by Cody Corrall
It started with silence. Then a light. Christian JaLon stepped onto the stage at Lincoln Hall to a small crowd, one that would eventually balloon as the night revved up to its headliner Kweku Collins. JaLon, who emphasizes that’s “how her mother wrote it on her birth certificate,” beckons the space with a cappella resembling a church hymn.
Then the music kicks in. A sweltering cacophony of electronic instrumentation with a foundation in classic soul. The South Side singer laughs between songs of love, divinity and obsession from her recent EP “If You Let Me.” She says she loves crowd participation, encouraging the crowd to clap along or to sing back at her or to dance like nobody’s watching as she does the same on stage, drenched in blue light.
Joseph Chilliams takes the stage and the mood shifts: what once was a church choir has now molded itself into a comedy show. Chilliams hops and dances around the stage, waving his arms as he raps about “Mean Girls” in a Britney Spears t-shirt. Chilliams uses nostalgia for the 90s and early aughts as his vehicle for experimentation in his music. There are so many pop culture references and clever uses of wordplay that it’s hard to keep up -- but it provides a kitschy satisfaction that’s hard to find in the genre.
Chilliams played songs from his recent EP “The Plastics” and his 2017 full-length album “Henry Church,” which takes its name from a bastardised Spanish-to-English translation of Enrique Iglesias’s name. Like JaLon, he engages with the crowd directly -- making jokes and responding to hecklers with witty comebacks. Through his charming and breakneck delivery, Chilliams is able to mix commentary on being Black in America, hating Bow Wow, loving Fergie and what it means to be “slim-thick” all in one set.
As 9:30 rolled around, the venue transformed from the intimate show an hour prior into a packed house. Evanston born Kweku Collins walks to the microphone in a pair of overalls with flowers embroidered on them. He says he missed Chicago, even if he was only gone for a day.
Collins channels universal feelings in his music -- being in and out of love or being alone and wandering this planet aimlessly. His genre has been described as “romance rap,” which perfectly encapsulates his voice. His music is tender and soft -- all within the complex bounds of the genre.
Collins is also a versatile performer -- he raps, harmonizes and sings, often resembling a desperate cry to a lover or a howl at the moon.
As he performs, the crowd is electric. They sing along to his popular songs like “Stupid Rose” with as much intensity as they do his more niche releases like “Sisko and Kasidy.” Some of the attendees shout his ad libs for him, or invent new ones to go with the songs.
The show his its peak during “The Outsiders,” which let the crowd take pride in their own form of Chicago. “Can you see the sun set real good on the West Side? / You can see it on the East Side too / Can you see the sun set real good on the North Side? / You can see it on the South Side too.” There were screams of joy from those who had trekked from the West and South Sides, as a feeling of Chicago pride radiated through the amplifiers.
From gospel roots to comedic parody and romance rap, Lincoln Hall became a showcase for the indescribable, eclectic and multifaceted diversity of Chicago music.