Fake Shore Drive: A tastemaker of Chicago rap

At first, without any contacts, Barber simply attended every concert he could make it to and walked up to artists and managers and introduced himself. Steadily, thoughtfully, he ingratiated himself to the rap scene; two years ago, at the urging of his wife, Barber quit his advertising job and took on Fake Shore full time. “I wouldn't call Barber a rap nerd,” Monopoly said, “but I would call him a hip-hop historian. The guy knows his stuff.” Young Chop — who, again, met Barber on Facebook — said “I think of (Fake Shore) as promotion and journalism in one thing, not only one thing, but definitely promotional for me — it's got to be.”

Asked if he's become too close to the scene, Barber said: “You mean, would we call people out? Sometimes, but we're not fans of slander. Shock tactics about people get mean. That's not really our thing. If it's bad, we might say something, but remember we have personal relationships with a lot of the people we are writing about here. Keef? There's nothing you can say about Keef now everyone hasn't already heard.”

Tellingly, when a bitter online argument between music critics bubbled up at the end of 2012 accusing certain white critics of cultural tourism (and labeled positive reviews of Keef's often violent new album as irresponsible), Barber largely avoided the melee. Ruby Hornet's Fruchter, who teaches in the Columbia College media management program, said: “There was a sense that people were covering rap as a novelty, that sites like Pitchfork were too busy intellectualizing the music to seem authentic to the people who really care about rap. Andrew, you can't divorce him from his race or background, but can't accuse him of bandwagoning.

“What I want to know is, how much longer?”

Barber has thought about this.

He's married, steeped in a music that skews younger, says he misses the full-album experience, doesn't get out to as many shows as he used to. He doesn't rule out the idea of taking an A&R job for a record company, should one be offered. But at the moment, what's the point? Once, artists started at small labels and graduated to the majors; now, he says, artists see him as serving the same purpose as an indie — exposure.

After 20 minutes of shop talk with Chop, MTV arrived. The Fake Shore office quickly became crowded, like in a Marx Brothers movie. As Chop and Barber waited for the crew to set up, Chop looked around the office.

“Don't I get a poster?” he asked Barber.

“You never gave me one!” Barber said. “Do you even have promotional items, Chop?”

Chop thought.

“I don't know,” he said, and they shook with laughter. “But if I get some,” he added, “get me up there, OK?”

cborrelli@tribune.com | Twitter @borrelli
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