OTJ presents: An evening of hip-hop with Young General (EXCERPT)

Young General at LaSalle Power Co., May 7, 2010 (photo by Michael Litchfield, mrlitchfield.com)

May 7, 2010 was a busy night of music for Young General. He performed at LaSalle Power Co. as a member of the hip-hop funk band FiveSTAR, and then three hours later at Enclave as a solo artist. The following is the opening excerpt from my upcoming story “An evening of hip-hop with Young General.”

Check it out a week from today, May 27, 2010!

On the John presents…

An evening of hip-hop with Chicago’s Young General

Read it in full May 27, 2010

IT IS 10 P.M. AND DARK when I arrive at the corner of 26th and Scoville. As usual, I can’t quite believe that this soft residential intersection opposite an elementary school is the site of a recording studio. But that’s exactly where Horse-Drawn Productions sits, and that’s exactly what it is, and there we are.

Horse-Drawn is a quaint Wisconsin summer house of a studio. The walls are composed of pine, plywood, particle board, insulation, and drywall, with an exterior trim of about 90% unfinished cedar. Founder Eric Yoder explains: “Cedar is one of the softest woods, and has a high absorption coefficient. The rough surface also helps break up sound waves.”

Wall-length windows in the studio’s largest recording room allow the band to maintain eye contact with the man in the mixing room. That man is usually Yoder, the dread-locked hedgehog of a musical fireball who serves as Horse-Drawn’s chief engineer, producer, and a resident studio musician.

It is Wednesday night, May 5, and Horse-Drawn regular Rob “Young General” Watson is rehearsing with his hip-hop funk band FiveSTAR. Two nights from now, General will play a pair of Friday night shows, one at LaSalle Power Co. with FiveSTAR, one solo joint at Enclave, and everything that will happen Friday night starts now, at rehearsal.

The first step is the gathering itself: all four band members have regular gigs with their respective bands, so getting the gang together for a rehearsal or recording session is difficult. They formed in January, and have Voltroned only a handful of times for either practice or performance. As the group’s lone solo performer, Watson seems most aware of their time together. “I love this,” he says as the guys set up their instruments. “Who knows when we’ll have these five guys? It’s like getting Wu-Tang together. RZA’s here, where’s Ol’ Dirty? Ol’ Dirty’s here, where’s Ghost?”

The comparison to Wu-Tang is apt. FiveSTAR’s members come from established Chicago acts The Hue (Marcus Rezak, guitar), 56 Hope Road (Greg Fundis, drums), Katastrofist (Matt Longbons), and Great Divide (Jeff Leibovich, keys), with all four guys regularly booked. They are not a hip-hop act that wrangled live backing for their stage show, but rather a full-fledged band, each member as important as any other. “Whoever is leading [on stage] needs to be in front,” Watson explains. “It’s about different people leading at different times. I’m not the lead vocalist. I’m just the vocalist.”

J. Gatz and Young General at Enclave, May 7, 2010 (photo by Zack Pelka, zpphoto.com)

Nothing gets Watson excited like FiveSTAR. He is near giggles when talking about them, playing with them, or listening to them. “I love my band!” he announces routinely as they rehearse; when his mates go into their jam, General sits on his stool and bops his head, his cheeks filled with a goofy grin as he watches them play.

His work with FiveSTAR is new territory. There are the scheduling conflicts inherent in playing with a band, along with the new perks of on-stage camaraderie not previously available to him.

This is the first band experience for the Chicago-by-Minneapolis rapper, and he is enjoying every drop. But just as Fundis, Leibovich, Longbons, and Rezak have their other musical obligations, so does Watson. He is, like most rappers, first and foremost a solo performer. His closest human collaboration comes with producer Lamont “The Letter L” Holden, though his most frequent artistic collaboration is with his pen and lyric book.

And while his four band mates must make their nut with their established acts, Watson will sink or swim as a solo artist. He works the Chicago hip-hop game with passion and focus, booking as many sets as possible, getting up with fellow rappers during their shows for a song or two, funneling music to radio stations, and networking with a plethora of MCs, DJs, producers, club owners, show bookers, graphic artists, bloggers, writers, photographers, filmmakers, and music promoters.

The life of the aspiring artist is a busy one, and Rob Watson is as aspiring as they come. From sound check to bed time, his Friday double-bill will clock in a full day’s work, eight hours of performing, travel, clothing changes and coordination starting at 8 p.m. Here’s what happened…


Michael Litchfield

Zack Pelka

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