The Alchemist: Andrew Barber’s Scientific Approach to Longevity

(Credit: Bryan Allen Lamb)

Throughout the 1960’s into the early 70’s, Barry Gordy’s Detroit-based, Motown Record Label turned this industrious city into the home of Black arts and music. By housing now-iconic artists such as Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, Detroit and The Midwest had a strong hold on what pulsated through the American eardrum. Hip-Hop, however, ended this.

When the cultural storm that is Rap first hit the nation, the country’s attention began to shift from The Midwest to the region that birthed the genre, The East Coast. And as its winds migrated, The West and South entered this jockey for the musical notoriety. Yet, still, the contributions of The Midwest were ignored.

Despite it being the birthplace of many impactful Hip-Hop artists such as Bone Thug-n-Harmony, Eminem, Kanye West, and J Dilla, until recent The Midwest has never been able to turn the genre’s Triple-Threat match for recognition into a much-needed Fatal Four-Way.

But in 2007, this all changed.

As a Hip-Hop enthusiast, Andrew Barber attended almost every Rap concert that passed through his native Chicago. In doing this he encountered something strange.

While the city’s local artists could sell out venues without any hassle, the acts that seemed to get the more publicity nationwide found it difficult get their shows to capacity.

Like a calculated scientist, Barber began to wonder why these smaller acts, in the nation’s third biggest market, were not receiving the same attention as other artists? Eventually, he deduced that the litany of blog sites that were springing up at this time was continuing the trend of ignoring the influence of his hometown and the region it resides in.

(Credit: Juan Garcia-Quintero)

“I saw artists like Rocky Fresh or The Cool Kids selling out venues that other ‘bigger’ acts couldn’t,” Barber described during his conversation with RESPECT. “But, they weren’t receiving a lot of national attention. It was like if you weren’t one of the ‘Big Four’-Kanye, Lupe, Common, or Twista-then you were being ignored.”

To this, Barber had a solution. He would create his own site that focused solely on Chicago and its artists. This hypothesis was met with much opposition.

“Many people outside and in Chicago thought it was crazy to have a blog that focused on just Chicago,” Barber stated. “They said there was nothing there. That Chicago and The Midwest just consumed culture. That they don’t create it.”

Not yielding to this pessimism, Barber still launched the now-intensely popular site, Fake Shore Drive, which will celebrate its 10-year anniversary this October 10th. A momentous feat in the ever-changing world of music journalism.

(Fake Shore Drive Logo, Credit: Andrew Barber)

The longevity of his invention can be credited to Barber’s ingenious approach to music journalism. By choosing to specify his writing to one area, he set himself apart from any competing publications. And even though Fake Shore Drive has expanded outside of Chicago now encompassing the whole region, its dedication to The Midwest generates a unique perspective and loyal fan base.

In addition to this, Barber has an unmatched ability to not just locate and promote great artists but also identify cultural influencers. This was best displayed by the way he spearheaded one of The Midwest’s most potent exports, Drill Music. Not only did Barber coin the name of this subgenre, referring to the music as “Drill-Hop” in a 2012 Complex article, he also foresaw the impact of Drill pioneer, Chief Keef. A Rapper he now describes as the “most polarizing” artist Fake Shore Drive has ever encountered.

“It’s kind of funny to see how highly Keef is regarded in culture today,” Barber said when reminiscing on the backlash he received. “In 2012 people were actually mad that I took the time to promote and cover his story. It was like he was the ‘Anti-Christ.’”

But over time the world of Rap has conceded to Barber’s brilliance. Now instead of condemning his vision, many companies are now choosing to collaborate in support of it.

Outside of Fake Shore Drive, Barber pens a column at Noisey titled: “Old Rap Shit” where he annotates several obscure but important events in Rap history (something he has been doing on his social media for years prior). He cohost’s a satellite radio show on Sirius XM’s SHADE 45, a venture Barber describes as “natural” being as the station is run by two native Detroiters/Midwesterns, Paul Rosenberg and Eminem. Barber curates Apple Music’s “The New Chicago” playlist. And his site has a partnership with Red Bull Sound Select which will help in the production of a November 4th concert in honor of FakeShoreDrive’s 10th anniversary. An event that will be headlined by Tee Grizzley and will, according to Barber, feature “multiple surprised performances.”

Yet even with this major success, Barber chooses to keep the essence of Fake Shore Drive as closely rooted to its intended purpose as possible. He does this by continuing to highlight up and coming talents rather than focusing on the genre’s bigger names. A tactic that further solidifies the site’s individuality.

“Maybe if I chose to focus on ‘big’ names then I, in turn, might be ‘bigger,’” Barber explained. “But, that wasn’t me. I wanted to create my own lane. Show people what’s next in Rap. I’ve never been caught up in the ‘celebrity’ aspect of journalism.”

(Credit: Mr. Wildstyle)

By purposely trading fame for the preservation of a culture he so deeply loves, Barber has unintentionally become one of the go-to names in the music industry. On top of getting shouted out by Chance The Rapper during his Grammy acceptance speech, Barber has also been honored with a position as one of the award show’s board members. This dedication to his home region paired with his unsatisfied hunger to push Rap forward creates a permeating passion that is hard for any music lover to ignore.

Barber’s absolute affection for all things Hip-Hop has equipped him with the foresight to navigate a region that was seemingly untapped by Rap journalism. By doing this, Barber combined this love and knowledge of the culture like alchemy. He took what seemed to be nothing and created a lane where others can further progress a genre that he only wishes will “keep going.”

Check Out Andrew Barber’s Apple Music playlist, “The New Chicago,” as well as his “Old Rap Shit” Column.