Image from L.A. VanGogh's Facebook page
On his 2016 EP Friends First
, Chicago rapper-singer L.A. VanGogh drapes his silky voice over even his hardest bars, so that his rapping feels almost like sultry R&B. As part of the Private Stock
collective, VanGogh benefits not just from its ace studios but also from its management team—when he dropped the Everything Is Subjective: Episode 1
EP in October, one of its singles topped Spotify's "Fresh Finds" playlist. Playlists created by major streaming services have exploded in importance this year, sometimes rivaling Top 40 radio in influence: Spotify playlist Rap Caviar, for instance, has more than 7 million followers and a reputation for keeping up with what's viral or about to blow up nationally. As of July, Spotify has more than 140 million users, so its in-house playlists—which get valuable real estate on the app—have a lot of power to break rising artists.
Private Stock surely helped VanGogh get his song on Fresh Finds, but the team wouldn't have had a chance if his music hadn't done the heavy lifting. His sleek, supple single "When I Get Rich" stood out from the other songs on the playlist—mostly wispy indie-pop that vanished from my memory the instant I quit listening. Over a down-tuned and sped-up vocal sample from Kendrick Lamar's "Wesley's Theory" ("What you want you, a house or a car? / Forty acres and a mule, a piano, a guitar?"), VanGogh raps about his outsize dreams of being so unbelievably wealthy he could rebuild the whole country's economy.
Rap songs about getting rich acquire an ugly extra layer of meaning when the country is run by fake populists whose only agenda appears to be funneling more money to heartless ghouls who already have more than God. But VanGogh's "When I Get Rich" isn't about materialism or conspicuous consumption but rather about the kind of healing and growth that money can make possible for people whose most modest dreams are too expensive to realize. He doesn't explicitly rail against racism or classism, but he doesn't have to say those exact words to make himself clear: "How can I make it so my kids' kids' kids' kids' ain't gotta do work? / How can I do it without getting murked? / Make a new currency to rotate the earth / Put it in community, develop own systems / Get a providence, and start buying missiles, pit bulls and pistols, and satellite signals." It's a joyful song, and not just because VanGogh dreams of a future where segregation, poverty, and oligarchy are over—he also makes it feel, albeit for just three minutes or so, like it could actually arrive.
VanGogh probably won't even be able to build a new world for the people he loves, but he's not letting that stop him from making smaller efforts. On Thursday, December 14, he headlines a Private Stock toy drive at Tonic Room. Jofred, Marvelous, and JBro Bugatti open; Papi Beatz, Dam Dam, and Steez spin between sets. Tickets are $12, $10 in advance, or $8 with a toy. The show starts at 7 PM.