Joseph Chilliams has had an important past year. The Chicago rapper’s career beginnings can be traced to two significant features; the first on Saba’s “Westside Bound 3” and the second appearing on Noname’s “Forever” alongside Ravyn Lenae. Although he was not the primary artist on either of these tracks, the two verses he delivered were enough to create a local buzz around the Pivot Gang co-founder. For lack of a better word, these features were truly a pivotal moment in his career. Not only did he steal the show from two well-established local artist, he also made his mark on one of the most sought after sub-cultures in the world right now; Chicago rap. While Chilliams has honed in on his voice as an artist over the past year, he also is one of the only rappers in the highly regarded Chicago rap community who was able to build anticipation for his debut album before releasing almost any work at all.
Going on tour with his brother and fellow Pivot Gang co-founder Saba helped spread both of their names across the country, further proving that right now, Chicago is the most artistically diverse city in the country. If Chance the Rapper has painted a vivid and positive depiction of the south side of Chicago through his music, Chilliams and Saba have done the equivalent, but with the city’s west side. “Henry Church”, Joseph Chilliams debut full-length release is no exception. Riddled with a combination of references to various parts of the city and Joseph’s own personality and original persona, Chilliams successfully delivers a project that is light-hearted and fun to listen to, but also thought provoking and well-written.
Perhaps the most important driving force behind this record is the constant reminder of nostalgia and the importance of the weight memories carry in all of our lives. Whether brought about by Chilliams own personal experiences or pulled from an endless list of pop culture references, it seems like Joseph is almost blatantly reminding his audience that the good in life will not be eclipsed by the dismal realities of the present. Aside from acknowledging the recent death of Pivot Gang co-found John Walt, there is almost no presence of sadness on any of the record. Even when addressing Walt’s sudden and extremely tragic death, there is an air of hope and positivity echoed in Chilliam’s tone. All in all, “Henry Church” serves as a rather appropriate name for the album—not because it contains religious undertones, as it does not at all–but because “Henry Church” has an uplifting aura to it from the beginning.
It would be hard to argue with the fact that Chilliams is a fantastic wordsmith. His delivery is unique and his lyrics are the kind that force the listener to digest multiple times before fully understanding everything that he is saying. On album opener “Fergie”, Chilliams samples Fergie’s 2006 smash hit “Fergilicious”. Even as he borrow’s the chorus from the decade-old pop song, he has a way of owning his identity through the “Fergilicious” mantra he repeats throughout the chorus.
On tracks like “Kale”, which features Noname & Super Bwe, Chilliams continues to reveal pertinent information about his identity through slick wordplay and lyrics that are even funny at times. The one thing that this album lacks which so many modern rap records reek of is a sense of superficiality, which obviously works in Joseph’s favor. Not only is he able to portray Chicago in a brighter light, he also shamelessly presents every angle of his identity and personality to his audience. By the time the album is finished, it could be argued that Chilliams has done more than create a great Chicago rap record. It is overwhelmingly clear that he has done just that, but at the same time, his persona is so welcoming that it almost feels like he is hanging out while the album is playing.
While Pivot Gang may not have the nation-wide recognition that they deserve, it is very likely that the crew’s fanbase will only expand from here. After Saba released his “Bucket List Project” last year, it became apparent that these guys are not messing around. With the release of “Henry Church”, Joseph Chilliams has only further proven that the Pivot Gang brand is one composed of hope, love and happiness, even with a crazy world spinning around us.