Last month Dan Kuypers, aka DJ Chester Copperpot, was at EV Productions in Evanston working on a track with one of his childhood heroes, KRS-One. They'd shared the bill at a release party for another EV artist, Single Minded Pros, back in October, where Kuypers handed the rapper a beat CD. KRS-One called back with an offer to record a couple vocal tracks for the next Copperpot solo album, and in mid-March the pair went into the studio.
"I was shaking, I was so excited," says Kuypers. "I'm already thinking, 'This is so wild, this is so crazy.' Then he comes out of the booth and out of the blue he says, 'Copperpot, let's do a whole album together. Give me 12 more beats, bring me in here for three days, and we'll make a record.'"
A quiet, bookish-looking 26-year-old, Kuypers hadn't touched a sampler or even been inside a studio until a few years ago. But now he's in demand as a producer in Chicago and beyond, and his own recording career is ramping up. The three EPs he's released since 2002 have sold out pressings of 500, 1,500, and 3,000 copies, and his full-length debut, Chapter Seven, which came out in February on EV Productions, is moving briskly. The album's diverse roster of MCs includes Boston true-schooler Ed O.G and UK underground kingpin Braintax, and Kuypers's bouncy, eccentric tracks sample everything from video games to Far Eastern folk to Czechoslovakian country and western.
Kuypers was born and raised just a couple blocks from the EV studio, where he now works full-time. When he was a teenager his older brother David turned him on to hip-hop like Biz Markie and N.W.A, but music had yet to take over his life; in 1997, when he graduated from Evanston Township High, his first priority was to get out of town. He enrolled at Knox College in Galesburg, one of four universities he'd attend.
He majored in poetry writing and took a few music theory classes, but he also acquired several credit cards and spent most of his free time buying records. "Like 300 dollars' worth of records a week," he says. "I didn't know what I was doing." But by early 2000, about the time he returned to Chicago, he'd noticed a disappointing pattern in the new hip-hop he was picking up. "The music had gotten really formulaic," he says. "So I said, 'I'm gonna take this here credit card and go buy a sampler and make music that my friends and I would listen to.'"
Kuypers bought an Akai MPC2000XL, chucked the manual ("It was like an inch thick and translated from Japanese to English, so it made no sense"), and began pushing buttons. "For the first month I couldn't save anything," he says, laughing. "Not that the beats were really worth keeping." Soon he got up to speed and started playing gigs with the Phonograph Scientists, a local crew that included childhood friend DJ Sapien. In 2001 the first Copperpot beat appeared on disc: for the title track to Walk Thru Walls, a solo album from Qwazaar of the Typical Cats, Kuypers had sampled an LP of choral music composed by his grandfather.
Unconventional sound sources were a Copperpot calling card from the beginning. "At the time most people were using the same DJ Premier [drum] pattern and taking some edgy piano off some old funk records," Kuypers says. "But I was more into sampling, like, French easy-listening music and things like that." He also drew inspiration from the UK underground scene--particularly the London label Low Life Records, run by future collaborator Braintax. "The stuff they come up with is from a totally different place than American hip-hop," he says. "They have the opportunity to dig from a different pool of sources."
Kuypers went back to school in winter 2001, this time at UIC, and earned a scholarship to attend a summer poetry program in Prague that year. "I'd decided I didn't want to write anymore," he says. "I figured I'd just go and buy records." Kuypers headed to the Czech Republic with literally nothing but the clothes on his back and began searching the city's bookstores and antique shops. "From the back they'd bring out these old dusty boxes filled with eastern European jazz and funk and weird government-sponsored records and traditional music with people in brass bands and crazy outfits. All of it was phenomenal." He returned with several hundred LPs and a fistful of maxed-out credit cards--which eventually got him sued by Discover Card and several collection agencies. Kuypers says the trip was worth it, even though it drove the final nail into his credit rating: "For me it was crucial to experience these other cultures through their music--and then to sample it."
In early 2002 Kuypers paid his first visit to the EV studio to produce his debut EP, Chapter Seven, Verse One, featuring locals Bamski the Bigot and Iomos Marad. He paid for a pressing of 500 copies with a credit card ("My last credit-card purchase," he jokes) and released it on YMLM, a tiny label he'd started with DJ Sapien. Kuypers also struck up a friendship with EV owners Joe Matthews and Teren Foggi, who were making plans to launch their own label. EV Productions wouldn't put out its first record, Longshot's Open Mouths Fed, till March 2003, but the label began operations in summer 2002. Kuypers was soon one of its only employees, working as a jack-of-all-trades--doing everything from shipping to engineering--and by the end of the year he'd been signed to the label himself. He dropped out of school for the last time to focus on his music.
DJ Rude 1 of Single Minded Pros told Kuypers to draw up a wish list of MCs and lyricists for his debut full-length and encouraged him to start making calls, even if he felt like he was out of his league. One of the first people Kuypers contacted was Ed O.G. "My brother put me onto him in seventh grade," he says. "Ed O.G was my hero. . . . It was crazy for me to work with him." Kuypers also recruited other east-coast undergrounders like Mr. Complex and Pace Won, Chicagoans like Akbar, Longshot, and Diverse, and Londoners like Verb. T and Kashmere.
Kuypers's beats will appear on forthcoming discs by All Natural, Ed O.G, and Virginia rapper Trew, as well as on Longshot's second "Civil War" compilation. He's also just finished Issues, a full-length collaboration with Longshot under the name Coppershot, to be released on EV early next year--alongside a new Copperpot solo album with guest rappers including Truth Enola and Masta Ace. And then of course there's the imminent full-length with KRS-One. "I can't even sit still when I think about it," says Kuypers.
Not that sitting still is an option for him. Between his multiple recording projects, his job at EV, and his weekly DJ set at the Morseland, Kuypers is pretty much only idle when he's asleep--and even that isn't very often. "I usually get in [to work] at ten in the morning, leave at eight or ten at night, sometimes not till two if I'm engineering," he says. "When I get back home I've got ten thousand records in my house that I want to listen to and make music with. There's no time for rest, man."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stephen J. Serio.