Alexander Fruchter, aka DJ RTC, is the co-founder and owner of Chicago-based record label Closed Sessions and music and culture blog rubyhornet.com. He is also a faculty member of Chicago’s Columbia College where he teaches courses in music business. In this guest editorial, Fruchter reflects on the label’s 10-year anniversary, and vinyl release of Closed Sessions Vol. 1, originally recorded between July-December of 2009.
Yesterday, while conducting interviews with potential interns, I was asked, "Why did you decide to start Closed Sessions?" I was genuinely expecting something closer to, "What are the internship hours?" which is likely why I sat in silence.
Before I could answer, a follow-up question: “How did you get Closed Sessions to where it is today?” Honestly, I tuned out after the first inquiry, and immediately took a bullet train through all the reasons—some existing from the start, others uncovered through a decade of reflection.
In short, we wanted to help keep talented artists in Chicago, providing infrastructure and opportunities for creatives. There's no secret or science to it, no grandiose answer or motive. We started Closed Sessions—first as a content series—in 2009 because it's how we wanted to spend our time.
There's a moment on Closed Sessions Vol. 1 where Donwill of the New York rap group Tanya Morgan talks about watching our (trash) first documentary with Curren$y, and instantly wanting to come to Chicago and take part. "It seemed like something fun to do, and it proved to be something fun to do," he says immediately preceding their track "Posted."
Some of you might know about Closed Sessions and our history in the Chicago music scene. Although I'm guessing that for many of you, this article will serve as your introduction to CS—or at least the first iteration of the company and our vinyl re-issue of Closed Sessions Vol. 1.
In 2009, the birth of the "blog era," it was all about being "first." Alongside many of my blogging peers, I would spend hours refreshing pages and answering emails. It felt like there was a new artist emerging every 20 minutes or a big name in hip-hop releasing something for free via a download link you knew would only be live for a few hours. Really, we were all just trying to figure shit out.
I was in my mid-20s at the time, and looking for any way possible to make a name, get a rep, and forge some future in hip-hop. I wrote endlessly on rubyhornet.com, DJ'ed parties and concerts around Chicago, and spent every other waking moment at SoundScape Studios. I sat in on sessions, got my mixtapes mastered, whatever. That's what I think about the most when I recall the early days of that era.
We were the tweeners, stuck between a collapsing major label system built upon physical music, and the current legal way to monetize digital music that we have today. Closed Sessions sparked at a time when there really was no blueprint for what we were doing, and there was nobody to really tell us not to do it.
Ten years removed from this time period, there’s great nostalgia for the blog era and its unfortunate conclusion. Of late, both artists and writers have openly talked about the downfall of blogs thanks to streaming services and social media. For many, the loss is not significant. After all, it's much better to be paid for streams than to have your music fly through Mediafire for Free.99. But the biggest loss from blogs shutting down is the sense of community that accompanied them. Blogs were distribution networks, with writers serving as defacto A&Rs and publicists. I don’t think it is any coincidence that many hip-hop bloggers have gone on to work for record labels, streaming services, or stepped into artist management. I only need to look in the mirror for proof.
Blogs also served to galvanize music listeners and tell stories. It wasn't just an online destination, either. Most veteran bloggers were doing something else in their city; they worked with venues, with streetwear stores; they were connectors. And that's what I was: a connector.
I would bring artists to Chicago and show them the city; we would visit streetwear stores and perform at local bars; we would hit the studio and make music, later releasing that music and a documentary on our blog.
It was a simple idea, one that, incredibly, no one else was executing at the time. And the artists were game! Many of the participating artists viewed the “Closed Session” as a chance to show their skills—like an emcee version of “American Gladiator” or the Javelin Toss at the Olympics. Could they step in and create?
UGK alum Bun B recently recorded an album with producer Statik Selektah in under 24 hours. In promotion of the project, the Texas legend stopped by The Breakfast Club, and during his interview, he said, "When I realized how excited somebody like Method Man was to be a part of it, I was like, 'OK, this is gonna appeal to dudes who really just enjoy rapping and being around other rappers."
In hearing those comments from Bun, I felt like he was describing the environment and energy around our Closed Sessions compilations. It's no coincidence Bun B recorded the last song for Closed Sessions Vol. 1, providing a great capstone to our first "experiment."
We started Closed Sessions as a series, a unique experience, and a way to build onto the hip-hop we grew up with. It started as free music released on the internet, but we shot the original cover art and treated the project like vintage material from the beginning. To make it 10 years and be able to turn these volumes into vinyl records, see them for sale via FatBeats, Rough Trade, 606, Reckless, Dusty Groove, Amoeba, and other record stores? That's incredible to me.
Admittedly, Z and Donna-Claire at DJBooth asked me to write about my ups and downs, the mistakes I've made along the way, and our triumphs as a respected record label and brand, and I'm sure people want to hear about those things. But I don't often think about them.
I can recount a few mistakes I've made over the years; many more than that escape me. I've booked air travel for someone on a wrong day; I've presented shows that flopped; I've been threatened for something I’ve posted, or didn’t post; I’ve been taken to the cleaners on social media; I’ve fucked up recordings—you name it, it’s probably happened.
I’ve been in the studio and on-stage with some of my musical heroes and a countless number of innovative new artists from the current generation; I've traveled across the world; I’ve released music by artists who we truly believe in.
What I've learned from all of these misfortunes and triumphs is that you can get through anything. Raekwon once told me something that I'll never forget: “You fall off because you stop.” Plain and simple.
Our biggest triumph is that we’re still going; we're celebrating 10 years, cooking up Closed Sessions Vol. 3, hosting new parties, and crafting new releases from our roster.
In some ways, we're just getting started.
Closed Sessions Vol. 1, recorded between July and December of 2009, has been remastered and is currently available for purchase on vinyl and includes a poster of the original artwork and a yellow mustard vinyl in homage to the Chicago hot dog.