Duffle Bag Buru & the Journey of the Bag

Photo by Michael Salisbury

Photo by Michael Salisbury

Duffle Bag Buru wants the whole bag. The Chicago artist has arrived on the scene in the last year, already with a fully formed sound and something to say. He’s prepared for that next big step, confident in his music and surefooted in navigating what comes next. The bag is on the way. 

 He’s an artist of the world. “Buru” is short for Burundi, the native home of his parents ("Duffle Bag" referencing the bag that became ubiquitous to him, hustling clothes, etc. from). Buru was born in the states, moved to Chicago and was raised in Chicago’s Hyde Park and South Shore neighborhoods, went to school for a period of time in France, before moving to Plano, IL as a teenager. Buru jokes that it was “very rural, cows and shit, literally...everyone’s wearing Nike Shocks and cargos, ‘Just Do It’ tees.” But the move was a blessing in disguise. In Plano he would meet future manager Cole Bennett. 

The teen years may have been in Plano, but his hip-hop experience was molded by Chicago. In high school, Buru began hitting the Chicago scene hard, catching any shows he was old enough to attend. In these live moments he caught the bug, from fan to participant in Chicago music. Buru remembers it like it was yesterday, “when Kids These Days was going to get signed by Universal, I couldn’t believe it had happened or process it. Then, when I saw Vic on SNL I was like ‘man, I have to do something. I’m not gonna sit here and watch...that was when I learned the mindset you need to have, to not just be a spectator.”

Like his own life, Duffle Bag Buru is spread across hip-hop's map. His debut project Whole Bag embraces contradiction. Tough beats next to chill moments, flows of contemporary 'aye' rap embracing narrative and the personal. Buru approaches music in the way he was raised with it. A jazz trumpeter in school, as a kid there were periods where “I wasn’t even rocking with hip-hop. 4th, 5th, 6th grade it was rock, stuff like Modest Mouse, Rise Against, Nirvana, Rage...I was fucking with Ska a bit too, this band Streetlight Manifesto…(but) when Vic (Mensa) started going off, it brought me back into it and I was listening to a lot of classic hip-hop. The kind of music I make now is just a culmination of everything.” Mixing and matching, he created a sound of his own.

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That sound is “something I can chill to, vibe to, but then I also love 808’s. So I want something that if I play it live, people can really bounce to it. You get a nice melody down, feel out that this is a vibe, put in some nice funk there, then here pick it up. Or sometimes it’s just hitting super hard and it’s like, bring it back.” He describes his style as “high energy, fun, not meaningless. There’s some substance, every song has at least some message, not superficial.” From the bubbly “Left Wrist”, to the vibing “Spread”, to his contemplative “What They Want”, Buru isn’t afraid to switch it up, and his flurry of singles over the course of 2017 reflects that. That was the aim of Whole Bag, explaining that “I wanted it to be a sample of all the different sounds and styles I showed I could do this year”, a demonstration of his capabilities as a rapper.

His approach to lyrics is hype but never empty. Duffle Bag Buru leaves a part of himself in every track, while not intruding too much on the underlying aesthetic. “The way I feel about it is, as a fan of music, people always have their way of going about things...they want to tell you as much possible, be really conceptual or have a lot of information (‘do better in life, do this or that’), but you need credibility to do that. The reason Jay-Z can drop that album (4:44) while it’s all Uzi and trap is we know who he is, we know what he’s done. We want to listen. So I want to have a message, while maintaining the main point, which is to have fun.”

The music is different, and what Buru believes differentiates him is that he’s been able to move through so many different parts of the world, informing his music with the various different bits and pieces he likes, removing those that he doesn’t. “I’ve been a foreign student, lived in a lot of different places. Experienced a lot of different perspectives, seen many different walks of life. My parents are from Burundi, they’re Francophone. All these different perspectives and ways of seeing life, knowing that everybody lives differently and has different values. Adding that into my music, everything we think of as Chicago music combined with what I think is a world perspective. And I don’t think I’ve yet fully tapped into what that is. But right now, how I go about it is that I’m not thinking there’s one way to do it.”

The end product is music for everybody. It's the only conclusion he can come to, "at a certain point, everyone has the things they have in common...it’s a person, at some point there’s something there. I don’t want to exclude anyone, anyone can put this on, whether it’s a white girl in Naperville, whoever, wherever.”

He's been everywhere, “Paris, that country-rural-suburban life, living in the hood, living right now to the University of Chicago. All way different...Completely different walks of life.” And where to from here? More press, more shows, and a debut capital A Album to cement his skills as an MC. Hell, even video game voice work. But as he said before, respect is earned. “Working my ass off, just doing it. I’m in the starting block, and once you’re there all it is is working your ass off.” The bag is on the way, and Buru is ready.