(credit: Loren Marie)
As the reconstruction period came to a close, America’s harsh trend of racism began to intensify. This systematic and overt oppression found an epicenter in the southern United States, a region that housed the majority of the country’s African-Americans. In an attempt to loosen the noose that was southern prejudice, many Blacks thought it better to move away from their homes in The South to a more “tolerant” portion of the country.
This large evacuation spanned from the years of 1910-1970 in an event that is now known as the Great Migration. During that 60 year period, Blacks loaded their cars and boarded trains with nomadic plans of finding a home as far away from The South as possible. This mass exodus resulted in The South’s Black population dwindling from 90% to just 53%, while the country’s rural population shifted from nearly 100% of African-Americans living in the country to only 20% of Blacks, not in an urban environment.
During the Great Migration, African-Americans established inclusive enclaves throughout the United States, none of which was more attractive than the city of Chicago. During this period of relocation, Chicago’s Black population grew from just 2% to nearly 40% bringing with it a shift in the city’s culture. A change that, through its music, can still be felt today.
Although there are definitive things outside its location that make Chicago undeniably apart of the Midwest. The large increase of its Black population in such a short period of time brought with it a “southern” connectivity to the music of Chicago. This began with Blues/Jazz invading the city and is reemerging in the work of its rappers. From the iconic Blues singers like Muddy Waters to the Millennial megastar, Chief Keef, Chicago artists have consistently found musical connectivity to their inherently southern roots.
This is a concept that is unintentionally expanded upon by one Chicago’s emerging talents, Valee (pronounced: “Vuh-lay”), who in an interview with RESPECT.’s Country Grammar series spoke about his lack of musical convention as well as the city that raised him.(credit: Addy Berge)
RESPECT.: “What was your life like before music?”
Valee: “Well, I was into cars. Customizing them, things like that. Other than that, going to clubs. That’s about it. Just chillin’.”
RESPECT.: “How did you get into music?”
Valee: “I used to do music in high school. But I went one day to get all my equipment back to make beats and happened to pick up recording equipment as well. So, then I just started making beats and recording myself, but not putting anything out until I was ready.”
RESPECT.: “Being from Chicago, it kind of sounds as though you have a southern feel to your sound and music. Even though your lyrics are very ‘Chicago,’ it seems as though you have a southern influence and I am wondering where that stems from?”
Valee: “I have family and friends from Atlanta. My grandma and them from Mississippi. Similar to a lot of people from Chicago. Even though I was born and raised here I have that in me. And I’m also attracted to Trap and certain other sounds like that. But I would say that’s where it comes from because I know it sounds different from the trap you’re used to or anything from Chicago right now. But I’m just doing what I know and giving it to the people that way.”
RESPECT.: “I think another thing that makes your music different is the way it ‘feels’ in the sense of cars being a heavy theme and your production style/beat choice makes it feel as though the listener should be riding in a car listening to your music. Is that something you think about when your making music, being as you used to deal with cars prior to music?”
Valee: “No, not really. My music comes from things I’ve done before. I just reiterate it and put it back into the music. I don’t think about it. I just rap and try to get on the song in a way that makes sense to me. Just a lot of the times it correlates to that because that’s part of me and my past.”
RESPECT.: “Being as your style is so different is there anyone that influenced your flow?”
Valee: “I don’t know. A few people, I guess, I’m sure that someone has influenced me. But I really don’t know, because I look for different ways to come on the tracks and make it sound new. So, yeah, if anybody had influenced me I’ve done so much bending to it and twisted it so much to make it mine that I don’t even know.”
RESPECT.: “So in regards to previous works, you happened to have made a joint mixtape with producer, ChaseTheMoney, and being one of my first introductions to his work I was wondering how you guys connected?”
Valee: “I think I saw a post of his on Instagram or something and I liked the beat so much that I had to reach out to him. But yeah, I didn’t know him from a can of paint I just reached out and turned out that he was in Chicago at a friend of mine’s house. Small world. So, I pulled up on him. Bought like three beats from him and did two songs. ‘Grandma’s House’ and ‘Thousand Dollars’ which are just hits already. But that’s how that happened. He just started f*ckin with me from then making songs and mixtapes and all that.”
RESPECT.: “Can you speak on your relationship with Andrew Barber, who this large figure and staple within Hip-Hop? Especially Midwest/Chicago Hip-Hop.”
Valee: “Yeah definitely. Andrew Barber is a wonderful person. I like him being my manager. H keeps me focused and on point. Easy to get along with. So, yeah, he takes a big load off me. He’s perfect for that. So, yeah, he had to become my manager. I don’t think there is anyone else that could or I would want to have in that position. They wouldn’t do a better job than him. For sure.”
RESPECT.: “It seems like you have a clear understanding of how you want your music to sound as well as timing when it comes to releasing it. With the mixtapes heating up and recognition from big names like A$AP Mob and GOOD Music, is there no pressure to drop anything soon or is timing still everything?”
I GOT WHATEVER – @1realvalee https://t.co/Gy0ZyJZYaN
— G.O.O.D. MUSIC (@GOODMUSIC) October 25, 2017
Valee: “Nah, you’re right. Timing is still everything so there’s no pressure. I’m just sitting and recording. Putting together things that sound right. I have at least a few 100 songs in the vault that I’ll put together and release when the time is right. But no. No pressure, though.”
RESPECT.: “So, I’d like to stray away from the music for a second to talk about Chicago. Being from Chicago, you guys are in the spotlight for a lot of reasons. Some good, some bad. Can you speak about your experience with the city and the things that are going on there?”
Valee: “It can be a little rough here, but you just got to stay out the way. Just have to be careful. I don’t think it’s as bad as the media portrays it to be. I was born in the projects of Englewood, lived in the city my whole life, and I don’t gangbang or any of that. I just really do the music and that, along with being known for customizing the cars and all that, helped me stay out the way for the most part. But I would say back when I was younger it was easier to stay out of the way. We had more programs and rec centers and thing like that than they do now. So, it was a little easier to not get into that. It was still hard, but not as hard. I think that lack of funding for our youth needs to change.”
RESPECT.: “Word. So, with a couple 100 songs in the stash, a lot of people want to hear what’s next for you. Both musically and professionally.”
Valee: “Just working man. Continuing that. Making the best music I can when I get a chance to. I’ll probably put out a tape soon. I don’t know when. I was supposed to be in August, but I decided to wait. I put out so much music within this little year and a half that I’ve been professionally active that I want the fans to be able to catch up to what I’m doing.”
RESPECT.: “What about professionally? Anything with a major or things of that nature?”
Valee: “Honestly, I’ve had offers from pretty much every major label you can think of and I’m just fielding ‘em until I get one that I can’t pass on. There’s nothing right now that I can’t pass on, being as I do this for the love of the music and that’s it. So, until then, I’m fine where I’m at and with what I am doing.”(credit: Dylan Lee)
If the skilled listener cares to dissect Valee’s bass-heavy, melodic, tracks they will discover an innate attention to detail that shines through the purposefully foggy instrumentation. This attentiveness is a skill set that has allowed Valee to escape the obstacles of his youthful environment while gifting him with the ability to maneuver the manipulation of the music business. This is the same talent that gave Valee predecessors the foresight to move to Chicago, thus changing the trajectory of their posterity.
With this gift, he is unconsciously following the lead of the legendary, Chicago, rap group, Do or Die. By taking the southern influence found in some of Chicago’s production style as well as the city’s car culture and repackaging it in a way that appeals to both The South and The Midwest, Valee is swinging down a street lit by the career of Do or Die.
Yet what Valee is doing that Do or Die didn’t, is use his music to push the limits of reality. Listening to a Valee tape is like riding inside the Woofer system of Valee’s first Monte Carlo. Or feeling as though you are actually the spiked pop that is being poured out a bottle into his cup filled with ice and candy. You are not just experiencing the music; you are a part of it.
This talent paired with Valee’s methodical patience makes him one of Rap’s most sought out artists. If he is able to capitalize on this (something that is perfectly attainable with Andrew Barber in his corner), Valee can position himself as one of the catalysts that will not only shift the way rap sounds but change how the music is critiqued and consumed. A cultural migration that can only be compared to the one that transformed Chicago into the city it is today.