Odd Couple’s New Album Features Allan Kingdom, Michael Christmas, Saba, Alex Wiley and More
Rap music was born from suffering and strife in the inner-city, and Chicago lacks for neither. The Windy City, once considered a backwater for rap, has channeled its devastating propensity for violence into a flowering of talent. If you’re looking for street rap, Chicago has it; drill has receded, but Lil Durk is still a star (and, lest we forget, a hitta), and Montana of 300 and Ty Money are stars-to-be. If you’re looking for The Low End Theory-reverent rappers younger than the album itself, Chicago has those, too; Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment’s Surf recently received “Best New Music” from Pitchfork.
Odd Couple, a Milwaukee-raised, Chicago-based producer, has found himself in the middle of these factions. In the past, Odd Couple (born Zach Henderson) has worked with Chicago staples King Louie, Lil Durk, and Sasha Go Hard. His album Chatterbox, released by seminal Chicago label Closed Sessions on June 30, offers wider abstraction than drill–Henderson is a pop and R&B obsessive particularly infatuated with the music of Usher. Chatterbox features from young Chicagoans Saba, Kweku Collins (technically from Evanston), Taylor Bennett, and The O’My’s, as well as Allan Kingdom, Michael Christmas, and a host of other rappers. Henderson took time out of a busy Monday to speak with me about Chatterbox, Closed Sessions, and Shia LaBeouf’s freestyle skills (or lack thereof).
Check Chatterbox here.
You were in Milwaukee growing up, right?
How’d you end up in Chicago?
I actually came down here for college. I came down here to go to DePaul [University], and I’ve been here ever since.
Did you grow up with musicians, or in a musical household?
My brother was a huge hip-hop head, so he was always playing me stuff way early. He was playing me Kanye in 2001, 2002, and I was like "This dude’s about to be dope as hell." I was fortunate to always be ahead of the curve for where I was, in terms of knowing about music.
Were you not listening to Chicago rap? For a long time Chicago had a reputation of not being a rap city.
It was very sporadic. There was always one rapper who was gonna carry the torch for a while, and then when he moved on or flamed out, someone new would come up. It’s crazy how now it’s, like, one of my friends can have a party and five or six of the best rappers I listen to will be there.
Were you a big Ruby Hornet reader?
Yeah. It’s funny as hell how Alex [Fruchter, creator of Ruby Hornet and co-owned of Closed Sessions] was so on, and walked away to start something new–and now he’s on with that stuff, too. I checked them out, but I wasn’t really diggin’ in the blogs back then. I think the only blog I went on was 2Dopeboyz, but I was following Closed Sessions from the beginning because I was like "Man, that’s how I get my music out: I gotta get to those guys."
You hooked up with Closed Sessions through Alex Wiley, right?
There’s a lot of different coincidences and small world-type things. Wiley is definitely a big catalyst because we work so much, but we have a lot of mutual friends with the Closed Sessions guys. After a while, it made sense to do it.
Did you ever consider rapping over your own tracks?
Yeah, I did. I used to rap, and it was awful! I definitely tried my hand at it, and was like ‘Damn I need to stick to these beats, because that’s actually hot.’
Are you big on crate digging?
I’m kind of big on crate digging, because every producer has to be. I’m big on sampling obscure, eclectic type stuff. There’s nothing better as a producer than when you sample something and people are like “What is that? I don’t even know what it is.” That’s one of the best things you can hear as a producer.
Getting sued for samples is something that, as I move forward, I think about more and more. I really hope I don’t have a lawsuit on my hands when I’m trying to pay my student loans.
Who from Chicago are you listening to that isn’t on Chatterbox?
I’ve really been listening to the Towkio album [.Wav Theory] a lot, and obviously Surf. If you’re not listening to Surf, I don’t know what you’re doing.
What about non-Chicago artists?
Meek Mill. I probably listen to Meek Mill a good four, five hours per week. I go to the gym a lot and he’s that type of rapper.
I saw that you’ve worked with guys like King Louie and Lil Durk. How do you find working with drill rappers?
It’s cool because, as much as my music veers toward an electronic and soul vibe, I love trap, hard hitting 808s, and crisp snares. I love that stuff. One of my favorite songs of the year is that Lil Durk and Jeremih song, “Like Me,” because the beat is so hard. That’s stuff you’re not going to be able to encompass with other vibes and styles I make. When I make a trap record, I can let the 808s bang, have these hard kicks and crazy snares because it’s all about the bounce.
There was a while when Lupe Fiasco was talking smack about Chief Keef.
I thought that was crazy. Well, I don’t know if it was crazy. It was a weird situation because with Lupe, it’s pretty universally understood that he’s damn near too smart for his own good. You can see him overthinking things. That whole situation was damn near like trying to get something through a brick wall, and the best route is going over it. Trying to get his message through to Chief Keef like that wasn’t the best way about it.
Is there anyone you absolutely wouldn’t work with?
Nick Cannon. No questions asked.
Is there someone you wanna work you haven’t worked with yet?
Besides the obvious: Kanye, Jay Z, Drake, Kendrick... I’m not gonna lie, I would really love to work with Chris Brown. I know about his personality. He’s definitely... out there, but I just think that dude can do whatever.
What’s your view on the Minneapolis rap scene?
It’s really tight because it’s super individual, but, like, if you’ve ever been to Minneapolis, the vibe isn’t aggressive on the surface at all. When you listen to an Allan Kingdom song, the word "aggressive" is not the first thing. You listen to [Minneapolis rap] and peel back the layers, and actually hear different things. There’s a lot of layers to their stuff.
There’s so much ground [Minneapolis rappers] have to make up, coming from where they’re at, in terms of getting somewhere musically. I feel like it’s natural that they have a crabs-in-a-barrel mentality. Only one person can get to the top at a time in a place that’s not getting a lot of light.
Tell me about Kweku Collins.
That’s, like, my little brother, I love that dude. One day I was at work and got a text from Alex [Fruchter], he was like ‘Man we’re bringing in this kid Kweku, he’s young. He’s really dope, though. You should check him out.’ I checked out his stuff and was like, "Damn this kid is really nice." I met him, met his dad, and was like "This is a cool-ass kid, I really wanna work with him. I wanna grow musically and help him grow musically and see what we can come up with." Three weeks later he was on three songs on my album, and he has four other cuts in my vault right now.
What about Saba?
Saba is definitely next up. He’s low-key one of my favorite rappers period–not just up-and-coming or out of Chicago. In my iPod, I probably listen to more Saba than most anybody else just 'cause he’s got such a wide range of music. The song [“What Kings Do”] on Chatterbox he just goes ballistic with his slow, and it's just bombastic. And you’ll hear a song on his album that’s so soulful. You hear “Time Zone,” and that song is so spacey. Every style he tries, he kills, which is crazy.
You’re working with Taylor Bennett, Chance’s little brother. Did that come about through Chance?
No, we were working on some stuff last year. He was getting ready to drop his project that came out last year [Mainstream Music], and I handed him some beats right when I started forming the idea of Chatterbox.
[For “What Kings Do”] I just really thought it would be cool to get a record together with three different guys at three different spots in life. You have Taylor, who was trying to put together his project and really establish his name as him, not as Chance’s little brother; you have Saba, who had this long-awaited project that was just about to come out; you have Cari, who had just joined Hurt Everybody. It was cool to get them all on one song, especially with the way they were feeling about where they were.
You went two years between albums. Were you just making beats?
I was just making beats, going to school, working full time, I just always wanted to get the point where music became my full-time thing. A lot of things started going on in my life, and I was like ‘Man I got nothing to lose,’ because at the time it didn't really look like it was gonna go anywhere. So I just poured it all into this project and, as it unfolded, things in my life started to change as well. So I ended up growing along with the album, just as much as the album grew with me creating it.
Finally, did you see Shia LaBeouf's freestyle?
I did not, but that thing’s been going crazy on my Facebook. I heard Shia’s got bars.
I read that he stole a bunch of the lyrics from an obscure '90s rap group [Anomolies].
Damn it, Shia. Even Stevens was his highlight. I was about to give him this, but I find he’s spitting writtens and lifting bars. You can’t have that.