When our team found out that ComplexCon was happening in Chicago last spring, we thought it'd be dope to take a trip and reconnect with our hometown community in the Chi. We knew many artists were headed back there to attend both the large streetwear convention, but also the many local festivals celebrating Black Chicago that were coincidentally happening the entire weekend. We decided what better way to come back and celebrate the culture at such a dope moment than with a little T|H|C?
Seeing as the city has always been a cultural hub, it was fitting that the large convention decided to make Chicago its second home outside of Long Beach. Chicago is truly unique for its rich Black history. The city was founded by a Black man named Jean Baptiste Point DuSable in the 1700s, it was the final destination for many slaves on the Underground Railroad, and an equally popular destination for Black folks moving North during the Great Migration. One of the enduring legacies of this consistent pattern of Black transit to and from the Chicago area can be found in the expressive artwork of the city's Black residents.
Black artists from Chicago have one thing in common and that's the ability to turn little to nothing into everything; the art, music, and fashion created by the city's Black residents have been both sites of political resistance and trendsetting means of economic empowerment in a segregated city that has provided them with little-to-no other opportunity.
As a team comprised of Chicago natives it was our awareness of that history that prompted our decision to host a community art and culture showcase targeted to the city's Black youth that would be unable to afford the $300 dollar ComplexCon entry fee. We wanted to remain cognizant and show our appreciation of the valuable contributions Black artists from Chicago have made to the global Hip-Hop community and it's many sub-cultures that have often gone unrecognized and undervalued. Our goal was to get the people out for good weather, good food and drinks, and good vibes but spotlight their many contributions to society at the intersection of Technology, Hustle, and Culture.
While we were searching for a venue to host our community kickback, my Dad suggested we take a look at Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation, a cultural center located a few blocks away from the crib. He thought the outdoor garden and performance area would be a great venue for us and mentioned that he could get us in touch with the owner who may be interested in supporting our work given the overlap of our organizations' missions. The Blues Heaven Foundation is located in the historic Chess Records building on 21st and Michigan bordering the South Loop and Bronzeville neighborhoods. Chess Records was a company that produced and released many important singles central to the blues and rock & roll music genre with notable acts including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Etta James, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley at the helm. The distinctive sound of these artists restructured popular music, providing fundamental elements for subsequent genres like soul and rock and roll, subsequently inspiring the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and other bands internationally.
The Blues Heaven Foundation's mission is to educate people on the history of the Blues and the music business in general. They coordinate many different programs to help connect artists to resources providing them financial, managerial, and creative assistance in their careers.
With our venue secured we started ideating some unique strategies to get the community out. Nothing motivates people more than free food and drinks and seeing as the Blues Heaven Foundation's garden is right down the street from it, my mind instantly went to Harold's Chicken as a potential food sponsor. Harold's fried chicken is a Chicago staple so screaming out "Free Harold's" felt like a dope call to action.
When I was still living full-time in Chicago, one of my joys was being able to work part-time at one of the only Black owned breweries in the city, Vice District Brewing. One of the owners, Quentin, became a close friend and mentor and I figured that given his history of supporting local Chicago initiatives, he may be interested in supporting our event with a sponsored keg of Vice beer. Vice District is a play on another historical moment in Chicago, when during Prohibition, gangsters like Al Capone turned much of the South Loop and Bronzeville areas into profitable centers for all your illegal needs including beer.
Vice nods to that often sanitized Chicago history in its decor but the most notable aspect of the Southside staple brand is its community forward approach to business. Q gave me the green-light on the keg and suddenly everything was in order for our community kickback.
We spent the day reaching out directly to friends, family, and followers on our social media and curating an amazing list of artists that were excited to pull up and enjoy the showcase. Led in sound by DJ Such n Such with featured artists James Slay, GC Blackout, Jhon Myquale, Tre Styles, and City Swaay the vibes were locked in from the jump.
We were also joined by representatives from Chicago based streetwear brands, The Dozens, and Empire Taste who held a small pop-up giving away discounted merch to the community.
The biggest takeaway of the entire event was the thought-provoking conversation we facilitated with folks about the interconnectedness of technology, business, and artistry. People left all types of suggestions for innovation within those three fields and we talked about the historic need for members of our community to be involved in the process at all stages given the nature of exploitation embedded in the mainstream industries. We all agreed that in order to preserve the independence and protect the rights of artists, technology and business resources needed to be made more accessible to them.
At one point, our team and Jaqueline Dixon took the stage and as she commented on the historic venue of our event, the power we were cultivating in both bridging together community of all ages and providing the necessary support systems for local artists, it dawned on me how important our event was for everyone that attended.
There are many local organizations and businesses that are seeking to do meaningful work on behalf of the Black community in Chicago. In order to change the experiences of the residents, new partnerships and strategic initiatives launched by locals needs to be established. With all of the cultural history in the city, I'm personally excited to start connecting with more organizations looking to do meaningful work at the intersection of Tech, Hustle and Culture in order to continue preserving the history of cultural innovation and ingenuity that Black residents of Chicago have maintained for years. There is definitely more to come!