Category Archives: People You Should Know

Poet Young Flame, Blazin the Biz with Chicago at her Feet

By Sommer Thornton

Early spring, I got the chance to attend the Verses and Flow event sponsored by Lexus. Two great things happened that evening. I got to watch crooner Robin Thicke perform his sexy ballads, and I was introduced to a Chicago spoken word artist and her inspirational poetry. Antoinette Houston, aka Young Flame is a young woman with a lot to say about life, love, and her history, and she’s uninhibited when she’s performing.

 What sets Young Flame apart from a traditional spoken word artist who undulates their voice and uses boisterous gestures to animate their perspective, is that Young Flame takes complex topics, and breaks them down to their simplest form, making it stimulating and therapeutic. Her poem, I Don’t Wanna Be in Love, I Just Wanna Be In Like reacts to the complicatedness of falling in and out of love, and made me realize things about myself that, well, I hadn’t realized before. And another piece of hers, Fantasy is a romantic piece put to a smooth melody, where Young Flame almost sounds like she’s flowin.

 I got to chance to chat with Young Flame on a lovely afternoon about her inspirations, her roots, and her artistry:

UnRated: When I watched your performance the first thing I thought was “damn this girl is FIRE.” Is that how you got your name?

Young Flame: I was doing a show at All Hype City and after I performed someone in the audience said, “hey, that was fire.” The definition for me though is more than just a name. I was hoping to spark somebody. I wanna perform for people and have someone say, wow that drove me to do something, or drove me to say something.

UnRated: What I really enjoy about your art is that it’s relatable to me as a young black woman. What are some compliments from some unexpected supporters that you can recall?

Young Flame: Recently I did this piece called Sista You Mad and it was for this conference at UIC and the whole preface to the poem was to be to Sisters not meaning black women, but sisters meaning Women. And at the conference you had Black women, Caucasian women, Asian women, etc. And this Asian woman came up to me and she was like 18 or 19 and said, “I really liked your piece. I can really relate to your piece.” I wanted that but to hear it was like, wow.

 UnRated: Is most of your content factual or a mixture of fact and fantasy/fiction?

Young Flame: It’s real life. I think that’s the best way to be. So everything I say has either happened to me or happened to someone around me. I speak it out there in hopes that someone will feel it and to relate as well.

UnRated: How did you land that great gig with the Lexus, Verses and Flow?

Young Flame: I had heard about the show on TVOne. So I found the Talent Agent on Linked-In. I sent her an email telling her about myself and my bio, and I sent her a link to my video for I Don’t Wanna Be in Love, I Just Wanna Be In Like. Two weeks later she emailed me back saying, “wow your Facebook video was nice. I really appreciate you reaching out.” One week later she sent me a message saying, “We’re doing this event in Chicago, by any chance would you be in Chicago this particular weekend?” I happened to be in Chicago that weekend. I thought, wow, to represent my city for that particular platform, and for Lexus to be the host, I couldn’t think of anything better.

UnRated: Is doing poetry therapeutic for you?

Young Flame: Yes. It started as my diary when I was 11 years old. I didn’t know what poetry was at 11. It wasn’t until I was about 14-15 when I was like “whatever this is, I’m liking what this is.” It was my therapy to get out everything going on in my life.

UnRated: Who are some artists/ poets that have inspired you?

Young Flame: Definitely Jill Scott. I feel like she’s a storyteller. Lauren Hill is a landmark. Also Erykah Badu. Not just because they are in the category of neo soul. They are African American women I look to keep inspiring me within my art.

UnRated: Since you are so talented at changing your tone to blend with background vocals and you can ride a beat so well, do you sometimes find yourself flowing?

Young Flame: I’ve done improv for 5-6 years and I would do what’s called battle improv with one of my cast mates and he’s a rapper. A lot of times to keep up with him, I would switch my flow up. I didn’t want the audience to think, “guy against a girl, he’s gonna demolish her.” I wanted them to know I can throw the heat too.

UnRated: What is one piece that you perform that is the most emotional for you?

Young Flame: My first project was called “Boiling Point” and I called it that because I had a lot that I wanted to get out. And one of the signature pieces of Boiling Point was called Dear Mama. It was about me growing up with a mom struggling with substance abuse. She’s 7 years clean and sober now, but with that piece, I wanted to write a letter to my mom and to any young person that has gone through something like that and not had a strong enough voice to get those feelings out. Whenever I perform that piece, whether it’s for a small group, or whether it’s for people my age, it’s emotional because it’s real.

UnRated: I see the entertainment, advertising, and music industries opening their doors to incorporate spoken word into a number projects. Where do you see the most opportunity for you to grow as an artist and make money?

Young Flame: The sky is the limit. After that [Versus and Flow] event, a woman in charge of entertainment for Boeing came up to me and said she liked the piece so much that she asked would I be interested in doing something for them. To me it’s just an affirmation of, you never know whose watching. So I try and make my poetry something that is not just relatable, but have a feeling like it can fit in different elements, whether that’s a school, comedy show, or business like Boeing.

UnRated: What musician would you love to collaborate with?

Young Flame: Jill Scott and Common. Common because as an artist. I feel like he represents Chicago well. He’s a true lyricist. Both of them are strong performers that I would love to work with.

UnRated: Where are you from in Chicago?

Young Flame: I was born on the West Side, and I stayed there till I was 5 years old. Then my mom moved over to the South Side.

UnRated: How has where you grew up shaped your work?

Young Flame: Whenever I write or perform, it’s all based on Chicago. The culture and the landscape is always gonna be true to me.

UnRated: Do you think there are many opportunities to grow in Chicago?

Young Flame: Absolutely, to me Chicago and New York are the top cities for art such as this. You got the LA’s and the big markets for other things, but for hip-hop and for poetry, just the whole “real” element, I think that Chicago and New York are the main two markets.

UnRated: What advice would you give to a female artist residing in Chicago?

Young Flame: I would let her know not to try to fit a particular mold, to be what she wanted to be. Once you’re that, everyone will flock to you because they are feeling what you’re saying. Don’t try to be gimmicky.

UnRated: What’s on the horizon for you in 2012?

Young Flame: I just finished filming my EPK. That will give people an insight into who Young Flame is, what I’m doing, and where I’m trying to go. I record this weekend with a hip-hop artist from Chicago. He liked my piece I Just Wanna Be in Like so much that he’s doing a piece called, In Like. He flipped it and he wants me to write a piece talking about what ever happened to old school love, why is everybody liking each other instead of truly being in love. I’m hoping that my performance on the TVOne Live event will give me a spot on their Season 2 of Verses and Flow. I just got signed with a talent agency that will give me more print work, modeling, and acting projects. I’m also working on my next project, Journey of a Thought which I’m very excited about.

UnRated: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Young Flame: I hope that my poetry is branded in such a way that I finally get to perform with Jill Scott or Common, or at least they know my name. And I see myself making an impact on both young people and people my age as well. If I can do that, I’m winning!

Visit to check out more of Young Flame’s work!

Peep Young Flame performing her piece Swag -right in the epicenter of downtown Chicago!


People You Should Know: Khari B

By Toyin Alaka

Chicago native Khari B fuses his loves for poetry and music together in sweet harmony to create what he considers himself, a Spoken Word Musician.  A veteran of the city’s poetry scene, Khari has garnered a strong, loyal following. UnRated Urban got a chance to speak with Khari earlier this year to learn about his past, present and future.


Tell me about your background: where you were born & raised

I am south side of Chicago born & bred, my mother is a retired teacher and my dad is a jazz musician

Tell me how you discovered spoken word? Do you prefer to be called a spoken word artist or to be called a poet?

I prefer to get paid…lol. I guess the term that I use is Spoken Word Musician because what I do is more music oriented, I can’t sing so I can’t actually just be a musician, so I’m a spoken word musician, that’s what’s working now.

Spoken Word Musician, I like that because you do use a lot of music in your work, it’s very heavily influenced, I think.

Yeah, it’s written as music for me and it’s been like that for ages almost as long as I can remember, every time I write, there is something rhythmic and musical going on in my head as I’m going along.

What’s your process, do you say I’m going to set aside this time to write or does it come to you and you have to scramble to find a pen and paper right now and get this all down right now?

Pretty much that’s it. It will come to me at anytime of the day, any day of the week, any moment and I keep a pen in my pocket and a pad on my side so that when the inspiration or motivation does come, I can get it down.  I’ve probably lost twice as many poems as I’ve ever written because I either wasn’t prepared or couldn’t at that particular time.  Unless it’s a commissioned piece, a lot of times if I’m working with different musicians they would want something specific so I have to find some time and find some focus and actually sit down and create what they want.  What I always ask is what kind of feeling are you going for because that’s what’s going to determine how I write. That’s going to determine the calm or  the excitement of it all. 

How is your work different or similar to others who do what you do? I know people don’t really do what you because you are this wild rambunctious, wild child, you are like all over the place and I know for a fact that anyone who goes to your show cannot expect to just sit there and politely nod their head, absolutely not.

I personally find that very irritating, when they do because I’m working …..what may be different for me than a lot of artists but not all artists is that I that I really don’t have any hang-ups about it all, there is really little to no inhibitions in what I do so I just can completely let go and allow what’s going to happen to happen without giving any conscious thought. 

While I can see where a lot of artists either get stuck where they are delivering just as they are and all of that or there are other artists who imitate other artists and I don’t have that problem or issue.  I’m not going to move like Omarion or Usher or anyone, I’m letting go, there is no set plan. Any time you see me on stage, there is no plan, it’s just going to happen and I like to get a video one of these days so I can see what happens, cause typically I don’t know and I didn’t know for years.

What you were doing on stage?

Yeah, people would come up to me after and say oh my god you are so wild and I would nod and say ok. So I would like to see the video and separate myself as I watch and maybe say, yeah that dude is kinda crazy.

How many albums have you produced?  what’s the difference between each one?

We have two albums thus far, the first one was: Wordsound This Ain’t No Punk Ass Poetry which was done with House of Twang produced by Bemaji done ages ago and the latest one is: I’m A Bad Mutha The Rockstar Poetry Project and also the name of the band The Rockstar Poetry Project.

On the first album I was really spoiled because Bemaji took complete and great unparalleled care of the music for me, he mixed it and flipped it and did all of this good stuff that at the time I was unfamiliar with.  It was very soulful and I like it a lot, it has a slightly different demographic than the latest one which is more funk rock oriented, there is a lot more aggression and I had a greater hand in the production of it all because I have a better ear for  what I want and how I want it to feel and there was a lot of material that was a lot more aggressive than what I had done previously that I really wanted to get out and that’s what this latest album is about.

This latest album is more politically charged I think, do you think that’s because of the sign of the times? and also in it you mix a group of things, for instance you touch on relationships, prejudice, racism… you mix it all in there without it all sounding like one specific thing.  I like the correlations and how you make it sound like you’re talking about a relationship in one piece when it’s actually about politics and vice versa….I like that a lot, explain how that came about?

KB: Right, yeah, for me people are multi-faceted and so their music should be too. The whole pigeon-hole that mass media has locked people into has limited their ability to think, however I believe that there is a great portion of people who are attempting to break out of those boxes and in that process they need to be nurtured and steered and given those things that reflect them breaking out of those boxes and that’s what my music is.  I’m not going to come at you in one direction because your brain doesn’t work in one direction it’s all over the place, I know mine is.

So that’s what ends up happening, there is a lot more relationship oriented material in Imma Bad Mutha than people really know from face value because a lot of it came out of a major break up for me where I was sitting on tracks sad as hell, mad, sad and in the dumps, so a lot of that stuff I just kind of disguised… masked.

UMM: Exactly, however if you pay attention…you get it

Right, right if you use that multi-faceted brain that’s going in every direction, you will get it.  It was written during a very politically charged time, the Bush regime was a major point in world history especially for those of us living in it.  So I did speak to that and it’s still relevant and present because of all the damage that was done during that regime is still very present now and we are still trying to recover if we are even trying to recover at all thru that, so you will get a lot of that on the album.  I had to address it, I couldn’t ignore it and I got at it the way that I could.

So at a poetry set that you previously hosted the discussion about authenticity came up.  How is it determined if someone is authentic or inauthentic when it comes to what you do?

I don’t like people to make stuff really deep, I think it should be real simple, really easy, really digestible.  The difference between authentic and fake shit is obvious, you know when someone is in front of you putting on airs, you know that they have no sincere connection to their work, they just want to be in front of you, they need that attention and what we’ve seen in art in the last five years or more is a bunch of so called artists who are really entertainers, part of the social engineering program that’s going on and they just need attention, they are not connected to that work. 

Nobody can convince me that… I won’t give any names… a lot of artists mainstream or otherwise really would put out that material if they felt they had another choice or know they had another choice and you see that from the mainstream to the small poetry venues, folks are just getting up on the stage because they get to say this and get that attention whether it’s negative or positive, it’s attention and everybody is screaming out for attention they just don’t know how to get it in a manner that suits everybody.  So over the past five years or so it’s become overly saturated and now it’s a thing where everybody can do it. 

When you hear certain rappers rap and it’s so disgusting, below elementary and so low brow where you feel like oh, I can do that too and so the next piece of crap garbage comes and jumps up and does that.  And we see that in hip-hop, we see it in poetry, we see it in R&B, Soul, Funk industry, it’s just everybody jumping on.  A lot of people went away from the live music venues and poetry sets because of that, because they wanted that authenticity that we all felt at one point or another and so I’m trying to do my best to attract those that left and I’m doing my best to set up a comfortable ground with those who want to express that authenticity can and be those artists that we want to see where they have somewhere to come and be and do.

Which pieces on the latest album are your favorites?

Umm… that’s hard, I guess Being Me is the Shit it’s just a fun piece, we’ve got three different movements to it and we got to really inject it with how I feel everyday and I wanted to share that with everybody else not just how I should feel but how you should feel, you know it’s not a piece about the sea, this is you, it’s about you.  The crowd favorite became F U, I Love You which I never wanted to put on there.

 Why did you?

Because that was a personal piece when I was in pain and couldn’t sleep  and crying and calling my friends at 3 o’clock in the morning like why did she do this to me, I hate her. It was a personal piece that grew above ground and everybody wanted to smell that flower.

They absolutely did

Yup and everyone got a piece of that.  I think the sleeper cut is going to be Weeding and I don’t know how that turned out so well it just did and it was probably the first piece written on the album.  We recorded it and the mixer mixed it and I was like wow, that’s kinda…..moving and I think it’s going to catch a lot of people off guard. 

The piece I enjoyed writing the most is Terrorism 101, that came out of a research project I did, I personally went down to the 9th Ward in New Orleans to interview people and the voices you hear are actual 9th Ward residents and conversations that we had and I learned so much and it was so rewarding to get the true story that I had not heard prior to going down there and talking to the people myself.  I did it a year after Katrina and my intention was to do a larger project that would benefit those residents but it hasn’t manifested yet. 

Chicago favs: hangouts, music & food

Chicago Diner is my favorite restaurant because it’s vegan and it’s good.  New love is Brother Tim’s Vegetarian Fast Food.  Music: Room 11, H2O Soul, Tina Howe and the Fellas, they always throw a killer show and I try to catch them any chance I get. 

My band is composed of my favorite musicians prior to us getting together with Corey Wilkes, Frankie Blaze and my dad is on their playing baritone, Aum Muu Rah and everyone including Khari Lemeul who is doing great things.  All twelve of us are some of my favorite musicians in the city.  I also love Gallery Guichard on King Drive.


P. Scott

By Tamara Jenkins 

A contemporary artist with a style ahead of its time, New York native P. Scott has created his own course in the art world. Fusing art and fashion together on fabrics, including denim, Scott has brought together his loves as well as created a signature style he calls “fashionism”.  His talent exceeds beyond art as an established barber and aspiring fashion designer.
His latest exhibit, Vision of a Fashion God, features a Polo Christ, a Gucci Buddha, a Ganesh Ferragamo and an Apollo Versace.  Recently, UnRated Urban got a chance to speak with Scott during the second opening of his exhibit.
When did you know you had a gift for art and/or knew you wanted to be an artist
I really realized that I was an artist and had talents or skills was when I did a project for my art teacher. I duplicated this piece but did it in my own signature way; I did it with colored pencils. It was some gold fish in a glass bowl and it had this really ill checked board type pattern to it. When I did it, I realized I really have skills and this is not just a hobby.
My teacher realized the same thing and he took my piece and never gave it back to me. He said it was plagiarism. I was a young boy and was like what, I’m just trying to learn how to draw. I’m pretty sure he has it to this day waiting for me to become famous.Yeah, it was that good, I think he wanted to keep it for his house or something. I knew then that I had skills.
When I was 11 years old cutting hair, I knew I had some skills with cutting hair, but at that point I  really that sharp in terms of cutting so at that age it was just designs, I didn’t fade, I didn’t have any blends going on, nothing, it was just a line, some designs and there you have it. It wasn’t that good of a haircut, it was more like hair art and then eventually I learned how to do tapers and fades. I guess you could say I initially started off as a hair artist.

Everything to me is like art. When I do hair, it’s a form of art, when I draw and art, obviously that’s a form of art, when I design clothes, that’s a form of art. It is categorized but I choose not to categorize , I choose to put it in one big bowl and call it art.

How would you describe your style

It’s hard to put my style in a box only because I touch on a lot of different styles. I guess you could say expressionistic, contemporary, a little pop, but in all honesty I try to look at my work, I want to coin the phrase Fashionism because my art is heavily intertwined and fused with fashion. Its art meets fashion on all different levels, visually I show you my artistic capabilities with drawing and painting or pastels, ink whatever but I do it on exotic fabrics and that’s how I kind of merge the two and also through subject matter.Somewhere within the piece you’ll see something that references fashion. So that’s why I was like eventually I’ll coin the phrase and call it Fashionism, maybe eventually they will be like there’s a whole other genre of art.
Do you think the cities you’ve lived in (New York, Philadelphia and now Chicago) have affected your art

Yes, definitely. I’m from New York so, I say this all the time, it’s ironic that as an artist I was always trying to find a niche, I was always trying to find something that suits me or that would be unique and people would recognize that as signature style.
I was always searching outside of what was really what I did, which was, since I was a kid, I’ve always painted on different clothes, I’ve always painted on different shoes or whatever it was, it was always somehow related to fashion because in New York back in the day, there was a lot of graffiti done on jeans, denim jackets, everything and then sneaker art became real heavy in New York, so I opened a boutique in New York and I was doing a lot of sneaker art and a lot of custom stuff. But it’s always been that I’ve painted on appeal.
Why did you come to Chicago
I moved to Chicago because I had a business offer. I do the buying for a few stores in New York and here (Chicago) now but at the time I was just doing the buying for the stores in New York. My partner made me a business proposition, he was like you come help me with the two stores in Chicago, help me with the décor, because I’m pretty good at interior design as well, and in turn we’ll get the clothing line going. So I came out here and I was only supposed to be out here for maybe six months at the most and it ended up turning into five years.I ended up managing a few of the stores for a couple of years, but I was like this isn’t why I’m here so I just fell back and started working on the line, which is in the pre-production stage.
Explain this exhibit, Visions of a Fashion God

I found my lane with fusing art and fashion together with the different fabrics, so I was like what can I do that will be provocative, thought provoking and draw people into an exhibit. I came up with the idea of the name and once I came up with the name, I was like that’s controversial, that’s something will draw people in and then I started to figure out what my subject matter would be from there so I conceptualized the exhibit’s name and I went from there.

I did the Gucci Buddha and then I was looking at it and thought I need to do something crazy to it, it looks good but I’m not feeling it all the way so I came up with the idea to put mind, body, and soul, cross the soul out and put fashion. And the colors kind of go with the Gucci, so I added the Gucci, put it in the eyes and added the colors and then from there the whole idea just got birthed and I was like, you know what, Vision of a Fashion God– that’s the name of the exhibit, I’m shooting to do it during Fashion Week so it all coincides and I just ran with it. The initial opening was during the closing of Fashion Week in Chicago, it all kind of fell into place and I just ran with it.

Do you have a favorite piece

From this show I would say the Gucci Buddha the most because I like the posture of the head, I like the way it looks in terms of it draws you in, I like the technique that I used and the concept, it’s the one that triggered the whole series. In a sense it’s the Vision of a Fashion God. I like the Polo Christ too. 
One of your inspirations is Jean-Michel Basquiat? Do you have any others

Yes, Salvador Dali, Van Gogh, I like Monet as well. Those three are very influential on my paint style and how I approach art because I was fascinated with their work. And there are a few newer artists that I like one is from Canada and he moved to New York and does portraits and graffiti type stuff; and Hebru Brantley.
Do you have any upcoming projects

Yes, I’m going to give myself about a month’s rest and then I’m right back at it again.I’m shooting for my next show to be in the spring. Venue, not sure yet, we’re working on that but definitely except to see another show in the spring, either March or April.


A final public reception for the exhibit will be held on Monday, November 21 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Lacuna Artist Lofts & Studios, 2150 S. Canalport, Suite 5C-14, Chicago, IL. For more information on Scott, please visit

Photos by Joshua Smith

Naturi Naughton Discusses The Playboy Club

By Toyin Alaka

Playboy has been an institution in American culture since its inception in 1953. With a loyal legion of fans, the company followed up in 1960 with its next venture, the Playboy Club. This week (September 19), NBC is taking viewers back to the time of the satin bodices, fluffy tails and satin headbands with ears with its new series The Playboy Club.

This past May UnRated Urban got the chance to talk to actress Naturi Naughton who will be featured in the series as Bunny Brenda. Naughton is best known as a former member of the R&B group 3LW and for her portrayal of rapper Lil Kim in the bio-pic Notorious, based on the life and death of rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

UUM: So I understand that you are in the upcoming Playboy Club series, can you tell me a little bit about it?

Naughton: Yes, we started shooting in March and I will be coming back in July to finish it up, it will air on NBC on Monday nights and I’m so excited because I play one of the few African American playboy bunnies and it’s in 1963.

UUM: That’s awesome and so great for you!

Naughton: I think it’s going to be really special, this show is going to take people back to when the playboy club first started in 1963 as well as other things going on like the civil rights movement, the feminist movement and so many things that the show is going to make people more aware of.

UUM: Tell us a little bit about your role in this series and what it’s like to be an African American woman who is a bunny back then?

Naughton: I play Bunny Brenda, a young ambitious, sassy girl who knows what she wants and is not afraid to go after it. My character is a fighter who if the world tells her that something is not possible, she believes that it’s possible.  It’s hard being a bunny period, however if you are an African American woman in the 60’s you have more challenges to overcome and I think I channeled in on some of those challenges.  Going back and talking to some of the women who were original playboy bunnies made me realize that they just worked extra hard and were very confident and they were able to get to where they are today.  At the end of the day it’s about being a woman who knows what she wants and I believe we can all achieve that.

UUM: We are so happy for you and with how your career is taking off so nicely

Naughton: I feel blessed with opportunities to get to this point, from playing Lil Kim in Notorious to Fame and Lottery Ticket and now I’m one of the lead roles on a prime time NBC show The Playboy Club. So I feel really honored & I’m excited.

UUM: That’s great, how are you enjoying Chicago?

Naughton: I love Chicago, even though it’s the windy city and it’s cold and it’s raining tonight actually.  However, it’s such a great city with a beautiful skyline and when I go out and attend different things and I see the amazing culture and atmosphere of the city I feel at home and I love Chicago!  I can’t wait to come back and resume shooting.

University of the Streets Open Mic Jam Session

By David Whitely

For Jazz enthusiasts looking for a place to listen to or perform great music, University of  The Streets at 130 E. 7th Street, Manhattan, New York, is where you want to be.

Since its creation in 1969 by Muhammad Salahuddeen, University of the Streets, a non-profit organization aiming to “address the educational, vocational, and cultural needs of the community,” have been continuing this effort through weekly jazz jam sessions held at 8:30 p.m. Friday nights.

The Jam Sessions, hosted by internationally known jazz sensation Okaru Lovelace, are open to jazz patrons and performers. For five dollars, audience members can hear the different styles of jazz music such as ragtime, bebop and scat to name a few and singers and musicians can perform for the same price.  Not just singers and musicians perform here during the Friday night jam sessions, but dancers, and spoken word artist also.

I was recently invited to and attended one of the Friday jam sessions, and had the opportunity to experience some of whatNew York City’s jazz circuit has to offer.  The set up of the event was a small, intimate setting, inviting the audience to experience the music and vibe of jazz culture on a personal level. 

With a full house of close to 30 people, the amount of patrons and performs was large enough to make the room appear to be crowded, yet small enough to maintain its intimate feel.  Performers have been involved with Jazz as an amateur and professional for many years.  The room was a mixture of middle aged and younger people (teens and twenty something’s), showcasing the mass appeal of jazz music and culture to reach beyond usual confining things such as age.  The space had the tools usually seen in a jazz club: cello, piano, drums, lively performers, patrons with the look of anticipation on their faces, and of the course the talent.


Ms. Lovelace opened the evening with a few words for the crowd outlining the format of the event before the first performer June, took to the microphone.  With a very soothing and lovely voice, June demonstrated her love for Jazz through her singing.  Her passion for the culture and craft became apparent as soon as the Japanese born singer opened her mouth.  Along with the passion for the music being shown in her singing, it was also clear in her body language; June’s body language was captivating in not the usual intense form of performance, but by sheer enjoyment and love of performing Jazz. 

The next performer performed two songs, the first an up-tempo song, followed by a slow, crooning ballad.  This performer was different to that of June due to a much louder, thunderous voice, particularly on the up-tempo song.  Singing original songs, she gave the sheet music to the musicians and took command after telling them to follow along.  Sitting there listening her brought about visions of being in Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club during the 1940’s.  The audience moved from tapping their feet along to the tunes, to almost breaking into a dance number.  It was a very energetic performance to say the least. 

The next artist, another regular, Jim West took to the mic stand and brought about a swinging style with his rendition of the famous style of Scat.  Despite being overpowered by the sound of the band at times, Mr. West still kept it cool and funky with his laid back style.  What was really great about this performance is that the band broke into a solo and really started to jam.  The Cello player let loose on base, and the piano man followed suit on the keys.  The crowd was nodding their heads in a motion to the band to play with more ferocity because they were so into it. 

Overall, it was a solid event put together by Universityof  The Streets, and hosted by Okaru Lovelace. For more information on the Jam Session, visit For more information about Okaru Lovelace, visit her MySpace page at

One on One with Travis McCoy

By Toyin Alaka

A mash-up of cool, colorful cups and cold slurpee concoctions combined with the sounds of We Are The In Crowd and Gym Class Heroes greeted those lucky enough to snag a ticket to 7-Eleven’s MixMaker Concert Series held July 25th atChicago’s Lincoln Hall.

Gym Class Heroes, currently on the 2011 Vans Warped Tour, detoured to the windy city for the MixMaker series and before the show, UnRated Urban Magazine got a chance to speak with the band’s front man Travis McCoy.

What is the inspiration behind the new Gym Class Heroes album The Papercut Chronicles II?

McCoy: The inspiration…um, I would say that in going into this record… it was kind of a conscious decision to go back to the essence of what Gym Class Heroes is and was and always will be, and it’s kind of us putting our antennas up and trying to bound these sounds that we like and enjoy.

We feel that calling the album The Papercut Chronicles II, um it’s kind of going back to the urgency and the kind  of naiveté of the first album, you know we were kids and they say you have your whole entire life to write your perspective and after that you lose that mind and all that, so there’s a kind of sense of urgency and also an innocence from our first album (The Papercut Chronicles) that we want to bring to this album without re-creating the first album and taking everything we’ve experienced and learned since the first album and kind of expressing that. 

For me it kind of sets the bar pretty high as far as expectations for this album because our first record means a lot to us and was written from the time I was seventeen to age twenty-one, so there were a lot of growing pains in there you know and for me it’s like my little baby and we definitely took a lot of time to nurture a lot of these songs and lyrically I was very, very conscious about touching on a lot of things that was touched on the first album, so there are some reoccurring themes and anyone who is a fan of the first album will pick out the tiny nuances that are on the new album and go wait a minute was…. that.. like the drum feel from Simple Living? You know there are little surprises and little treats in there.

Did you guys draw from any of your musical influences while creating The Papercut Chronicles II?

McCoy: For sure, we always do.  I think anyone who says that their music is completely original is a f***ing liar, you know what I’m saying.  Like I think that originality is just the evolution of influence.  We listen to all types of music so at the end of the day our product is an amalgamation of everything that we listen to and everything that we are inspired by so us having such an eclectic and wide palate for music makes us end up with a hard to slap a label on genre.


McCoy: Yeah!  It’s been a blessing.  I love it when people ask me so what would you call your band and I look at them and say what would you call it?  And they can’t answer and I can’t answer.

Right!  I think that’s the beauty of what you guys do, it’s the fact that you blend so many genres together and it makes it so appealing to a wide audience.

McCoy: And it gives us the freedom to tour with bands like Fall Out Boy or The Roots or whomever we want.

So how did the first single Stereo Hearts come about and the collaboration with Adam Levine?

McCoy: Well I was working with my boy Benny Blanco (music producer), and he played this beat and it was a skeletal beat.  Whenever we work with producers they will come up with a skeletal frame of a song and then we will build around it if we are not writing the song ourselves, you know what I mean.  Umm, so he had this idea of a song Stereo Hearts and there’s a reference that his boy Amir had sang and I was like this is cool and we both felt like man, Adam Levine would really kill this. 

So we made the call and Adam happened to be a fan of Gym Class, which is very funny because when we first signed to our label they asked if there was anybody that we would want to collaborate with in the future and who would it be and the first person I said was Adam Levine and that was around the time that I was absolutely in awe of the album Songs About Jane that was like my record at the time that I was playing non-stop and so I said Adam Levine. 

It’s crazy how things come full circle and we actually get to have a song with him but umm watching that dude like go into the booth and belt out that hook so effortlessly, that like made me want to go home and rethink my whole career, cause he was like cutting takes that were like beautiful. He was like naw, naw, naw do it over.  I’m like what are you talking about do it over! Are you serious?!! It was crazy!! That dude’s an animal and he’s a nice guy too!

Are there a lot of guest appearances on The Papercut Chronicles II?

McCoy: We are trying to keep this album not so feature heavy, we’ve worked with a lot of artists in the past that we admire. Artists who are really good friends of ours, the first album had no guest appearances with the exception of Patrick Stump, so in that sense we are trying to keep it light on the feature side, for me it’s always a little disheartening when you are into an artist and you go buy their record and you go to the back of the record and it just says featuring, featuring, featuring…. And you’re like wait a minute who the f***’s album is this? You know what I’m saying?


McCoy: and in going back and making this the sequel of one of our monumental albums we kind of wanted to make sure that you get the Gym Class thing as opposed to a party, you know!

Let’s talk about your solo projects and how the solo projects in anyway made it hard or easy to come back together and work on this album and do what you guys do musically.

McCoy: The thing is that we’ve been a band since 1997, so I guess when you’ve invested almost half of your life into one thing it kind of becomes like breathing in a sense.  For me, Lazarus was kind of like recess, like yay, I can go play for a little while. We had been touring non-stop and umm for me it was just another outlet and umm Lazarus wasn’t like the first side project or musical venture outside of Gym Class for any of us. 

Since the beginning of Gym Class we’ve all had other projects outside of the band, I mean musicians get bored easily, not that any of us are bored with Gym Class but we kind of get our rocks of doing other things as well.  For instance: I paint and I have like 5 or 6 other musical projects and Lazarus just happened to have a couple of smash hits on it and kind of picked up some steam and got some label backing; Matt’s in a side project called Kill the Front man; Eric and Tyler have a side project and Disashi’s side project is Soul and all of them are like cousins of Gym Class Heroes but at the end Gym Class is the priority.  I think one hand washes the other and every project or whatever we do musically all it can do is help Gym Class Heroes.

Great, thank you!

 McCoy: Thank you! Great interview!   

 Photo by Tamara Jenkins

Writer & Director Carmen Marron

By Tamara Jenkins
Once the guider of young minds, Carmen Marron is now guiding herself through the world of film making as the writer, producer and director of her first feature film GO FOR IT!.

The winner of  the Audience Award and an Official Selection of the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival, GO FOR IT! is the story of a young women struggling to overcome her fears and follow her dream of becoming a dancer.

Now, on the heels of its nationwide debut, the Logan Square native is returning to her hometown to officially premiere the film and took time to talk to UnRated Urban about her journey into film making.

You have an interesting story of how you got started?

Carmen Marron:I actually have no film making background. I use to be a guidance counselor. I grew up in Logan Square. I chose to be a guidance counselor in Phoenix, South Phoenix, which is where I lived. I wanted to work with at risk kids and inner city kids as well because I felt like I could really relate to them and after working with them for two years I realized the kids really did not look up to their parents or people in their community, they looked up to people in television and film for role models, unfortunately. And people in film and television that weren’t real or they were looking up to people like Brittney Spears, people that did not have anything in common with their lives and their struggles.  And so I decided to write a script.

I wanted to write a script about a family and about young kids, especially women, because I felt like these young girls were throwing their lives away and getting pregnant and they were making so many mistakes, so I decided to write this script about them and mirror their lives so they can see and learn about themselves by watching this movie and hopefully be inspired.

Is it true the film took 6 years to finish?

Carmen Marron: Yes, it did take 6 years to finish.

Did you ever want to give up during that time?

Carmen Marron: Always. Always, because it took us five years just to save the money. So during the time when we were just saving the money, I was like why are we completely changing our lives to save money for this movie; I’m not even sure what I’m doing, I don’t even know if its going to go anywhere.

The main character in the film, Carmen-is she based on any of your students or a family member?

Carmen Marron: I named her Carmen because that’s my name and because when I was growing up, Carmen was the most common name for a Latina. There was always at least three Carmen’s in every classroom that I was in. I have cousins named Carmen; its like Maria, I was either going to name her Maria or Carmen. I thought everyone uses Maria already in films so I decided on Carmen because I wanted to use a name that is so frequently used that kids could relate to.

Do you keep up with any of your former students?

Carmen Marron: No, I worked at an elementary school and the kids were very young. I was really more influenced by the seventh and eighth graders and some of the girls in the community and the teenage girls that I knew growing up too. I have not kept in touch with any of them (former students).

Are all of the actors in the film from Chicago?

Carmen Marron:I would say out of the main actors, 7 or 8 are from Chicago-Aimee Garcia, Gina Rodriguez, David Hernandez, Louis Alegria. And it’s funny because there from Chicago but most of them live in L.A., only 2 I believe live in Chicago.

GO FOR IT! is being released by Pantelion Films, a new film studio, how did this happen?

Carmen Marron: GO FOR IT!, I believe, was there first acquisition. I was screening my film around the country at festivals and there was a buzz and someone who saw the movie ended up knowing someone at Lions Gate and called them and said hey you need to take a look at this movie and they ended up coming to one of my screenings in L.A. and after they saw it, they contacted me and asked me to screen it at the studio. That was rare, I mean it does not happen that way at all. I don’t even know anyone else that that’s happened to, that’s how rare it was.

Since this is your first time writing and directing a film, I hope you will continue with this

Carmen Marron: Well, yes I love this, I never wanted to do this, I never wanted thought about being a film maker but I realized that this is definitely, definitely part of my destiny.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Carmen Marron: I’m working on two scripts and I’m hoping to get one into production before the end of summer and I’m hoping to do it in Chicago.

So Chicago will stay relevant with your projects?

Carmen Marron: Yes, Chicago will always be relevant with the scripts I write.

Would you be open to television, maybe writing a dramatic or comedic series or do you want to stay with films?

Carmen Marron: I am definitely open to that. If the situation arises where I think it would be something that I believe in and I create quality programming that will reach my demographic and also give them so type of message to walk away with that’s inspiring, then yes, I might do that as well.

Are there any actors or actresses that you would like to work with?

Carmen Marron: Definitely, one of them is John C. Reilly. I love him and I just found out he’s from Chicago. I would love to work with Julia Roberts. I just think she’s so refreshing.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

Carmen Marron: Honesty, what I can seriously say is that being an independent filmmaker is one of the hardest things you can do. If you really want to be an independent filmmaker, work on films that you truly believe in and that you love with all your heart because its going to take years to get it made and also be very patient because its part of the journey. And I heard that from everybody and now I’ve gone through it myself.

Go For It! opens nationwide May 13th. For more information on the film, visit and

Bryan Sledge aka B.J. The Chicago Kid

By Tamara Jenkins

A young, soulful voice with an appreciation for and the gift to write “good” music Chicago native Bryan Sledge, aka B.J. The Chicago Kid, has worked with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Mary Mary, Jamie Foxx and Musiq Soulchild to name a few.

Now on the verge of becoming a household name himself, Sledge took time to talk to UnRated Urban Magazine about his humble beginnings, aspirations and future plans.

UUM: You got into music at an early age with both your parents being choir directors, is that the cause of your music ambitions?

B.J.: I mean, just growing up being around real music kind of helped open my eyes period, like the older I got, to kind of understand what was taking place around me. Just growing up seeing, you know, mom in church, it was pretty normal. It just seemed average to me until I actually started getting into myself and I was like ahhhh…this is what this world is like.

It was like a forced marriage, once I fell in love with it, it was no way in the world I could escape good music; and no matter what it was always around me.

UUM: Did they encourage or discourage you to pursue music as a career?

BJ: At one point, my mom and dad wanted me to go to college and take another route. But I realized and I saw what was in me and I saw the potential and I knew my dreams. I was working with maybe some of the best people in Chicago in high school and right after high school so knowing that I was actually working with people that got attention from out of state and from labels I began to understand that I had more power than the average person musically and what I had kind of connected with more of the powers that be than naturally. So I wanted to take it to another level so I began to study certain artists and certain genres in music and the things that made me fall in love with it to the point where it became second nature.  

UUM: Gospel music was obviously a heavy influence, but was gospel music the only type of music played around your house? Were you allowed to listen to other types of music? 

B.J.:No, it wasn’t a strict home like that. My dad, he was a pretty big guy, he was a bouncer at a club and when he was getting ready, he would turn on the radio and at that time V103 was the station everybody listened to. My dad played everything from V103 to the Whispers to the Isley Brothers to Sam Cooke to The Temptations to The Four Tops to the Chi-Lites; I would get that side of the game.  I would listen and say oh, what is this. I would get the soulful realm that’s a little bit of it outside of the church.

My family was just so musically inclined they had a lot of different genres of music it wasn’t just gospel in the house, it wasn’t just soul in the house, it was a little bit of everything.

UUM: How did you get your name?

B.J.: I just came up with it one day. I was trying to figure out something catchy. Of course, I’m a fan of Hip-Hop, but it sounds like a rap name. B.J. The Chicago Kid kind of kills the question of where ya from and answers a few questions using that name. It’s young and kept me vibrant and things like that, but right now, I’m going to start going by Bryan Sledge, my government name. I feel like its more professional, it’s more international.

I would rather go see an Anthony Hamilton than a B.J. The Chicago Kid if I didn’t know either artist and someone said they had tickets for both, just judging off the name I would probably go see Anthony Hamilton because what does the name say? I used it as a catch in the beginning because I had braids and I sing but now the image, the brand and a lot of things have matured along in time and now its time to deliver the main course.

UUM: Why did you decide to move to L.A., why not New York?

B.J.: I had the choice to go to either place but I knew more people in L.A. and there was a job waiting for me in L.A. as well.

I met Mary Mary before I moved to California. About a month before I came (to California) something happened to one of their background singers and he couldn’t do the gig anyone and the position was opened and I was very close with a sister of theirs and she told them about me and they (Mary Mary) said if he gets to California, the job is his. I sent them a couple songs and I sang over the phone and they said when you get to L.A., the job is yours.

Maybe six months before that my good friend Kevin Randolph from Chicago, I was working with him, he’s the same guy that taught me how to count bars and write songs…he was working with Mary Mary, so I had two people routing for me on the same team.

I came and stayed out here with a friend of mine’s family I never met in my life, that’s how thirsty I was to come out here. I said if I like em’ Imma stay, if I don’t, I’m out, I liked them and stay for a year and a half after that I got my own place and the rest is history.

UUM: How has being in L.A. positioned you to do what you do?

B.J.: When can I ever be in the studio with Chris Brown in Chicago? That could never happen. That just took place last night. Just the sporadic opportunity of being in the right place at the right time.  Like if you’re in the right city, you can always get there at the right time, I don’t care if you’re catching a cab, but you’ll be there.  Go where everything happens. A lot of shows happen in New York and a lot of entertainment happens in New York, but I think New York is more business than L.A., L.A. has labels, but I think New York is more label heavy than L.A.

I like it (L.A.) because a lot of the main artists come out here because they want to get into the movies and there trying to get in with the music, endorsements and things like that. I wasn’t thinking it then, but now it helps me understand that I made the best choice for myself. Knowing that this is where they make Red Bull and everything is here from pornography, everything is here so people come here to expand their brand, so if I live in the home where they expand their brand, I figure its like one of the huge golden tickets that I can have, especially coming from the south side Chicago where very little is promised.

UUM: You’re a singer and a songwriter, which is very impressive. You helped co-write Mary J. Blige’s Hurt Again.

B.J.: As soon as we heard them making the music (for Hurt Again), we said aw, it’s a rap, we got it. I love old school music that reminds me of putting the toilet seat down, sitting on the toilet seat while my dad’s getting ready, like shaving in the bathroom, like dad, who is this on the radio? And he was like aw man, this is this. I was getting small little history lessons of what I was going to be doing and not even knowing it. I think that’s what helps people feel the music and feel the passion, like when I sing I think they feel the passion more because I feel like this is really in me more less than something I chose to do.

It’s like natural ability will always beat out skill to me. That’s like when you fat and ate 60 donuts and ice cream in the bed, falling asleep with the ice cream melting on the mattress your still going to get out there and shoot the same jump shot and probably hit it because that’s you’re natural ability. Its weird, but that just lets you know that when you have a gift from God, no man can take it away but you. Depending on what you do with that gift is totally up to you, you can let it prosper and turn to gold or let it spoil and mildew on you.

UUM: Which do you prefer, singing songs or writing them?

B.J.: I can’t just love one. Even when I sing other people’s songs I make up my own part in it, I don’t know why, it just happens.   

UUM: But if you had to chose?

B.J.:Writing can change my great grandchildren’s lives from just my life. Singing can feed me, my family and my grandkids. So at the end of the day, I can’t choose just one, both of them I absolutely love.

UUM: What artist’s do you listen to or inspire you? 

B.J.:I love artists like Little Dragon, I’ve always been a Cee Lo Green fan. I love John Mayer, Kendrick Lamar. I like J. Cole’s music. I listen to my brother’s music, Aaron Sledge, his project is nominated for a Stellar Award, that’s like the gospel Grammy’s. I listen to Fly By You from Columbus, Ohio.

UUM: Who’s your favorite artist that you’ve worked with?

B.J.: In studio or on stage?

UUM: Either

B.J.: Just as a person, without working, just like as a person?

UUM: Yes

B.J.: I would have to say Anthony Hamilton. He’s a great dude. He’s a comedian; I think his second job is a comedian. He’s a great businessman; he’s just a good guy. He’s not just an artist out for himself; he makes sure his people are straight. I respect him.
UUM: Do you consider yourself to be a gospel or R&B artist?

B.J.: I like to call it World Soul R&B.

UUM: Chicago is gaining ground as the place to find new, hot talent as a result of Kanye, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco, GLC, Twista. Do you think this will continue?

B.J.:I say, the only way as a unit to really show people what we have is for everyone to really study a craft and really go hard and try to improve.

We had Crucial Conflict, Do or Die and Twista, then you got Common on his b-boy and then you got R. Kelly coming out with Honey Love and Vibe and then you hear about Donnell Jones and then you find out that this guy you’ve been hearing singing all along is Dave Hollister and you never knew Dave Hollister was the guy singing on Keep Ya Head Up for Tupac.

Just knowing that different voices of the town is popping up let’s you know that it all isn’t one thing, that some guys and some artists do have the same understanding but today its so many voices of the city, I feel like I’m one of the rare voices of the city, my brother is a rare voice of the city as far as what you chose to stand for as an artist and what you want your message to be to the world.

If people could say ok, if you release eight albums, out of all of those eight albums, what is the one message you want people to understand from you as an artist? Summing your artistry up, what is your message? If we are start up and finally find out what we want to be and what we are to be as artists, as musicians, as producers, as A&R, as managers as PR’s as anything we’re doing that’s going to affect the world and put that internationally, I feel like that’s what’s going to help.

Kanye found out who he was, that’s how he’s able to show the world who he was. I can’t show you nothing unless I show myself first and I gotta know what it is to show you to make you believe it.

The fans, and I’m not belittling them, but you have to feed them in ways to understand it the first time or close to the first time as possible. You got to really concentration and hone in on how you want to do it and do it correctly.
UUM: How do you feel about the notion that Chicago is full of haters?

B.J.: I agree that we don’t really help each other as much as we could but I think that’s the artists that are dope. It’s a lot of people that don’t need to be doing this, let’s just be honest. That’s why I can came up with my crew M.A.F.E. (music ain’t for everybody), because its not, some people are suppose to enjoy it, everybody ain’t meant to make it. Some people are just wasting money and wasting time. Wasting a lot of energy I feel. But it’s not up to be to tell them that, it’s up to me to prove it through my music.

UUM: Let’s talk about you upcoming CD. Do you have a title for it yet?

B.J.: The pre album is called Pineapple Now and Laters, the reason why I call it Pineapple Now and Laters is because it was one of my favorite candies as a kid but I didn’t want it to be an actual theme for this pre album; its just a taste of some of the best things that BJ creates. It’s a little bit of laid-back soul type stuff and R&B stuff, it’s a combination of the sounds of BJ but the best sounds of.

Some of them are songs I can’t use for the album, some I recently created and the others are songs I created to round off the project, so the thing is still fairly new, it’s not old and I aim for timeless music.

Its going to have somewhere between 12 to 15 songs and it will be available on Amazon, ITunes and everywhere else you can buy music on the internet. I have a few videos together for it. I’m super excited about this. The album is coming out sometime in the summer or after the summer this year.  

UUM: Will you have any guests on the pre-album?

B.J.: I don’t think I’m going to have any guest stars until the main album.  

UUM:  Who would you like to work with that you haven’t already?

B.J.:Those people I named earlier like Little Dragon and John Mayer. I would love to work with Rascal Flats, Leona Lewis, Natasha Bedingfield, Brandy.
UUM: Do you have anything else in the works other than releasing your pre-album and debut album? 

B.J.:I’m working on some stuff with Snoop Dog for his album, he has an album coming out to show his appreciation to women – I’m glad I’m apart of that one, cuz God knows I love women. I got something coming out with Busta Rhymes. Busta Rhymes and MF Doom are on the same track as myself, that’s pretty heavy. Working on some stuff with Anthony Hamilton, Chris Brown, my brother Aaron Sledge, his album is going to be ridiculous.

For more information on Bryan Sledge, visit and

Nightlife Impresario Joe Russo

By Toyin Alaka

Back on the scene after a brief absence Joe Russo is once again carving his own unique niche into Chicago’s nightlife landscape.  His latest venture, The Shine Chicago nightclub, located in the south loop, is an ambitious, theme focused outing that mixes his traveling experiences and loves of Afrobeat and live music. 

His pervious venues include Funky Buddha Lounge, Thyme Restaurant and the dearly missed Sinibar, with its priceless vibe and beautiful energy made it a favorite to Chicagoans.

The Shrine recently celebrated its one-year anniversary and UnRated Urban Magazine took a minute to chat with Russo and find out what makes him the “King” of Chicago’s nightlife and his innate ability to create spaces people gravitate to.

UnRated Urban: Hi Joe, tell me a little about yourself. Where you were born & raised?

Joe: I was born on the North Shore in a suburb called Riverwoods and moved to the city when I turned 18.

UnRated Urban: How did you get into the nightlife business?

Joe: I used to own a clothing store on Halsted Street called Russo and most of my best customers were owners of nightclubs and when I was faced with a career change, because it was very tough to make money in the clothing business, I decided to go into the nightclub business. I asked some of my friends who owned nightclubs if I could work with them and it turned out to be a good thing. 

UnRated Urban: Can you elaborate about your previous ventures: Funky Buddha Lounge & Thyme Restaurant. 

Joe: 1996 was when I opened Funky Buddha and that was an amazing time in Chicago, because back then it was all about the mega clubs and the lounge culture had not existed in Chicago let alone a lounge that catered to people who loved soul, funk & hip-hop.  It (Funky Buddha Lounge) shaped lives back then and changed the game and we were front and center, a pretty special time.

Thyme was an idea that we had after the success of Buddha was to open a restaurant that complimented the Funky Buddha customer and was kiddie corner from Funky Buddha and with the concept being a casual French style and we were successful.

UnRated Urban: Let’s talk about the spot that I know I’m not alone when I say: I miss Sinibar!

Joe: Sinibar was a concept that we came up with and was originally supposed to be a desert lounge as a compliment to Thyme Restaurant and it was the room where people could commit sin, so Sin.I.Bar.  

It always had the soul and funk soundtrack of course the room was very intimate and very sexy.  All the women felt very beautiful in that room. It also capitalized on the whole lounge culture that we’d started with Buddha Lounge, but with more of an upscale feel and it was probably the most fantastic room to work because when people walked through the door they felt so comfortable and they would work to get a great seat so they could lounge and enjoy themselves.

UnRated Urban: Describe the concept & vision behind The Shrine?

Joe: The concept was a five to six year project, I became a fan of Afrobeat music in 1996, Joe Bryl (former owner of famed Sonotheque nightclub, now musical curator for Shrine’s Wednesday nights) introduced me to Afrobeat and when I heard it for the first time it was an incredible experience because it encompassed all the music I was into and when I delved into the music of Fela (famed Nigerian musician), I learned that his legendary club in Lagos, Nigeria is called the Shrine and it was a venue for live music and Afrobeat. 

When I sold Sinibar in 2004, I moved to Brazil for 3 years and for 1 year I traveled through Africa and there I kind of conceptualized the design of the Shrine.  Thru my travels in Africa, I stayed at a safari boutique hotel in South Africa and the aesthetic was very similar to what the Shrine is.  So using my travels thru Africa and what I know of Fela, a combination of funky Buddha Lounge & Sinibar but with an added live music component to pull it all together The Shrine Chicago was born.

UnRated Urban: What made you think of adding the live music component to The Shrine and not making it just another club?

Joe: Most clubs are strictly DJ driven. After my five year hiatus, I wanted to do something that was just a little bit more than my previous offerings so having a stage for live performances has really opened up a whole new world for the city because now the city can see all their favorite R&B, Soul, and Hip Hop acts in a club that also specializes in that type of music.

UnRated Urban: How does The Shrine differ from Sinibar?

Joe: The design of The Shrine is what we like to describe as Africa meets James Bond.  It has a very African feel and flavor in terms of the design, with the artifacts and pictures but with a sophisticated air. It is more similar to Sinibar however with a heavy African vibe.

UnRated UrbanIt’s been a year since you opened The Shrine, what do you attribute your success to?

Joe: One of the major components of The Shrine’s success is the location.  The South Loop is a location that has been overlooked for many years. 

The South Loop is one of the most progressive neighborhoods in Chicago and is perfectly situated. South siders can come down without going too far north and north siders also appreciate the south loop because there are other interesting venues such as Reggie’s Rock Club and Buddy Guy’s Legend. So it was a no brainer to use an untapped area and The Shrine is very at home here.

UnRated Urban: Describe Chicago’s nightlife scene and how it differs from other cities? What makes Chicago unique or doesn’t in comparison to other cities?

Joe: I think nightlife is very similar in most cities, nightclubs can offer top 40 music and play it safe or they can go out on a limb and try to be different. 

The Shrine offers a little bit of everything but we always stay close to our roots trying offering a soulful experience so you won’t see us offer a techno night or a drum & bass night but we always play soulful music. 

Nightclubs in general is a difficult business and what I think separates us from most other clubs is that this club is operated with extreme passion and love for the music and I think that’s what sets us apart from other clubs in the city   

UnRated Urban: Favorite DJ?

Joe: Tone B. Nimble because he plays the music that I love especially on our signature night which is Wednesday’s and called UPR!SE from Fela to Funk.

UnRated Urban: Favorite Restaurant?

Joe: So many, of course I love Italian food, there’s a little restaurant on Clark St called Riccardo Trattoria.  However I like anything from Riccardo’s to La Pasadita the little taqueria on Ashland Ave.  Or just give me a casual Italian restaurant and I’m happy.

UnRated Urban: Do’s & Don’ts of nightlife?

Joe: Don’ts: Parties that are athlete driven.  We have nothing against athletes, however this is a venue for people who want to come here, who appreciate the aesthetic, want to meet great people and listen to great music. Not taking  away from venues that want to do that type of thing however for me that’s a don’t. 

Do’s: Basically to be passionate about the offerings that we put out there weekly as well as the artists and bands that we book.  It just goes back to passion of music.

UnRated Urban: For someone who’s never been to The Shrine, if they were to come here for the first time, what would you hope they would come away with?

Joe: First off if they are coming for the first time, they must come on Wednesday, because that’s the signature night of the club. I hope they will come away with experiencing a great neighborhood, south loop, a great sound system, an amazing aesthetic, and people who are happy to be in an awesome space partying and willing to greet people with a smile and are just enthusiastic about being here.

When visiting The Shrine, you will definitely come away with an amazing experience, no matter what night of the week you decide to go and be sure to check for information.