With songs like “Calling Cards,” the GTW’s style recalls bass-heavy, mid-‘90s R&B with influences of house--generating a heavy yet melodic sound both familiar and unique. The 24-year-old native of south suburban Hazel Crest (whose real name is James King and now lives in PIlsen) garnered local and national attention with his 2012 mixtape “4814,” and his latest, “Chigeria,” arrives later this year.
Along with JODY (which you’re a member of), The-Drum and Supreme Cuts, you're a part of the scene coming out of Pilsen and Logan Square that some are calling "avant-garde" R&B.
I think people don't think of us when they think of Chicago's hip-hop scene. The city is big, but it's like there's only two sides. There's this--I don't want to say drill--whole street rap side, then there's the "We went to art school, or we're from Hyde Park but we only hang downtown" scene. Then there's what we're doing. Everyone you mentioned is part of this weird, experimental R&B thing. We're all friends and support each other. It's all about the people you're around. They influence your taste and it's great. We're happy to be based in Pilsen, Logan Square. We did a Pitchfork afterparty in Pilsen and had 300 people out there off four days of promotion via Facebook. I only listen to [rapper] KIT and my friends. I don't want to scare off the other scenes; I want everything to be inclusive. That way, you introduce people to a new sound or a new group of people
Are you trying to collaborate with other acts in these other scenes?
I mean, obviously Tink. She's the best. Spenzo reached out to me. Honestly? I want to work with [Chicago house legend] DJ Deeon. I want to work with people who paved their own lane. In house music, especially. It's directly responsible for so much of the popular music you hear right now. Like the new U.K. garage sound from bands like Disclosure? That's based off Chicago house.
How do you describe your sound?
I call my style “basement pop.” I want to keep it gritty, but at the same time I want lyrics that convey different feelings--from talking about a girl cheating on me or someone snooping trying to find out stuff about me online. Any quirky situation.
So "Bleach Pool," on which you talk about a girl angrily pouring bleach on your clothes, fits that idea?
Yeah. That's a combination of a thing that happened to me and my friend. The bleach part was me, unfortunately.
That's ... really depressing.
[Laughs] You're telling me!
What influences your sound?
This is a cliche, but everything. You have to be able to combine all of your influences and then add your voice. I'm Nigerian. I don't care what kind of song I do; I have to have some kind of bongos or Nigerian drum sound on it. It's the same with anything. If you love Cam'ron, put something that vaguely sounds like a Dipset record on your stuff. If I want to throw a sample from a Wes Craven movie over a cumbia track, I will. Also, I've mentioned this before in other interviews, but I owe a lot to [Chicago rap group] The Cool Kids.
I don't think I've heard that before. How so?
They low-key inspired a lot of stuff that's going on in the music scene now. They proved that you don't have to do what everyone else is doing. Not just in the music, but the way they approached their style-I mean, I think they brought back snap backs [baseball caps]; they made me want to branch out and wear whatever I wanted in high school. They were that real life personification of this swagged-out community that existed online back then on sites like Myspace. Those people gave me confidence in myself. I didn't really care when I got made fun of in high school for wearing something like green pants and a super baggy T-shirt because this random group of folks on Myspace were my friends.
Tell me about “Chigeria.”
I'm really trying to make it one that people sit with. I don't want to be here today and gone tomorrow. Remember what I was saying about the basement pop thing? That's my mentality about this project. You gotta be in the basement mentally so you can't look outside and focus on what everyone else is doing. Artists get in their head about stuff and end up waiting too long to put things out because you're worried about getting it right. You stop growth. That happens to a lot of people. They'll be ready to put something out but then get nervous like, "Oh, someone else is yodeling over a juke track. Maybe I shouldn't [put] mine out?" That's not happening with this. I'm taking my time because this is my story. It's my book. I want people to see it and experience the ride.
The GTW, 9 p.m. Friday at Schubas. $8-$10.
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