When: Fri., Oct. 28, 9 p.m. 2016
At the beginning of the year Chicago rapper-singer David Ashley—who’s also a member of R&B band Jody—quietly launched “Strictly 4 the Heads,” an ongoing series of raw, rough-and-tumble rap tracks he’s been uploading to Soundcloud at a once-a-month clip. Ashley’s worked on the series in relative quiet, though the tracks, each of which shares its name with the project’s title, move with vigor and power despite (and sometimes because of) their sonic flaws. The queasy synths that open the “Strictly 4 the Heads Pt. 1” and the compressed 808 percussion on “Strictly 4 the Heads Pt. 6” harken back to sun-beaten 90s Memphis street rap, though the real gritty texture comes from Ashley’s rapping. His coolheaded performances glide through stories that sound ripped from cell-phone notes as he threads together rhymes about struggling through meager paychecks and shouldering the spiritual toll of Chicago’s murder rate. Ashley compresses his emotions with succinct force and drops bars with the ease of a point guard tossing a balled-up piece of trash in the garbage. There’s no shortage of Chicago rappers who can tap into the fear and horror of gun violence, but on “Strictly 4 the Heads Pt. 7” Ashley challenges listeners to rethink the way we compartmentalize and process crime that disproportionately affects young black men: “It’s crazy, yo / Lately death became an all ages show.” Tonight he’ll perform all of his “Strictly 4 the Heads” material as part of Rich Jones’s monthly hip-hop series All Smiles.