) – Umm My voice is my instrument! Haha But also my God father when I was 9 or 10 bought me my first keyboard, I don’t play play but I can play when the band goes marching like it aint nothing and the triangle!
Would you say he is your inspiration for music?
I would say my Dad is my inspiration for art. He wasn’t always there when I was younger so when he did come around he made sure to be around. My first single actually in 2009 was about my dad leaving me and not being there so its fun to see the transition rom him not being around to when I was very young to him just infiltrating my life and becoming my biggest fan. He’s not even supposed to be around really he ha a really bad heart but every year he has been consistently getting better and healing more and I’m lucky enough to have him in my life.
What do you do in your spare time?
Ill-Esha: Well I’m really into like health and wellness and being sustainable in life lately. I dj and toured and I’ve been doing it for a long time and I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms and clubs and at one point I just thought there needs to be a balance here. I started learning to garden, I was terrible at it last year, this year I’m growing a good percentage of my own food and learning how to pickle, ferment, kind of old lady skills to be honest. I feel we’re kind of in this point in society where we have all the technology to do everything and yet we just spend our time surrounded by it and disconnected from reality and for me as an artist I felt kind of uninspired going to the club to the plane and so on. So growing a garden having to actually pay attention to the present and what’s around me, working with that and taking care of myself is a whole trip in itself. I feel like I can perform another 20, 30 years from now and just a few years ago I was like at deaths door so if I want to say to people its taking care of yourself is cool. Watching what you eat and being a participant in your food process instead of just going to the super market its creative in itself just making your own food.
Kizzie: I’m a nerd I like to write I like to cook. I like to be like a wifey. I like to make curry, I’m tryin to get it to a point where its as good as Ill-Eshas so we’re experimenting with flavors. I love making vegan food because people don’t expect it to taste so good.
Ill-Esha I know you’ve done voice acting and film, what made you want to pursue music permanently rather than the ladder.
Well that’s not entirely true. I still happily do voice acting. My absolutely favorite is cartoons but the thing about that is that it is a very shmoozy market and so is the music industry. I find at least at the end of the day after all the bs that you put up with from people trying to know you cause they think they’re supposed to know you, at least at the end of the day you get to play your own art you get to have some small space to express yourself creatively. I found when I was trying to go to premiers and meet directors and getting into the movie industry I was doing all that and still not doing my own art. So I feel its a necessary evil to put up with networking and middle manning but I still want to have time for my heart and music still allows me that after all this time.
When was your biggest progression point in your music.
Honestly I’m very excited about Rapper Chicks because I think at this point in music people are still really fractured into scenes and each scene has their issues. When I go out to a hip hop show I don’t even get left alone like its not even cool to be in my own space without some guy harassing me or talking over me. Electronic music doesn’t have that it just has this sort of complacent group of white people thinking their transforming society by partying together with really high ticket prices. So I’m really excited about this project because I think we have what counts which is the music and the message and we can bring together people who are maybe also fed up with these scenes and just want to listen to good music and create art and live consciously and be meaningful in life and I feel like we’re creating something new and that’s the most exciting thing about it all.
“Rapper Chicks has gone from a very exclusive group to a very open group for every body and all girls can look at us and get hope or inspiration”
How is the transition from being a solo artist to performing with a group?
Honestly its really awesome I been a one person band for a long time and as much as I love that I love collaboration. I love the baby that comes out of two people musically love making you know. So writing with them is a really unique experience because they are strong writers and they have stuff to write about and suddenly I don’t have to focus on the whole picture but I can like put the pieces together and arrange the textures and really enjoy what I’m doing instead of just hustling. Also being the sole editor, as a producer you have to do all the editing at the end its a really amazing to have someone just go, ‘actually this is my idea’, and see where it goes from there. It pretty much marries together my love for collaboration and my love for doing weird stuff and meaningful stuff.
What is the goal for the rapper chicks what do you want to give to the crowd?
Kizzie: Just our voices because it hasn’t been heard. There’s been so many male voices. I feel like female voices for hip hop and R&B music and even electronic music. Our stories have not been told as much and there’s all kind of different rappers but not a lot of different females so just putting out our own unique story is important and then making a boat load of money!
Angel(ee-nuh): One thing that’s kind of impacted me is Say Her Name, cause while there are there are so many young black men being killed there are also young black women who are being murdered all the time, who are not even talked about, mentioned. Rapper chicks has gone from a very exclusive group to a very open group for every body and all girls can look at us and get hope or inspiration know that they can do exactly what were doing or whatever they want. They can be healthy, nerds, funny, weird. That is what rapper chicks is about, creating a safe environment, a safe space and a safe mentality for women young girls, and more specifically girls of color because we don’t have that in society.
Have you girls gone through any challenges being a female rap group.
Angel(ee-nuh): Of course we’ve gone through a couple transitions already but right now we’re a very strong core group and we build each other up and if a dude is talkin mad crap to Ill-Esha I’m comin for him and I’m backing her regardless! I think the Rapper Chicks will send such a strong positive female vibe it’s going to make it easier for other girls to do the same thing and not feel uncomfortable tellin dudes chill out I got this!
Ill-Esha: I think there’s always this predication when girls are in groups that they have to be competitive and rigged that one of them has to be the number 1 and this has been pervaded with girl groups throughout the ages like Destiny’s child when they broke up. We’re trying to provide an alternative where we all have strengths and we’re all very different. As a solo artist all the time and I’m sure this happened to them too [Rapper Chicks] from my own experience people will write about me saying the Goddess of Bass or the Queen of this! And its like we don’t need titles and we don’t need to be rigged. People can be human, be imperfect, beautiful, we can get along together. Its not even just for women or women of color that is just the inner message but outwardly I think we’re just an example of trying to be a group of people that are cool with each other and don’t have anything to prove and just have love and art to express.
What advice would you give young women getting into the music industry.
Kizzie: I would say consider the source. If someone is telling you to up your game a little bit you may want to listen to them depending on who they are. If someone is telling you to quit you may not want to listen to them or do it. I just feel like when it comes to women a lot of people have a lot of ideas about what women should be and what women should do. I would say as you get some advice consider where its coming from and make sure that that advice is coming from a person or entity that actually wants to see you succeed.
Angel(ee-nuh): Build yourselves, don’t stand behind anyone whether it be a man, woman, a friend whatever. If you wanna do something put all your confidence and all your work, everything into it and do it yourself.
Ill-esha: For me its more on the technical side cause that’s my thing but its like don’t be scared of computers. Society tells you you’re not supposed to use them. We’re in a era where anything is possible and there is so much equipment where you can literally set up a camera and physically move your body and make something happen with music. I think that we’re still in this paradigm where ‘computers are hard for girls’ or ‘they’re not interested’. This started in the 80’s when the personal computer was invented. There used to be female and male programmers and then at one point they started an ad campaign that said buy your boy a computer for Christmas then it became a boys toy. We’re still locked into that and I talk to women everyday saying I WISH I can do what you did and I said you know what you CAN and not only is it not scary but I actually think that women and the stereotypical; of course I’m generalizing but the way we multitask and the way that we process information might be even better for learning production because we’re always concentrating on everything around us. Traditionally again and I just say that to offset the fact that so many women are told that this is a guy thing and men can do these tasks cause its just not true. I’ve become this person just trying to prove it, that knows more than most of the guys and at the end of the day they call me and I just laugh because in the same breathe I’m still getting asked who makes my track at the show. The only thing I want to pass on is hey we can all do it. Computers are not scary, they’re not hard, women are brilliant, men are brilliant, we’re ALL brilliant and we can do what we want and we don’t need 1950s stereotypes to tell us who to be anymore.
“Support Your Locals… We can’t sit around and wait for the corporations to create the community for us. Take your art back take your scene back.”
I noticed you guys mentioned that 90% of your music is produced by Ill-Esha and before it was Drew Mantia and the likes right?
Kizzie: Everything you heard today yea, the new rapper chicks album is completely produced by Ill-Esha
Angel(ee-nuh): Which is phenomenal Cause nobody ever wants to give credit for what they do and she does some wizard shit on the keys I’m sorry she does. I’ve never ever had a girl in my life who’s been like I’m gonna do this. I asked Ill-Esha one day if she can do double time and she said I can do anything and I said okay that’s the kind of girl I like. That’s real any girl willing to step up to the plate step up to a talent they never even done before that some magic.
And at the same time you guys are rockin on stage you are looking good doing it. Tell me what you guys are wearing right now
Ill-Esha: My homies at Grassroots California, They’ve made all the Ill-Esha hats. They’ve made three of them so far, they hooked us up from their new store in Chicago so we are all dressed up in their amazing apparel.
Kizzie: Right off Grand and Halsted they got a lot of cool stuff, and Ill-Esha got hats from them so they came and embraced us and gifted us with these dress so thank you Grassroots and Ill-Esha hookin the Rapper Chicks up.
Making the Rapper Chicks look fly as fuck on stage, you got new clothes for you do you girls have anything new for the audiences as far as music?
Kizzie: Gender Fender Bender is the new triple album we just dropped. Its two albums for me and one from Angel(ee-nuh) and Ill-Esha is featured on there with some beats. For me after I called out Rhymesayers last year It made me refocus on why I make music. It’s years worth of music that some people wont hear if I don’t take the initiative and put it out. Moving forward I only want to make music with people who understand what I’m going through, so that’s one of what the rapper chicks mission is. But Gender Fender Bender is just a bunch of real and unreleased stuff that I feel really strongly about that I wanted to make sure I put out. Angel(ee-nuh) got additional real and unreleased stuff as well that we are just sitting on we’re thinking we don’t need to just sit on this anymore, we as musicians make music to share with people and just because a label or entity doesn’t want to put things out doesn’t mean you can’t get them out.
I have heard house music from you recently, Ill-Esha are we going to hear any of that on the album?
You know what I am in a real state of change right now I can’t even say what I’m going to be doing. I might disappear n come back this is a polite warning. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I decided to break any boundaries that I have. One of the things that I realized I said I was into all music a yet I was never making anything between 115 and 125 bpm and recently I hooked up with this one group in Denver and they throw a lot of amazing shows who aren’t bound to genres either and the main guy Option4 who makes house we got together and vibed. I figured any good artist can make any tempo and beat pattern compelling. The new rapper chicks albums has some funky house on it more trap and classic stuff. As an artist that’s who I am I don’t want you to put me in a box of tropical fantasies and musical genres its just not cool. Every body is so segregated artistically I’m trying to get it back to the point where we would have a party and djs will play every style every hour and I think its going that way cause now we have future bass, pop, house and I’m trying to keep it going that way.
Any last words to say!?
Kizzie: We just want to encourage people to tell their stories and don’t be afraid of that. And don’t be afraid of us when we come out cause we’re coming!
Angel(ee-nuh): I wanna tell everyone that we love you, stay safe, stay smart, stay aware and to all my beautiful black sisters and brothers your skin is beautiful don’t forget that!
Ill-Esha: I just wanted to tell people something really important right now, if you appreciate art support your locals, and that’s the most important thing I can say cause I’ve been around for a long time and I seen it shift from like a community to like a corporate entity and the same people who I love don’t go out any more say the shows aren’t cool the crowd isn’t cool. We have to take it back. We can’t sit around and wait for the corporations to create the community for us. Take your art back take your scene back. If your friend has a show, show up early and for their set and even leave early but its just being there and being apart of your community there’s so much fucked up shit happening everywhere and it’s a product of people being afraid of each other and separated into their group. I’m all about joining, merging, fusing, blending; that’s who I am as a human being. I am a product of blending so I’m all for it. So support your locals, support your art. Remember we don’t need to put ourselves into little categories we can be there go out and have fun for and with the artists!
From the mouths of the humble and talented, these ladies surely do have what counts, which as Ill-Esha said, the message and the music. Each artist with their own mission adding uniqueness to their combined energy. As a group they build each other up and empower voice of the unheard. As individuals they represent a unique idea that is embodied in their work and their everyday actions. Empowerment of the self. As they create music and perform they practice what they preach. Doing that is the most genuine form of inspiration. Love and be yourself and most of all support and take part in your community. Looking forward to talking with the Rapper Chicks again in the future and explore more of their ideals and creations.
Purchase Gender Fender Bender right here.