Chicago’s New Hip-Hop Radical: The Sounds of Sol Patches
Meet the young trans artist with a politically charged mixtape redefining the game
by Caleb Brennan
In recent years, the Chicago hip-hop scene has experienced a renaissance in terms of burgeoning young artists. With sounds dramatically different from predecessors like Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West, the new vanguard of the city’s hip-hop sound has flourished. The Savemoney crew fronted by Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Joey Purp have been skyrocketing to fame since the 2010s began. Zero Fatigue’s Monte Booker and Rayvn Lenae have brought an experimental brand of R&B, while rap groups like Hurt Everybody respond to the brutish nature of East Coast collectives with aggressive yet sentimental production and rhyme.
As their metropolis deals with yet another series of corruption scandals and violence spikes, it is yet to be seen whether powerhouse Chicago MCs will attempt to take an outspoken stance politically. Many of the artists mentioned above do seem to be shifting towards revolutionary politics in their music and social media. However, assertiveness in regards to black liberation does not seem to be at the forefront of their messages. While Vic Mensa has attempted to go from Kanye underling to poignant hip-hop muckraker, and soulstress Jamilla Wood released a protest and black power LP, these efforts feel scattered amongst a sea of drill and testosterone. It should be noted that Chance the Rapper, arguably the current face of Chicago rap, has yet to denounce divisive mayor Rahm Emanuel. His father Ken Bennett is the deputy chief of staff for the Emanuel administration. It seems one needs to look beyond the blogospheres and hype of modern hip-hop to find artists who revel in the political dynamite that the genre is rooted in.
Often, they stand proudly at the frontlines of civil protest and wave their heart and hurt like a battleflag. Outside the performance space or studio is where Chicago-born artist and MC Sol Patches makes their mark. Patches has been involved community organizing on the city’s South Side and in the #byeanita protests, which focused on removing former Chicago district attorney Anita Alvarez from her position. Alvarez had been involved in the LaQuan McDonald police shooting cover-up. While the recent high school graduate wouldn’t be the first artist to take to the streets to express disillusionment, it is the relentless academic critique in their music that sets them apart from other hip-hop artists.
The 18-year-old released their debut mixtape As2Water Hurricanes on June 30th. It is a sprawling work of musical scholarship, one that unapologetically champions blackness, queerness and feminism. It shifts sonically between breakneck punk spits, radio hooks laced with Black Panther theory, soapbox rap ballads, and spoken word monologues, all sprinkled with grinning hip-hop tropes. Originally titled “Queer in the 606,” the tape is as multifaceted as its many cultural theories. The self-described gender abolitionist said the album was a response to the murders of Rekia Boyd, LaQuan McDonald and other victims of police brutality. Patches was kind enough to sit down with Houseshow and discuss their tape and experiences making music.
“I think rage is one of the first emotions that comes across on As2Water Hurricanes. I mean, it starts with the directive, ‘burn it to the ground.’ But Patches is a dancer and the album is also catchy and danceable. Patches and their brother Eiigo, who did a lot of the production, are both really attuned to detail and craft these tracks that are sonically really dense,” described collaborator Sasha Tycko in conversation with Houseshow. Tycko was one of the many collaborators who worked with Patches on the tape.
Sol Patches has been rapping since their pre-teens, but the genesis for the tape started when Patches became involved with the political art collective LetUsBreathe. “Early May of last year I was organizing with [the collective] and working with them, we would use art as a form of protest. How could we put artistical elements into protest? We would walk through the community and clean up the environment, hand out food and have a traveling open mic,” Patches said. Upon learning about the murder of Rekia Boyd at the hands of an off-duty cop and working with the collective to have the officer fired without pension, Patches wrote the first song of the tape, “BLK HURRICANES,” last spring.
“It was one of those events where I really had to…I didn’t know what to do with what I was feeling and so I started producing. That was the day I started producing my own music. I just made this track and I have to put words to it. I knew the words before I even wrote them,” they said.
Unfortunately, a period of writer’s block would keep Patches from completing the tape sooner. While at NYU studying acting in the summer of 2015, the aspiring artist struggled to compose lyrics for an album they knew needed to be made. “Spending that time trying to find balance, trying to make sense of drama that was happening in Chicago and being so far away from it was really huge for me. Getting back to Chicago I was really dedicated to finishing this tape,” Patches said.
After digesting the cocktail of emotions that they were feeling internally along with the external crisis that surrounded them, Patches knew that this piece of music needed to be in service to their community and not be self-serving. Part of that experience came with coming to terms with the climate of current rap music. “How do you get away from inheriting this toxic masculine language of ‘I’m the best this…and all y’all people are this’? How do you put yourself in service to the community? How do you be selfless? How do you uplift one another and make it sound good?” Patches asked themselves.
The key was finding a way to utilize their voice. Influenced by the theatrical performance of Freddie Mercury and the smirking gall of N.W.A. member Eazy-E, Patches sought to create music that was both exciting and potent, with meaning and narrative. “It eventually grew up with me. The only instrument I knew how to play was my voice. That’s the only instrument I had at my access and I really wanted people to feel what I was feeling,” they said.
This desire for storytelling through rap was brought on by learning how their idols had passed due to the AIDS virus and the history of the disease. Disturbed and intrigued, Patches researched the epidemic relentlessly. “All my heroes growing up, for the most part, died of AIDS. I remember carrying this certain feeling while I was in the library learning about this virus, how it works, what it does. I remember feeling like I want to do something about this. I want to make sure these people’s works don’t just fade away. But then I also thought about how many people won’t get heard or seen…[because] they died,” Patches revealed.
All of these events and revelatory moments are what lead us to As2Water Hurricanes. A piece of music that, as described by its author, takes the micro-level emotions of its writer and expands them into the macro of the city that surrounds them. You can see it in their live performances as well, utilizing their theater background to create the physical movements of fury, fleeting hope, and other beauty.
Performing at popular DIY spaces like Eco and Hostel Earphoria, Patches has been a part of the tide of artists seeking to shake the rock n’ roll, white-male centricity that permeates the Chicago music scene. Patches seeks to do this by playing these predominantly white-owned venues. Though Patches will be heading to New York City in the fall to study acting at NYU, their stay in the Chicago’s underground scene has proven to be very impactful, with contemporaries like Mykele Deville, Witch Hazel and The Color Brown also leading the charge in reshaping the genre and color in independently run spaces.
“I go into these spaces and just talk about a bunch of black stuff. That matters because it should be in that space! What a lot of people don’t know about Sol Patches is that I’m very influenced by punk music,” they said. “[Punks’] not giving a fuck attitude about what you are lacking and creating what you got. I think that’s what people will experience when they come see me. I got something special planned.”