Music made of brotherhood just plays sweeter.
This is the lore of Pivot Gang, the Chicago creative collective made up of Saba, Joseph Chilliams, MFnMelo, Frsh Waters, the late John Walt, squeakPIVOT, and daedaePIVOT—and everyone else along for the Pivot Gang ride.
Releasing a mixtape in 2013 (JIMMY) and having popped up on each other’s projects in the years since—most recently Saba’s CARE FOR ME and Joseph Chilliams’ The Plastics—the gang’s chemistry has been a quiet cornerstone of Chicago hip-hop since its 2012 founding.
Finally, seven years on, the group have come together for their debut studio album, You Can’t Sit With Us, a record that is as cheeky and infectious as the title suggests. From the first track to the final track, the guys' synergy makes this album feel like a true work of brotherhood. The love Pivot Gang has for each other comes through in the love and care they've put into the bars, the punchlines, and the production.
As Saba spits "I just had to catch my breath" on the fourth track, “Hero,” we get the ethos of the project. You Can’t Sit With Us is about the turn up that comes from winding down. The record is a fresh recalibration for Pivot Gang, not a stop gap, but a vacation from the seriousness of the recording industry. We’re with the homies, and everything’s alright.
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In that breath, the production has a touch of summer, but the peaking chill of late fall. Better yet, the production is morphing; we go from Chicago summers ("Colbert") to the future ("Bad Boys"), to the creep of a trap banger with Midwestern twang ("Bible"). Each member holds their own over a collection of inviting and tricking beats.
Never once does You Can’t Sit With Us feel cluttered or like a hodgepodge of great rap verses. We are treated to a clinic in lyrical dexterity, the art of blowing off steam, and the art of turning tension into well thought out songs. Particularly, Saba and Chilliams sound wonderfully malleable, and their looseness contribute to the grand fun of this project.
With all the members of Pivot Gang, there was admittedly some worry that the features would wash away in the sea of raps, but Kari Faux, Smino, Mick Jenkins, Femdot, Jean Deaux, Sylvan LaCue, and Benjamin Earl Turner all hold their own. In fact, their vocals are a welcome break from the Pivot Gang barge. It's one feat to cede space to your group members, but it is a whole other feat to make features on such a packed project sound purposeful.
At its heart, You Can't Sit With Us is limber and great fun. It is pure in that respect. Yet, as that is its greatest strength, it must also be the album's greatest weakness. Juggling so many talents and skill sets, the record struggles to have a throughline aside from its overwhelming enjoyability. Sonically cohesive, we find ourselves starved for some narrative across the songs. Even without narrative, though, the album shines as a display of what it really means to kick it with the homies.
You can’t sit with Pivot Gang, but after hearing this album, you’ll certainly want to.
Standout Track: “Bible”
Best Bar: “Pivot Gang, the honor roll / Drop a classic like I’m Dr. Dre around the chronic smoke.”
Favorite Moment: The inflections Saba brings on "Mortal Kombat" are so absurd and playful.