Chris Crack immediately catches your attention with the caustic absurdity of his song titles. They sound like a Netflix high school satire about a Westside Chicago teenager moving to Oak Park. It stars Jayden Smith. But the one-time aspiring comedian’s bars hit hard as a U-Haul; they can make you chuckle and scream at a cop at a protest in the next breath. He switches subject matter and flows so effortlessly that you’d never guess that he didn’t come out of the womb rapping.
There’s a stretch on White People Love Algorithms from‘’Marshall Law’’ to ‘’Hypebeasts Ruined Bape,’’ where the run of all sub-two minute songs feels like a profane standup classic. Crack understands that all great rappers and artists should be funny. He creates segues and bits that are meant to purely land jokes, but often have a tragic undercurrent: songs about women at organic grocery stores and personal anecdotes about the injustices of the crack epidemic. He’s an observational comedian in an alternative rapper’s body.
Subtract the comedy backdrop and he remains a great artist with legitimate musical range. Take one of the best songs released this year, ‘’Epiphany’s are Important.’’ It starts with an orchestral crescendo that gradually increases in sound; violins and strings buzz in your ear like something from The College Dropout. You keep waiting for it to get there, while he keeps you on your toes. It might be his most earnest track, one that made me feel like I was listening to someone rap a monologue to win a court case (no Hamilton). It’s funny because it’s a Chris Crack song, but it’s also triumphant.
The perfectly titled White People Love Algorithms is one of the best releases of 2020. Crack is at peak form, bouncing between rap and pop with ease. The first half features more of Crack’s rapping, but on the second half he switches it up and slows the pace down. It creates a balance that isn’t replicated by other artists this year. Blckwndr, the producer of ‘’Hoes at Trader Joe’s’’ and ‘’Epiphany’s are Important,” supplies a bedrock foundation for Crack’s comedy raps to cut through. Whenever you think you can predict the direction, the beat takes off again as soon as Crack starts rapping.
One of the most prolific artists breathing, Crack has been steadily releasing music at a roughly four hot albums every one year average. His July 2020 project, Good CopsDon’t Exist has a much different scope. Where WPLA was more string-heavy, this one skews to grittier samples and less skits. There’s more evidence of his versatility too. “Keep It Delicious’’ proves that Crack could be one of the best R&B artists out if he so desired. If Future can make HNDRXX, Chris Crack can make the alternative hip-hop version of that. He was a R&B fan before he started rapping and it shows. And predictably, he never loses his sense of humor while hitting melodic notes. He’ll joke ‘’that’s what a motherfucker made for!’’ like a Blaxploitation movie with a left-field pop soundtrack. If that isn’t cold, then Chicago is Texas.
His most recent opus, Washed Rappers Ain’t Legends, matches its biting album title with some of his sharp critiques of America. He isn’t just coming at Donald Trump. He knows that it is bigger than that. He comes at the system that makes someone like Donald Trump possible. He comes at the Democrats too, because he knows that we’ve been given a choice between the fascists who antagonize the inner city, and the liberal rich that ignore the inner city. He’s direct, conscious, and has the instincts of a truth teller. No wonder why he wanted to be a comedian. In the wake of its release, I caught up with him to talk about Chicago, his upbringing, comedy, and why there is no such thing as a good cop. — Jayson Buford
What was it like growing up in the West Side of Chicago?
Chris Crack: It was exciting. It was real interesting.. Just all kinds of fun thing that you do as a kid.
What was the neighborhood known for?
Chris Crack: For getting money, man.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? I know you were super into Missy Elliott.
Chris Crack: Yeah. Shit, man, I listened to a lot of R&B shit mainly. I didn’t really grow up on a lot of rap shit. I ain’t get into rap til later. A lot of soul shit. A lot of Prince.
Do you have a favorite Prince album?
Chris Crack: Of course, I’m going to say 1999 but you know what I’m saying? Yeah.
1999 is wavy. I think Dirty Mind might be my favorite, low key though. Do you have any specific R&B artists that you were into?
Chris Crack: I used to love Monica. I used to love Xscape and 702.
What were some activities you did as a kid?
Chris Crack: I was a little bad fuck, man. We was gangbanging and shit. I mean, we was playing basketball and regular kid’s shit. Football, all that shit, breaking windows, ding dong ditch, all the way up to gang activity, drug sales and all types of wild shit.
I saw an interview that said that you’ve been hustling since you were a teenager. Is that something that’s still in you?
Chris Crack: Yeah man, because I’m from the West Side, man. That’s what we known for, man, hustling G, and I just always been a hustler. Even when I didn’t have to be a hustler and shit, I’m still going to hustle. I don’t think that’s never going nowhere.
When did you start focusing on rap?
Chris Crack: Shit. Man, probably seven years ago or five years ago type of shit. Motherfuckers was still doing whatever I was doing to earn money around that time. It wasn’t from music at all. You know what I mean? And then music started to it’s thing. I started taking it serious. I was like, “Oh, okay, this is going to be lucrative. Okay. Cool boo.”
Obviously, I know what you mean when you say that good cops don’t exist because they don’t. All cops are bad. But what do you say to the people who say that, “But what if there is a good cop?”
Chris Crack: I just believe it’s never 100% of anything or anybody when you’re speaking about something. Yeah, of course there might be one or two good ones… There might even be three, four good ones. But the majority is bad. It’s probably one out of every three, 400 that’s probably a good cop. I give them some props. I ain’t here to shit on nobody. Everybody got to have a job. It is what it is, but yeah, for the majority, hell naw, ain’t no good cops now. All cops is bitches, man.
It’s not about the personal, it’s about the structural. The very nature of the job is bad.
Chris Crack: And if you part of a job that stands behind you standing up for motherfuckers mistreating people and shit like that, and that’s cool. You stand behind your brother if he mistreating them up. That ain’t that ain’t cool, man. I’m going to be like, ‘Nah, man. That ain’t right.’
How do you come up with the song titles to your songs? Is it just based off a idea that you were feeling?
Chris Crack: It’s just how the song made me feel, you know what I’m saying, at the moment. I just come up with the wildest shit that I can… Whatever it made me feel.
“Hoes at Trader Joe’s” is dumb funny. It be like that there.
Chris Crack: Yeah, man. It really do.
In general, I think your music has a lot of humor to it. All rappers aren’t funny but all the great rappers are funny and you’re really especially funny. Where does your comedy come from? Were you into comedians growing up?
Chris Crack: Yes, man. I wanted to be a fucking comedian when I was a kid. Man, I wanted to be a… I used to get in trouble all the time for staying up watching ComicView and shit. Remember ComicView would come on twice and it’d come on at 9:00 and then it would come on at 11:00? I would get in trouble because I would always miss the 9:00 and shit because I’d be outside. Even as a younger kid, you know what I’m saying, I was outside. I would come in and have to go to school the next day, but I got to see ComicView. Then my mama be like, “man, take your ass to sleep. You ain’t going to want to wake up in the morning.”
Do you have a favorite comedian?
Chris Crack: Yeah. Hell yeah. Martin Lawrence, man. For life. Martin sometimes feels even underrated to me. Those binaries are a little weird to navigate in your head like who’s over and underrated, blah, blah, blah because it just depends on how popular a person is. But Martin is dumb funny. He ain’t getting the props like he deserves that. But you know when he’s going to get those, you know what I’m saying? When he die, it’s going to be, “oh, he’s the greatest ever.” Fuck out of here. But yeah, Martin Lawrence, man, he put so many people on. He’s such a real motherfucker. He’d been funny in anything he do, even in the black ass, Big Momma’s Houses that I’m not supporting, he’s still funny as fuck.
Were you a fan of the show?
Chris Crack: Of course. People ask me all the time, “Which show did you watch? Was it Fresh Prince or was it Martin because they used to come on around the same time and shit. I’m like, ‘Martin all fucking day.’ Only the bad kids… I know in Chicago, the bad kids, the kids that was outside and the kids that was on shit, were Martin heads. The kids who went to school, get everything, the two parents and shit, they were Fresh Prince watchers. You know what I’m saying? I noticed that when I got older like, “He used to watch Martin? Oh, he used to watch Fresh Prince?” You could see who would watch what.
Were you into Chris Rock at all?
Chris Crack: Chris Rock? Not so much when I was younger. I didn’t like how Chris Rock was loud and he was obnoxious and shit like that. But when I got older, I learned to appreciate him. But during the fucking In Living Color days and Def Comedy Jam days and shit like that, naw, I ain’t really like Chris Rock.
What about making one-minute or two-minute songs do you like compare to making three minute or four minute songs? Is there a strategy for that at all?
Chris Crack: I started doing that shit at first because I wanted to fuck the streaming industry. It’s like they fucking us over, let’s get up on all that too. Fuck them, niggas. It’s like how you said, ‘Art mirrors personality.’ It works for people’s short attention spans. Nobody wants to hear a three-minute song anymore. You know what I’m saying? They definitely don’t want to hear a four- or five-minutes song. You’re not even going to start the song if it’s five minutes. And people want that microwave product and then when it’s gone, they want more. They want more. But if you give them that two or three minute song, four minutes song, they don’t want more, more, more. You know what I’m saying? And then that mirrors also the streaming shit. The stream is a stream. If you get 20 streams on this one minute song that’s the same as getting 20 streams on a five minutes song. Why not get way more streams?
In a given year, are you focused on what projects are you going to drop or what’s the process like?
Chris Crack: Man, I don’t have one. I just do music all the time. I don’t have a job. You know what I mean? I just do music all the time and just put out shit when I’m just ready. You know what I mean? At all times, I’m always working on three albums at the same time so that I can put one out, still be working on them other two, and then exchange that one that I’m about to put out with a new album, so now I’m still working on three albums and still putting out this album.
What is your writing process like, if you have one?
Chris Crack: My writing is becoming less and less because I’m getting the hang of doing shit more off the fly, which I love. I love that shit. But if I do write, it’s usually very mood filled. I be putting my blood, sweat and tears in this shit, you know what I mean? I mean, if it is then it’s real emotionally charged and I like to write in spurts too. I liked to write a fourth of a verse and then write a fourth of a verse and a fourth of a verse. I’m talking about three different songs and then come back and do it. I just never want a song to feel like it’s either forced or it’s running on too long or it’s doing too much or whatever. It’s got to be natural to me.
A lot of unrest is going on right now, during the pandemic? What are you doing with your mental health to try to get through this?
Chris Crack: Well, the whole quarantine thing and all that shit, that’s not new to me. You know what I’m saying because that’s how I’m able to do so much music because I’m always quarantined. It’s like that was never not new to me or Cutta. You know what I’m saying? It was just, “Oh, we got to…” I don’t think we changed anything we was doing, you know what I’m saying, but wear masks when this shit first started. Nothing about this really affected me except in a good way because it made people stay in the house and listen to my music. You know what I mean? It’s like, “Damn.” That’s why it’s funny because it’s like, “damn, the world’s fucked up but it’s cool for me though.” I can’t even enjoy because everybody else ain’t happy and making money and doing this and doing that, you know what I mean? It’s like, “Damn, I got to just chill.”
You have a son. How has that changed your life?
Chris Crack: It just made me grow up a lot faster and I had a great support system. It wasn’t like, “Aw, it was so hard raising him and whatever, whatever,” because I had a great support system. Thank God, because if I didn’t, man, it would have been fucked up because his mom wasn’t on her best, you see what I mean, at all. It would have been fucked up, but luckily that was replaced with a whole bunch of love and a whole bunch of support.
Are you trying to build a community with your music in Chicago?
Chris Crack: I’m trying to definitely change lives and leave a trail burning, blazing trail, whatever. But in Chicago specifically, no. I’m trying to do that around the world. Chicago ain’t going to let you shine. Chicago’s not going to let you be this super, megastar that you could possibly have the potential to be. Chicago ain’t going to let you be that. Nah, I’m doing it for the world. No shade or nothing. But it’s like, nah, I’m thinking way bigger than Chicago.
We live in the same country that enslaved us. How does that mentally affect you the moves that you make in your life? Because for me personally, it’s weird. Obviously, I’m not constantly thinking about it throughout the day because I got shit to do, but it definitely forms a lot of my thinking.
Chris Crack: Oh yeah. No, I was just going to say the typical like, “Well, I am a Black man in America.” I was raised by a white mother so my situation is a little bit… There’s situations where I’ve been able to use white privilege in my favor because my mom always told me since I was a kid, “I’m going to always use my privilege to get you up out of jams and all that shit.” You know? But yeah, my upbringing wasn’t as much of having to deal with so much racism and shit like that because I was raised with a white family and a black family. I’ve seen the inside out way before you see it from… I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen the worst of the worst racism. I’ve seen the love of the love. Racists coming together and loving each other. It’s like my vision is a little different, but I’m still a nigga though. Don’t ever get it twisted and I can still get shot at for having a motherfucking tail light out. It just be I’m always going to… Even different races that ain’t even Black like Arab, there’s Arab people who looked like straight niggas, but they don’t get treated like that. You know what I mean? Or there’s dark skin Filipinos or whatever, you know what I mean? I’ve always wondered, “Is it the same for them?” Do y’all fear getting shot at, in a traffic stop or something like that because y’all look Black, but y’all ain’t really niggas, you know what. You look Black but you’re ain’t niggas.
How does being from Chicago affect you?
Chris Crack: Chicago’s like a very dreary, very down, moody, real shady. You can just feel your energy just becoming negative when you get here. There’s like a curse on the city or some shit like that, where everything is just negative. The city’s just… It’s a negative place. It has negative energy. There’s a lot of killing. There’s a lot of… Summertime Chi though, don’t get it twisted. There are people that ain’t even from Chicago that will vouch summertime Chi is like the best place in the world. But other than that, the three seasons are trash, man. You know what I’m saying? It’s not a good place. It’s funny you say that because I was in the restaurant earlier and I seen Lori Lightfoot on the news. It was a live broadcast. This bitch got a fucking costume on looking like a fucking clown. She’s talking about some goofy shit.
She a bozo, yeah.
Chris Crack: Yeah, just some real clown shit. I’m like, “What’s the fuck is this?” My cousin’s like, “Man, don’t pay attention to that, man. It’s scripted. It’s all scripted.” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” You know what I mean? It’s fucked up, man. It’s not going anywhere because… We used to live in Cook County but we call it crook county because all the politicians come in and they drain the money. They spend it on stupid shit. They close down all the black schools and then by the time their term is over, they fucked it up enough for the next one. And then they come in and they pretend like they’re fixing shit, but they’re really just fucking more shit up, stealing more money, spending more billions of dollars on just dumb shit. They spent $2 billion on that bean downtown and out of towners are always like, “Okay. Well, what does it do? How does it work?” It doesn’t do shit. It’s just a big ass bean that they spent $2 billion on.
You find that they’ll fund things that are good for areas where white people live.
Chris Crack: For tourism.
For tourism and for capitalism and this and that. But for us, bro, where we live, they don’t don’t give a fuck about us.
Chris Crack: They don’t give a fuck. They closed down all the schools. They don’t fix the streets. There’s no stores. They bleed everything from the hood and give it to the upscale communities, like slavery, that “we were born in this country” type shit.
Yeah, and I will never understand when people would say, “Oh, why is the music in Chicago so violent and negative?” Well, Chicago itself, it’s like that. This is just reality for y’all.
Chris Crack: Yeah. It’s always been a mob run city. I think New York is the same way, but it’s always been a mob run city and it’s always been driven by negativity, murders and bootlegging and shit. That’s what the city was built on.