Nate Paul Jo aka Casagrown is apart of two hip hop/music collectives--Greenlights and Bad Wolff. Here he tells how they got started and how they represent different sides of him as an artist and his writing.
"I don't have a traditional career. Working in food for the past five years, you can burn out real fast. So, finding the right place, being able to support myself but also be creative and be positive with it, that kind of the balance I'm looking for. I think right now, I've found it, despite the fact that I'm working at a donut place. It's not necessarily the end-all, be-all, but it's like I'm stable enough where I can dedicate like three days out of my week to really, hard core, write and read and just like [write]."
Greenlights: "Greenlights is basically a combination of three people--myself, my friend Willow who is a really amazing singer as well as writer, and my boy Andres who makes really inventive, original music and who is a dope writer, too. I guess we're all writers at our heart. So, it's us three principally."
"We all would hang out, that was the idea, just hang out and make music. And we started making more and more, so we compiled up like 10 songs and was like, "We should put this out as something.' Originally, we were releasing free songs. We put our heads together and came up with [the name] Greenlights. We just put out our second record before New Years."
"It's all based in Logan Square. Andres has an apartment and converted the basement into his studio. I was working up the street at the time at this place called Yusho. I would hurry out of work, fresh with tips, grab some brews and bring it over to the house. It would be like a crew and all these people are still friends, still active, probably like three summers ago--2012."
Bad Wolff: "Bad Wolff is a whole other thing. It's me and my friend Camonie. That's my ace, I've known him for about 10 years and we have one of those chemistries where we can just bounce ideas off of [each other] and he'll finish it up, vice versa. He's a really dope writing partner. We used to be in a band together, we were both emcees, we were already on the strength of our writing and we wanted to stick with it after the band sort of went off in different ways. We came up with "Bad Wolff" because we both liked Doctor Who and so I was like, that [name] sounds good, it's sort of intriguing, it looks good on a bill."
"Bad Wolff is more, I wouldn't say darker, but it's definitely touching on topics that are a little harder. Not necessarily like everything was love and joy--we touch on that but we also do more a reality of what it really is. With [BW], we do a lot of narrative and one thing we like is noir-style movies to life, culture. It's sort of like dark alley shit. You see things you might not see during the day."
Rebirth Garments is a collection of lingerie, garments and accessories for the full-spectrum of gender, size, and ability. Both the disabled and trans* communities have very particular clothing needs that are not adequately served by mainstream clothing designers. This is due to the general assumption that they are too small of a minority. There are designers who make adapted clothing for these communities, but the designs focus solely on function with almost no concern for aesthetic. These medical-looking garments not only pathologize need but also enforce stigmas. There is a widespread de-sexualization of people with disabilities. This collection combats this idea. It is a celebration of all of our bodies and our existence.
Everyday is a performance where I bring my body as a kinetic sculpture into the consciousness of the people I interact with in passing and on a daily basis. Through chainmaille, I have found my patience. I have been building myself this armor or protection, not against harm exactly, but as a way to give me courage. I am an introvert, but it has given me the strength to be social. I never have to go up to people--they will always come up to me. My chainmaille is prosthesis for the communication of my inner world. My body, my identity, and my prosthesis are one cohesive being.
Rebirth Garments is my soft armor. My collection challenges mainstream beauty standards and the gender binary. Your clothing, especially your foundation garment is the closest thing to your skin, it is your second skin; it changes the way your hold yourself. I consider it amor because it has the power to give you the confidence and strength to feel comfortable in your first skin. My dream is for people to feel as comfortable, safe, sexy, or cute in their clothing as many able-bodied and cisgendered people take for granted due to the options afford them by mainstream fashion. We all have needs that our garments must fulfill; the need for warmth, for comfort, and to be attractive. Historically, the needs of these communities have condemned them to wearing clothes that only partially satisfies their needs but are also unattractive and stigmatizing. Through Rebirth Garments, I hope to provide an option that truly fulfills all of their needs because feeling confident in one's outward appearance can revolutionize one's emotional reality.
VISUAL STORYTELLING STARTS WITH MAKING EVERYTHING IN THE IMAGE APPARENT, AS BEST AS I CAN, BY CENTERING THE PERSON OR OBJECT WITHIN A VERY VAST CONTEXT. I HAVE A LOT OF IMAGES OF PEOPLE WHERE THERE'S A LOT OF SPACE AROUND THEM. I TAKE A LOT OF PHOTOS OF MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY BECAUSE I LIKE TO CAPTURE THE INTIMACY AND LOVE THAT WE EXPERIENCE TOGETHER. I ALSO LIKE SEEING THE TRANSFORMATION BETWEEN IMAGES OF PEOPLE I KNOW OVER TIME. HYBRID IMAGES OF PEOPLE WITHIN MY FAMILY IS AN IDEA I'D LIKE TO GET INTO. IT SEEMS VERY CINEMATIC FOR ME BECAUSE IT WOULD BE THE FIRST TIME I REALLY SET UP A SHOT AS OPPOSED TO MY USUAL STYLE OF CAPTURING A MOMENT. I WANT TO MAKE AND BUILD A PHOTO, IT'S LIKE A DIFFERENT LEVEL OF INTENTIONALITY."
I was born in Baltimore, MD and grew up in a town called Columbia. It was the containment of the bubble-like community that pushed me to move to Chicago. All of my family, except for my mom and uncle, live in the city so I knew Bmore was not a place where I could learn to be independent outside of the help and love from my family. But, I did not realize that until I came to Chicago with my Dad to visit his best friend. Seven years ago I decided I wanted to go to school here.
What captivates you about photography and why do you continue to use it in your art?
"I think and see within the lens of a camera. I feel like just walking around I create my own little film. So, when I started taking photos I realized I could take these images of folks and spaces with me. Honestly, what i love about photography is that it directly relates to film and cinematography to me. It helps me become a better filmmaker so I know I'll always be taking photos."
What other ways do you express yourself artistically?
"Performance art and video are new to me but I feel as though it has helped me with self-love and realizing my own god-energy within. It's helped me realize that vulnerability is the beginning of creation and I'm so grateful for the experience I had in my first performance."
Who are some artists (of any discipline) that inspire your work?
Folks that inspire my work would definitely be my grandmother, Ruby Glover, Carrie Mae Weems, James Baldwin, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Lorna Simpson.
"I'D LIKE FOLKS TO [SEE] THE BEAUTY THAT HAPPENS WHEN CAPTURING THE INTIMACIES, DISTANCES AND LOVE WHEN VULNERABILITY IS PRESENT. VULNERABILITY AS A MEANS OF CREATING SOMETHING LOVING AND NURTURING WITHIN THE SELF.”
Ezra, singer/songwriter, was unaware of how he would grow and change after he stumbled to Chicago 2.5 years ago from Queens. He came to attend Columbia, the arts and media college in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood. He was enrolled in three universities--Queens College, New York University and Rider University--before he applied to the Contemporary Urban and Pop music program with a vocal concentration. There was something magnetic about Columbia that helped Ezra settle in Chicago.
"I transferred to NYU, college #2, thinking I was hot shit. Soon, I realized the program I enrolled in was really intense. It challenged my true intentions and I started to feel like I was exerting all this energy for a goal I didn't really want to achieve. I had to be real and admit that I was stretching myself thin for a backup plan when I really wanted to work toward making art 24/7," Ezra said.
Ezra dropped Purgatory, a digital music album, in July through Bandcamp. In many ways, Purgatory is a sneak peak into the journal and mind of someone sifting through the internal dust toward mental/spiritual clarity, liberation and wellness. The album opens with "The Attic." Ezra reflects a time of stagnancy in his life and art and his way of getting on the other side of that toward motivation. Toward the end of the song, Ezra sings:
"I can’t say what has been wrong with me / I’ve been working hard just to breathe The cycle knocks me off of my feet like every week, it seems /I think I need some new clarity, about who I am and just why I be"
In other songs, we see him questioning himself and pointing out his own hindrances, feelings of loneliness, and questing answers. Throughout Purgatory there are voice snippets and short candid stories that give us a glimpse into Ezra's personality. Ezra includes interludes and skits reminiscent of The Velvet Rope, Baduizm, and 1st Born Second that reveals more about his personality, self-criticisms and relationship with his younger sister ("Boss").
DRALA: What was the drive for you to produce and release "Purgatory?"
Ezra: There’s nothing more I’ve wanted to do than to make music that feels honest to me, and hopefully get the chance to share it with anyone willing to listen. Maybe even relate to it. When I got to Chicago I realized I had a bunch of songs that essentially chronicled the time I spent trying to discover myself and listen to what my life was trying to tell me underneath a bunch of external noise. I was suddenly burning to talk about everything I felt I had learned. So I just needed to do it.
D: Did you do the instrumentation yourself or did you collaborate with others?
E: I ended up working on most of the instrumentation for Purgatory myself. The whole thing is MIDI based, so I was able to take the basic piano skills I have and combine that with working my way around software, learning as I went on. I got my friend Adam Tuhy to put a bit of guitar in Feral Friend. My friend Marcus Broderick came up with the lead synth motif in Slow, and I sampled some of glvmpyre's percussion from The Attic and used it in Promise 91. I was nervous about people hearing everything until the very moment I released it.
D: What is the significance of "purgatory," and how did you choose that title?
E: The part of me that hated myself had to die, but only for a time in order to be reborn into a space where self acceptance could reign supreme. I like that the concept of purgatory is understood to be a pathway to a form of purity or a state of paradise. I hoped that putting my journey on display would maybe send someone some good vibes and encourage them to live another day. I also thought it was necessary considering where I’m coming from and what I want to be able to say with my art next.
D: What's next?
E: Now that I’ve gotten Purgatory out of my system there’s so much more I want to say. I have a batch of songs I wrote after that time and I’m itching to do something with them. First I want to gather up some resources and meet even more people who can help me produce and record them in a really high quality, professional way. A “real” official debut, if you will. Haha. I want that to happen really soon. I want to be doing this for years to come.
Kinfolk Collective started in a smokey hookah lounge where members Julian Walker (not photographed) and Darren Wallace, over a bottle of Crown Royal, brainstormed ways to create with other artists. Made up of actors, filmmakers, academics, and creators the work Kinfolk has produced is a part of a neo-Black arts movement that aims to fill a void within Black visual art and cinema. Narratives of the underrepresented "poor, destitute, alcoholics, immigrants" are exposed, explored and reimagined through a global Afro-centric lens.
The theory of six degrees of separation worked in Kinfolk's favor. Most, if not all, of the members knew one another from passing or chilling. In the end, everyone clicked and Kinfolk was created as a think-tank of creativity. Every Kinfolk meeting always last for more than two hours. In many ways, it's like going to Black churches, you never know what time you'll come out but when you do, you know you'll be filled with glory and knowledge.
"We exist to pretty much to map the overlaps and commonalities between members of the African diaspora and that includes all forms of aesthetics, all forms of art, all types of narratives," says writer, director, collaborator Darren Wallace.
Darren's grad thesis film Savage Vs the Void, "explores the night of Troy Davis' death through the microcosm of a theater company as it rehearses a play about Troy's real execution. We follow Savage, a young actor cast to play Troy, as he grapples the void and Reuben, a maniacally sincere director hoping his play will make Troy more than a man...an idea...a martyr. This film is a phantasmagoric fever dream highlighting the absurdity yet grave intentions behind artists and their work with aims of social justice." - Enter the Void: How My Film About Troy Davis May or May Not Have Saved Me From Myself
Third Timothy: A film about "a duo of run-away brothers struggle against loyalties peddling fake holy water on a journey through the rural south in order to fund their escape from an abusive foster home. Their plan is jeopardized when they meet a woman who does not easily fall victim to their con.
Miri Tesfaszion and Chloe Cee, 22 with roots in Sweden and Germany. They met each other in a practicum class at Columbia College, an art school in Chicago. They saw each other across the room and, quite literally, fell in love with each other's style, beauty and personality. Almost instantly, they bonded over their love for music and singing. In the duo they both sing, write and arrange music. And finish each other's sentences at times.
Shape self-released "Unfold," their first single, in February 2015. Featuring production by Kid Grey and bars by Chicago-based rapper Vee Miyagi, the song opens with 22-year old Miri Tesfazion's honeyed voice singing "No lingerie on, that gets in the way." Tesfazion is on leading vocals while Chloe Cee, the other half of Shape, sings background vocals.
The song brings to mind first-loves at 18, the long walks in parks that Jill Scott talks about in her first album, and opening up to someone you really vibe with. "Unfold" is distinctive and incredibly catchy in a early-2000s love song type of way. Chloe and Miri are inspired by singers like Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, Jhené Aiko, Jill Scott, Cherish, Ashanti and listen to a wide-range of genres from Pop to R&B and Hip-Hop.
Meaning behind "Unfold"
Miri: Bottom line is... connecting with someone and learning more about yourself through your connection, let that connection be so real and organic and without the gimmicks. It's more of a soul-to-soul type of connection. Even like the line, "No lingerie on, that gets in the way." That's like a metaphor for no flashy gear, no lingerie on, no car, no makeup, no awesome dress--nothing else. All that stuff actually gets in the way of us truly getting to know each other. It's just about being honest and open and really allowing yourself to show yourself and learn from them and from there, learn more about yourself.