Saying good-bye to great activist local hip-hop group BBU

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BBU circa 2009
The polls are still open as I write this week's hip-hop post, so I'm distracted by the culmination of what's been billed a "long and bitter" campaign—though I imagine the 2016 election cycle will make this one look short and sweet. Given the day's events I'd be inclined under any circumstances to write about politically conscious rap, but as it turns out, the election isn't the only good reason to do so: activist local hip-hop group BBU played their final show Friday night.

BBU made politically charged music whose grounding in community organizing and radicalism extended beyond its lyrics. On the band's breakout tune, "Chi Don't Dance," MCs Jasson Perez, Michael "Illekt" Milam, and Richard "Epic" Wallace pack their rhymes with local references (Lake Shore Drive, Dude 'n Nem's "Watch My Feet") and sharp sociopolitical critiques ("Uncle Sam stole 'me' from 'we'"), and the beat mixes a faint, otherworldly synth melody with lean juke percussion. It manages to celebrate and skewer our culture at the same time—it's a love letter to Chicago that doesn't shy away from the "drive-bys" and the other struggles of people all over town ("from the north to the south to the east to the west"). "Chi Don't Dance" deals with some weighty subject matter, but it's also catchy and easy to dance to, which is what makes it great.

Earlier this year BBU released their second mixtape, bell hooks, a collection of bold pop-ready songs; as Miles Raymer wrote at the time, the mixtape is filled with "big, banging productions that make it easy to imagine BBU's radical music on the radio next to Rick Ross's hedonistic hits." That's part of why it bummed me out when I heard that BBU had decided to call it quits; bell hooks melds "extreme" politics with the kind of accessibility that could've made BBU as beloved nationally as they are locally.

Of course BBU could still find a bigger audience, but I don't think it's controversial to say that their odds would've been better if they'd kept making new songs. Maybe they'll get some love during the upcoming barrage of year-end music lists.

Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.

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