It had been a good while since I last got up with the man more formally known as Joseph Chilliams. In Chicago’s Austin neighborhood we met at Joseph’s home studio in the basement of his Grandmother’s house, a space that birthed Pivot Gang as well as their most recent solo successes. While he and our very own Westley Parker played Super Smash Bros. 4, Joseph and I chopped it up about how he first got into rapping.
Joseph reminisced on attending Judson Baptist Church’s youth summer program at 13, Camp 4:12. Originally he attended the camp for basketball but overtime they started offering more options. Along with his friends, Joseph chose to attend a poetry class. On the first day he volunteered to read a three line poem, the first rap he ever wrote, “It was like…’Do you have a dollar I can borrow, call me tomorrow, and I’ll let you know if I got a dollar you can borrow’. And, everyone laughed after I said that shit,” he said raising his eyebrows, “You know mainly because of my delivery or something, but like everyone laughed, literally everyone, I was like ‘Whoa!, they like this.” Primarily focused on basketball, it wasn’t until much later that Joseph began rapping full time, “Yeah that’s where it started for me. I didn’t get real serious with rap until like my senior year of high school when I realized I wasn’t going to the NBA.”
"When I really think about the studio I just think about friendship"
Joseph comes from a family of musical minds, so his move to music makes perfect sense. Like he and his brother Saba, Joseph’s father and uncle also rapped and produced music. As long as he’s been recording, Joseph’s always had a studio to call home. The same home that birthed Pivot Gang is the very place he recorded his forthcoming solo debut, Henry Church. When speaking on this creative sanctity Joseph spoke with admiration, “It’s just, when I really think about the studio I just think about friendship. Cause’ it was like just a gang of us all here, plotting, and thinking you know, ‘something can really come from this’. And now that something’s actually happening, being in the studio is like ‘Damn G, we’re really doing this shit’.”
Not only is the album inspired by how awesome Enrique Iglesias’ name sounds in english. Henry Church is a comprehensive exhibition of Joseph’s unparalleled wordplay. Even before the days of his 2016 single “Jelly” and Pivot Gang’s Jimmy, before that, Joseph Chilliams has always carried an edgy sense of comic relief, “Been through it all like Harry Houdini torso, stage diving trying to get jerked off by the fourth row.” He likes to credit much of his clever use of imagery to some of his favorites like Eminem and Andre 3000.
If it wasn’t for rap, Joseph says he’d either be a psychologist or homeless. Joseph also says, that if it wasn’t for comedian Louis C.K., he wouldn’t be rapping. Louis C.K. taught Joseph to speak from his perspective, “During one of his specials I realized I was watching this 45 year old dude talk to me about napping. From that I realized, that as long as it’s entertaining it can be about absolutely anything.” Like a catalyst, this epiphany fuels Joseph’s indifference toward whatever the next person’s talking about. He finds comfort in knowing that as long as his music is entertaining, someone somewhere will value it for what it is.
“Aside from yourself,” I asked, “who else is this album for?”. “This album isn’t for me at all,” he replied, “I don’t really think of music like that.” In his mind, Henry Church is for anyone searching for a sense of freedom. More than anything, Joseph wants this album to welcome and represent as many people as possible. “So like when you ask me, ‘who is this album for?,’ I don’t really think of a group of people. I think, ‘Oh this person, and that person,’ you know? I want people to know they have a friend out here.” He understands that society makes it difficult for some to be proud of who they are. He aims to change this through music, “So if I’m doing that. If I am as free as I want to be, if I am 100% me, then they can see that this shit is possible.”
"Damn G, we’re really doing this shit"
Since early 2016 Joseph’s been setting quite the precedent for Henry Church with just under ten tracks and a couple music videos. He was also featured on Noname’s Telefone on “Forever”, as well as Saba’s Bucket List Project on “Westside Bound 3”, a track the duo have performed countless times together including recently on MTV’s Wild’N Out. Along with being featured on some of Chicago’s favorite albums in the past year, Joseph also got the chance to perform on tour alongside Saba and some of their fellow Pivot Gang members. Even though these accomplishments are milestones in any independent artist’s career, the past year and a half has been less than favorable for Joseph.
This past June he held a listening party for Henry Church at the AMFM gallery in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The venue reached capacity almost immediately, with people standing out on the sidewalk listening through the gallery’s open door. Everyone who showed up on time got a chance to sweat their asses off while enjoying the project, while the rest took the party outside along 21st street. About a month later Joseph dropped his next single with a video, “B2KK”, one of Joseph’s favorite songs on the project. The next week “Jimmy”, also known as Frsh Waters, came home after being incarcerated for 5 years; July 18th, an official Pivot holliday as far as Joseph’s concerned.
Right now he’s preparing for his very first headlining performance at Schubas on August 28th. Take my advice and buy your tickets early because you don’t want to miss this. If you’ve been fortunate enough to witness him live before, then you already know about his iconic dance moves. Much like his dance idol Shakira, those hips don't lie. As we wait to witness the magnificence of uniquely titled dances such as “The Fallopian Tube,” I can’t help but think about what I learned from talking with Joseph that day. I learned what it means to have resolve in the wakes of tragedy. Over the past ten months Joseph, along with his friends and family have experienced more loss than most do in a decade. Although these losses are a heavy weight on his heart, he knows pushing forward is exactly what his loved ones would have wanted. Joseph Chilliams is ready to take the world by storm, and we at These Days are extremely excited to watch it all unfold. Expect to see Henry Church’s arrival sometime this month.