Crew Cuts: Legendary Closed Sessions Is Fostering a New Wave of Chicago Hip-Hop
Crew Cuts is Green Label’s series wherein we unpack a creative collective’s dynamic by asking its members to talk about each other’s most valuable assets.
You don’t know Chicago hip-hop without knowing Closed Sessions.
The record label and artist curation imprint has been a staple of Chicago sound since 2009, and today, it’s the management house to a cluster of promising talent.
Included on the roster is beatmaker Boathouse, who just released his instrumental Girl EP and a track with Allan Kingdom. Joining him is oddCouple, whose production credits have appeared on songs by Saba and NoName Gypsy, The O’My’s, and Pell. The youngest of the clan is 18-year-old Kweku Collins, a peace-spreading rapper/singer who just wrapped a mini tour in the Midwest.
The team is driven by Michael Kolar, seasoned engineer and owner of Soundscape Studios (birthplace of projects from Curren$y, The Social Experiment, FKA twigs, and the illustrious Chance the Rapper x Lil B mixtape) and his co-pilot Alex “RTC” Fruchter, Closed Sessions founder, writer, and DJ.
Though everyone is involved in different capacities, there are no hierarchies or ranks; in fact, there are barely even titles. The members of Closed Sessions have each other’s backs, both in and out of the studio. We sat down with the whole squad to talk about what makes one of the most impactful labels in hip-hop tick.
Boathouse: He’s young and make beats quick as hell. I know that much. Any time we start a beat together from scratch, it’s always fire. We don’t do it enough, I must say, but any time we’ve started something, it’s always been crazy.
RTC: It’s impossible to turn back time and relive those moments when our music first got on a blog or I first DJ’ed a gig. But with Kweku, it’s kind of like I can. Having his fresh eyes and positive attitude is a great contribution and has an incredible impact on everyone involved. Aside from his beautiful music, his personality is rejuvenating.
oddCouple: He’s super adaptive and he has a crazy range. I was almost done with Chatter Box, and Kweku popped up one day, we did some sessions, and the next thing I knew I went from being 75% done with the project to having to cut tracks. He can just hop on anything and really capture the energy of the song.
Boathouse: He’s definitely the engine of Closed Sessions. He does all the work that isn’t the fancy stuff. He always makes sure we’re good, both as artists and also as people. He actually cares. It’s cool to have someone behind you and working with you that really believes in you and cares about outside of the music.
oddCouple: He’s the first person I’ve had look out for my music career. He’ll just do anything for you; he’s looking out for you 24/7. He’s more than a manager; I don’t really even describe him as a manager most of the time. He’s a friend.
Boathouse: He also gives the best DJ advice. At one of our parties, I was DJing and he was behind me like, “Drop ‘Jesus Walks” right… now!” I dropped it and the whole room went crazy. Two seconds later, he was like “Drop ‘Back to Back’ right now!” The next day on Twitter, the only thing people were talking about was that transition from “Jesus Walks” to “Back to Back.”
Boathouse: He makes more beats than anyone. He’s has most ridiculous iTunes playlist of oddCouple beats; it makes me mad self-conscious about my own catalogue. I don’t even understand how he kills it so hard. He brings a completely different sound to the table than Kweku and I bring. Whenever it’s a collaborative effort, that’s always shown and it always brings something new. He has a bigger sound than we’re thinking about. He be flamin’ people too much.
RTC: oddCouple brings the yin to the yang. He has a totally different sound. He’s very new. Chatter Box is an amazing, ridiculous project. But he’s also older than everyone else, so he brings a more mature perspective.
Boathouse: He keeps the energy in the studio fresh, too.
Kweku: When I was a bit younger, getting into Chicago hip-hop, he was one of the first producers I had ever heard of from Chicago. Cut to three years later, I get to not only meet dude, but we’re on the same label. At first I was really nervous and out of my element, but he made me feel really welcome and looked out for.
He’s also insanely consistent. His consistency is astounding.
oddCouple: Kweku is always a positive energy, but with Boathouse, he’s always the equalizer. He always brings the perfect, balanced energy. If I have an idea that’s really big, he’ll bring it down to where it needs to be. But if I’m working on something that needs a little more energy, he’s got it.
Kweku: Whenever we’re working on something, I don’t always know what we’ll do, but I trust that it’ll be great because Boathouse is on it. It’s always really exciting and refreshing to have someone mold a sound you’re working on into something completely new. His energy always matches the mood, like a mood ring. Rap game mood ring!
oddCouple: Seinfeld was a great show. But Seinfeld was not iconic without Kramer. Kolar is like, the Kramer of Closed Sessions.
Boathouse: I don’t think I like that. He’s got some Kramer-isms to him, I’ll say that, but he’s also Jerry and he’s a bit of an Elaine as well. And some slight George. He’s Seinfeld.
RTC: Mike will do anything for anyone. He may do it in his own unique way and on his own time, but he’s got you. His dedication to all of us is unquestionable.
Boathouse: His studio and home are in the same building.
oddCouple: He definitely inspires my work ethic. Even when he’s not working, he’s working. He doesn’t shut it off.
Boathouse: I’ve learned so much from on an engineering level. My kick drums would sound awful if he hadn’t told me they sounded like two pillars being hit together.
oddCouple: Yeah, the way he tells you things, they’re crazy and you might look at him sideways, but once you realize what he’s saying, it’s always the truth.