The first act of a free show in Wicker Park, Ju paced the stage with a fire stirring in his eyes. Some might call him a rapper, but as the music poured into the crowd, I learned not to worry about it. He kept a balance unlike others I’ve seen before. Imagine a black Kurt Cobain from the southside of Chicago, who grew up on grime, drill, and indie rock. He wasn’t quite transparent, but candid would be an understatement. Rampaging through his set, it was as if we weren’t there. He was somewhere else, at least mentally. Anyone paying attention that night was right there with him; willingly lost in the music. After getting to know him better, I’d say he wasn’t looking for an audience. From what I’ve gathered, his only concern is clarity. On the stage, off the stage, Ju doesn’t force himself to stay in the lines, he reconfigures them for a better fit.
Julian Gates grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Like a lot of artists, high school was a pivotal moment in terms of music. Back at De La Salle Institute, Ju discovered his passion for rapping. One of Ju’s standout appearances was on the track “Murphy’s Law”, one of several collaborations with Melo Makes Music. In high school they stayed in touch, making music related to their life growing up in the city. Bands like Nirvana, Panic at The Disco, and Fallout Boy rank among Ju’s top influences during that time. After seeing Kanye West live at the Glow In The Dark Tour in 2009, Ju decided he wanted to become a performer. Of course rap wasn’t the sole medium of choice, but for an artist like Ju, music is music.
Our conversation gave me some insight to the man on the stage. I couldn’t tell you what to expect creatively at this point. However, I know his music is a reflection of life, a mirror unaffected by outside perception. Music with clear self-representation, telling his story as is over styles of music he understands. The music is indeed experimental, but vocally he plays to his strengths. His songs prove that it’s ok to step outside the box, as long as you’re presence on the track comes naturally. Lyricism, in and outside of rap comes naturally for Ju. How he chose to combine them, over beats that fall somewhere in the middle makes it unique, especially with his choice in subject matter.
Moon & Ju's, “Wasted Youth” was my first introduction to Ju. One minute ten seconds into the song, I was beyond sold. “Ride a around town with a molly on me, take it to the plug like uh that’s how I was growing up.” The subject matter is relative to a Future song, but the beat sounded like a Hall and Oates track. No drums, just guitars, ambient synths and catchy flows. Ju had a special way of controlling the atmosphere on his verse. He could have easily, taken the recommended approach. Find himself some Metro Boomin kicks or an 808 type beat, go hard and be done. Instead, he delivered something unique; a fusion of hood and pop culture in the form of a raplike ballad. I’d never heard anything like it before. Right now, if all of Chicago’s punk kids grew up to be rappers, we’d eventually find a “Ju” in the mix.
Personal origins follow us to the end; the past is a template for the future. In that way, Ju doesn’t hide from his past, he embraces its power to fuel the music. It’s not weird for him to sing over a ukelele, and switch up to a trippy bass fused beat. Ultimately, music he grew up on used these elements, so why wouldn’t he incorporate them into his music? His song “Funeral” is as truthful as it gets: “Phony...How I...I left my left my friends to die, I, left my left my friends to die... You can tell them n***** f*** you, get a life! At your funeral they sipping dirty sprite, b**** you tweakin’.” Every story is a personal account. What Ju’s been through and what he’s done, gets told over an instrumental. Whatever form his music takes is a direct link to his upbringing, be it his taste for grunge, living in Chicago, or people he used to know. His tracklist has become something like a memoir, a voice for those navigating streets but not about the street life. I can tell you right now, freedom of expression is his number one priority. Ju benefits from this, it allows his music to assume no boundaries; a strong asset to his brand. His music’s already ahead of the curve with no signs of regressing. An artist we’ll all be better acquainted with sometime in the near future.