Chicago’s reputation as a city overflowing with hip-hop talent is indisputable at this point. But a closer look at the city’s scene reveals a consistent trend of not only quality artists, but talented creators who push hip-hop in new directions. From chopper-era legends to drill music pioneers, from local favorites like Kids These Days to superstar-level innovators like Kanye and Chance, the city has kept an open mind to new styles and sounds from its home team.
Enter Forever Band, a duo whose sound can’t really be confined to any one genre, but finds their footing in rap. Their sparse, distorted production style and mesmerizing songwriting make them one of the most experimental and exciting acts emerging from Chicago. Their songs run short, usually under 2-minutes, but they leave a lasting impression on a listener by sounding quite unlike anyone else in the game right now.
Their recent work with Chance the Rapper, a longtime friend, on his track “Wala Cam” has garnered international attention to a piece of Chicago culture. We talked to one of the duo’s artists and producers, Zekur Stewart, about what it’s like being experimental in Chicago’s music scene, the global impact of Wala Cam, and how he developed his sound. Check out our interview with Stewart below:
Where did the name Forever Band come from?
I got that name for being on house arrest. I had a band on my ankle, and it felt like forever. The band is made up of two people, me and my homie Sadiq.
Where did you grow up?
Really, on 79th the most. But a mixture of places in Chicago: Hyde Park, 49th, even did a couple years in the burbs too.
How have you sound evolved since you first started making music?
When I first started making music on house arrest, I had an iPad that I used to make beats. I wasn’t really making rap beats. I still wanted to record over it, and it would be some whole other type of music. It probably had a lot of rap influence, but it wasn’t really any specific genre.
I was trying to make rap beats, but I didn’t know what tempo it was so I was just experimenting. Then, when I moved to Ableton, I wanted to still carry that on. It was the music I was making naturally, so I wanted to keep doing that. Being on house arrest was a big shifting point in terms of music, because I actually started producing. That’s when I started finding my own sound.
How would you describe your sound?
I started calling the genre “157” because that was the BPM I was working with. I made a whole tape with that BPM. I think it’s evolving, because I’m getting more influenced by rap right now. It just keeps evolving and will never stay the same.
How did the “Wala Cam” collaboration come into fruition?
Chance is my big homie, and Supa’s already a big power force in Chicago. I’m already around Chance so being around him in the studio, if the opportunity presents itself, you just go in the booth and lay a track down. Then Channo’s gonna go in there and do what he do.
I’ve been in the crib with him and that’s my friend more than anything, even before music. When he’s making music it’s just natural, and we’ll just be kicking it. It’s nothing forced like ‘the label told me we gotta make this song and drop it this day’.
Has your career shifted at all since working on “Wala Cam”?
I’m still an underground artist even though I got a song with Chance The Rapper and Supa on the charts. I’m still a mystery. People in Chicago respect me, but people don’t really know me. There’s not a lot out there about me. I’m still really mastering my craft.
I really like that I’m on a song that’s being listened to all around the world. And it’s something really Chicago. If you look up “Wala Cam” and the videos that come up besides the song, you’ll really see what it is and how Chicago it is. We came in the studio to verify Wala Cam across the world. You got people in Africa and Asia who know about Wala Cam now. That’s really what it’s about. There’s legendary dancers out here that I looked up to growing up that can be recognized now. I’m glad Chance made this song, because this is where this shit started for me. Moments like this make me wanna keep doing what I’m doing.
What is your songwriting process like?
I really make music when something happens to me and I get frustrated over it. I’ll just go produce a beat, and as I’m producing, I’ll probably come up with something in my head.
It’s like I gotta go make music or else I’d die or something like that. What the fuck am I doing if I’m mad? I’ve already seen the outcome if I don’t do something productive when I get mad. I just make music instead. … I can express myself, and then I feel better about the situation. Even later on, I’ll go back to a song and see my growth.
I noticed most of your songs are only around 2-minutes long, sometimes shorter. Is that intentional?
I remember when I first started making music, streaming was just getting big. I knew my music was of value, and I didn’t want to give people 5-minute songs for them to only listen to it one time. Imma make a hit under 2 minutes so that you put that on repeat [laughs]. People will come up to me and say ‘man I wish this was longer’. One day it will be when I get this bread! Right now, I’m just gonna give y’all a little bit of the juice. Imma give you a snippet, and you can go off that.
Given your experimental sound, do you feel pressure to try and fit in any one genre?
I think people are gonna try and box me in, but I don’t think they can just because I do a lot of things outside of music too. I’m into modeling, directing, cinematography–I’m really like a conceptual freak. I really love concepts that evolve and make shit go forward. I like the creative process more than anything else.
What are some of your goals musically?
I wanna make Billboard Hot 100 hits. I wanna keep putting out music that everybody loves. I want Grammys. … I’m doing something different and starting my own thing. That’s when you really get hits. I think in this generation, people copy other artists to get a hit. I’m not on that. I might get inspired, but I’m not gonna copy.
What do you hope people take away from your music?
I just want them to feel where I’m coming from. If it makes you feel good, I want you to feel good. If it makes you feel sad, I want you to feel sad. Whatever you can take from it. I really just make music to get me through the process. If I can get you through something too, then that’s a bonus. I put music out there because it can maybe help someone else the way it helps me.