A rose tattoo peeks out from Chicago rapper Dally Auston’s sleeve, adorning the inside of his left wrist, the black outline softened, the flower’s pink and green coloring faded. “This was my first tattoo actually,” he says, “[This] was in high school, when I first start rapping.”
We’re sitting in Wormhole Coffee in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, and as the whirr of the espresso machines interrupts our conversation, I notice just how true he is to his city: He’s wearing multiple pieces from the popular Chicago menswear shop Fat Tiger—and sitting on his head, on top of his locs is a Chance “3” hat.
That homegrown notion is a prevailing concept in Chicago rap: The scene’s biggest players—Chance the Rapper, the Social Experiment, Vic Mensa, Noname and Joey Purp, among others—grew up together. Dally embracing that same idea is definitely no stretch of the imagination; and now, after much anticipation, DJBooth is premiering his first project in three years, his long-awaited EP 99¢.
Hailing from Chicago’s westside—specifically, the Austin neighborhood—Dally began writing in high school, and where he also slowly got into poetry. “I was trying to do poetry to get girls,” he says with a smirk. During his junior year, his skill for writing led him to start rapping, and when he got out of high school, he met a then-relatively unknown collective, SaveMoney.
“It wasn’t even a cool thing to want to be a rapper when I wanted to be a rapper,” Dally says. “After high school, I continued to pursue that and met these creatives by the name of SaveMoney. [When I met them,] everything changed—my perspective of music and everything that I learned.”
In late 2013, Dally began teasing the release of his forthcoming album Roses, a larger project that would follow his 2013 debut The WOOD and aptly titled 2014 sophomore project Westside. But Roses isn’t ready—just yet. “With Roses, I’m having people grow with me. We’re not force-feeding anything. Yes, I did have an idea about Roses two years ago but it wasn’t complete… Now, I’m still working on it—that being something like my baby.”
Though he hasn’t released a project in a few years, Dally’s never left the public eye, remaining a staple of Chicago’s rap and art scenes and dropping a handful of tracks and features along the way. His most recent single—and the only song released prior to today's premiere of 99¢—“My Life” is three months old, and currently has over 24k plays on SoundCloud, proving that although Dally might be a spotty artist, he still has fans.
Yet, 99¢ is our reintroduction to Dally, whose voice sounds almost exactly the same in person as it does on wax: Gravelly, slurred, his tongue curling around his words. The first two cuts from the EP, ”Before Roses” and “Monday,” are exemplary of this. “Before Roses,” in particular, acts as a throughline, connecting The WOOD and Westside to 99¢, and is entirely emblematic of his Roses theme. Indeed, even as we become reacquainted with the Chicago emcee and see what’s to come, we’re reminded of his past: The name 99¢ is a play on Dally’s SaveMoney origins, as he takes us to a time before Roses even existed.
“[It’s] about me growing. That’s what a rose do. So I planted that seed years ago. Just watering that seed, and just trying to become a better Dally, for whatever I saw for my future. Just trying to get that vibe right, just being honest with myself.”
While it’s no Roses, 99¢ does do something else for Dally: it acts as a reaffirmation of his talents and thwarts the naysayers. “This is just the pieces that have come together by me just doing it. I didn’t get caught up in people thinking I wasn’t doing shit when I was doing everything I could,” he shares, earnestly.
For now, 99¢ fits better, acting as a stepping stone from where he is now to where he wants to be when he does release Roses. But don’t be remiss: Even if it isn’t Roses, 99¢ is well worth the listen. His EP is another corner of the Chicago rap scene, where we join him on a tour through the ups and downs of what it is to be a young, independent and thriving artist. And upon listening to the tape, it’s all too certain that Dally’s morale is high, his determination palpable.
“I’ve always been confident—I’m not shy. But [I’ve learned] to be fearless, and that’s allowing me to be free.”
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.