Features

 

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The Evolution of Chiraq, Chicago magazine

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Chicago Top Prosecutor Accused of Clearing 68 Killer Cops Fights to Keep Her Job

Vice, Broadly. 2016

On March 21, 2012, Rekia Boyd was standing with a crowd of friends in an alley on the West Side of Chicago when someone in her group got into a shouting match with a person in a nearby car. The person in the car was Dante Servin, an off-duty cop making a burger run. Servin, who is white, claims that at the time, he felt threatened by the group—which is why, he says, he pulled out his unregistered Glock and shot five rounds from over his shoulder in their direction.

One of Servin’s bullets hit 22-year-old Boyd in the back of the head. She died two days later.

Boyd’s family was eventually given a $4.5-million wrongful death settlement from the city of Chicago. Two years later, the Cook County state’s attorney charged Servin with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct. Given Chicago’s storied history of police misconduct, citizens paid keen attention to this case. Many hoped Servin would lose his job and serve time in jail. But only one of those things happened.

Servin’s charge came from the office of Anita Alvarez, a Mexican–American Democrat who was both the first woman and first Latina to ever win the state’s attorney seat in Cook County. Unfortunately, Servin—who pled not guilty—was never even called to testify before he was acquitted. According to the judge, manslaughter was the wrong charge; Servin should’ve been charged with murder. Because Alvarez made the wrong call, Servin walked.

Now Alvarez, who became the state’s attorney in 2008 when she won 26 percent of the vote, is fighting to retain her position. Unfortunately for her (and Chicago citizens), botching Boyd’s case was only one in a slew of fuck-ups—and things don’t look promising for the incumbent in this election.

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Sir the Baptist Turns the Tables on Church Music

EBONY magazine, 2016

“I’m not doing the Gospel Fest in Chicago. I’m not allowed to. My calling is sending me to Lollapalooza.”

The unmistakable sound of the Black church double clap is the part that will draw you in to the music of emerging artist, Sir the Baptist. You know, that quick slap plus foot tap rhythm so intrinsically connected to our houses of worship that it seems no one but us can do it or even knows what it’s all about.

Sir, the son of a Pentecostal preacher, uses this beat to great effect in his song “Raise Hell.” But you might be remiss if you put him into the category of a traditional gospel artist. Traditional he ain’t. He’s pushing far too many spiritual buttons for that.

“I think I’m the [new] Nat Turner,” says the 28-year-old Chicago-born vocalist, whose album releases later this year. “People remember the MLK dream speech but won’t talk about the ‘I’ve seen the mountain top’ speech. I’m a minister with a gun in my hand and a knife in my mind saying ‘we’re coming back to take back our community.’ Pardon me if I don’t sound as politically religious as the other people.

He goes on.

“If I had to put a category there, it would be two parts: ghetto gospel. I’m the side that people normally don’t speak about. You got Jesus that turned the tables over in the church. At this point, he’s raising hell. That’s why the [album] artwork is a Jesus mugshot. It’s just a different vibe.”

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Jamila Woods: The Soul of a Protester

Pitchfork, 2016

Jamila Woods settles into a wooden bench at La Catrina, a quiet, cavernous coffee shop on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Above her is an intricate, black-and-white painting of a skull, Day of the Dead-style. A chai tea sits before her, steaming. She adjusts her crushed blue velvet tank dress and leans forward, sniffing her cup.

The Mexican-owned shop is nestled in the slowly gentrifying neighborhood of Pilsen. A lot of artists live around here, including Woods. It’s a good area for a 26-year-old singer leading a double life: When she’s not sparking awe, happiness, and somber reflection from listeners as a raspy-voiced soul seer, she’s working with hundreds of kids as the associate artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, a non-profit that aims to encourage and educate the city’s burgeoning talent. 

Though she has played with bands before—and first came to national prominence singing the hook on Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy”—her recent album HEAVN marks her proper solo debut. This new aloneness made the process behind the largely autobiographical record both difficult and beautiful. “I had the music to myself for so long before I showed it to anyone,” says Woods, haltingly. “There’s a small sadness when something is just yours and then it becomes everyone’s.”

Yet the album is everyone’s. It’s relatable because she references little-girl hand games and big-girl wishes for love, while allusions to the continued fight for equality and human rights give it gravity. Woods’ depiction of life growing up black on the far South Side of Chicago manages to be both specific and welcoming. The imagery runs deep: the lake, the front stoop, winters too cold to hang out with your friends, Huffy bikes, mild sauce.

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