Sorry New York, Chicago is the king of pizza...
Seriously though, right now, there is simply no better place in the whole entire universe for hip-hop than Chicago. Sure you have guys like Common, Kanye and Lupe, but the real backbone of Chicago's incredible depth comes from the next generation of artists. It seems like everyday there are new, unique emcees coming out of the woodwork.
I mean, everybody and their mother has been screaming SaveMoney, but the SaveMoney squad ain't the only crew of young talented emcees from Chi-Town. Thanks in large part to Saba, who recently released the best DJBooth freestyle since Big K.R.I.T., one crew I keep hearing about is Pivot Gang; the name keeps popping up. So much so, that, lately, I have been wondering just who exactly they are. If they are going to be taking over the DJBooth on that Captain Phillips tip, at least I want to know who I'm dealing with.
However, there is no Wikipedia, no database, no dictionary for independent hip-hop, so finding information about these new hip-hop factions can be difficult. Sometimes, you just want the who, the what, the where, and the why without having to scour the depths of the internet. That's where I come in. Like I did with Save Money, I'm going to give you the low down on the Pivot Gang - songs, albums, links, and some breakdowns - so when you hear their name over and over and over and over, you will know the deal.
Pivot Gang (@PivotGang)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (the Westside of Chicago, Austin neighborhood) a young man named Joseph Chilliams (who is Saba's older brother and the cousin of John Walt) joined forces with FRSH Waters. Together they became the Pivot Gang, named after the famous scene from Friends. It started off as a 90's sitcom reference but has grown into their mantra. To them, pivot means "to take things one step at a time and to always progress." In late 2013, the group released a mixtape, entitled Jimmy, named after Pivot Gang member FRSH Waters (who is currently incarcerated). Other than flying to Chicago and helping them move a couch, it's the best way to get acclimated with the gang; you can download it here.
Now, there doesn't seem to be a leader of the crew per se, but right now Saba is spearheading the Pivot Gang's rise. I mentioned his DJBooth freestyle, but he also released a phenomenal project by the name of ComfortZone back in July. Be sure to listen to "Burnout," off said project, because it is still my pick for hook of the year and the video was just as amazing. Eryn Allen Kane's chorus may have been what drew me in, but Saba is the star the show. His flow is very unique and he has this tremendous ability to change up his delivery and voice seemingly every other line, but still keep a fluid, smooth sound. Again, there is no "leader," but Saba is red hot right now (with good reason) and it felt right to start with him. Oh, he also produces a bunch of beats for Pivot Gang and he loves chicken empandas.
MFn Melo (@MFnMelo)
Next to Saba, MFn Melo is the Pivot Gang member I'm most familiar with (and you might be, too). In fact, he's the one member that officially sparked my interest in the group. Once I heard "AntiSocial" (produced by Saba, by the way) I knew this crew was one to watch, which lead me to have to know anything and everything about them (because rap nerdery). Melo is only three DJBooth features deep, but each one of those features have been stellar and they keep getting better. His most recent feature, "Pass the El," is his most impressive yet. His flow is so flavorful. It's rugged but has a smooth touch to it. It's like getting punched in the face with an adorable, fuzzy puppy. That effort also features fellow Pivot Gang member John Walt. Speaking of...
John Walt (@DinnerWithJohn)
If you've ever wanted to hear someone rap over the X-Files theme song, John has you covered (that song is fire!). Like MFn Melo, Walt also has an extremely potent flow. At first I thought he was too gritty and trappy for my liking, but the more I listened to his #GETHAPPY2.O project, the more depth and diversity I heard. Sure his flow is still grimy and growling, but the production is pretty wide-ranging and he fits it all well. The project also features production form Saba, who produced more than a few beats. Just Pivot Gang being Pivot Gang.
Joseph Chilliams (@JosephChilliams)
There isn't a ton of Joesph's work on the internetz so I had to do some digging, and dig I did. I managed to find enough to come to the conclusion that I simply have to hear more. Joseph takes a different, much more laid-back approach than his fellow Pivot-ers, and I am definitely intrigued; it's almost stream-of-consciousness-esque. I hope he has more music on the way, because I think he has a really dig-able style... but again, I just have to hear more. While there isn't much in terms of solo material, he is a master of the guest spot (see "Nirvana"). Also, here he is doing some spoken word.
FRSH Waters (@FrshWaters)
Skip to the 2:33 mark above for FRSH (but stick around for Joseph Chilliams verse). As mentioned above, FRSH Waters is the namesake for Pivot's #Jimmy mixtape; pretty crazy he was born with a hashtag in his name, huh? All jokes aside, there isn't much of his material to sift through due to his incarceration, but I did find a few songs and I have to say, I am very impressed. Of all the Pivot Gang members, FRSH sounds like he has the most traditional flow. I don't mean that in a bad way, in fact his more surgical, technical delivery serves as a nice one two punch when paired with the more off-kilter flows of his fellow Pivot Gang members.
DJ Damnage (@DamnagePivot)
No hip-hop faction is complete with out an in house DJ/producer and that's where Damnage comes in. Obviously he isn't a rapper, but a producer/DJ is just as important to a group's sound. Having an in-house producer (well several) and a DJ gives them more credibility in my book. Go DJ!
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, Pivot Gang! If you didn't know, now you know.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]