From humble and somewhat contentious beginnings, Graeme Flegenheimer’s El Club has established itself as a live music powerhouse since it began in 2016, thanks in large part to the booking talents of Virginia Benson and Party Store Productions.
The club is known for its eclectic calendar, and this month’s offerings have been no different. October has so far seen the likes of Skylar Spence, Sean Nicholas Savage, and Tokimonsta, and we had the pleasure of covering their 10/17 show with Aminé and Towkio, which was promptly followed by a 10/19 stop by none other than Ghostface Killah.
I was somewhat surprised to see Towkio joining the “Tour For You” tour, I don’t immediately associate the two artists’ music together, but in a brief chat after the show Towkio assured me, “we’ve been knowing each other for a while now.” This is perhaps another testament to the nature of the industry, where unpublicized friendships and connections behind the scenes can manifest themselves in surprising ways, producing exciting and unexpected results for fans (for example, who but a few knew about “Super Slimey” before this week?).
The Chicago rapper is no stranger to the spotlight; known for his associations with Chance The Rapper, including Coloring Book standout “Juke Jam” which boasts a Justin Bieber feature, he’s also forged a path of his own which has brought him close with the likes of Rick Rubin and Kanye. When asked about this opportunity, he simply replied, “It feels like I’m in a new league.”
With a nod to Yeezy in the form of a “Jesus Walks” intro that then meshed into a powerful rendition of “God in Me,” which features Chicago standout Joey Purp, Towkio connected with the crowd through an assertion that, “every day you wake up, you get an opportunity to alter your reality.”
From that point onward he commanded the stage, dropping his acclaimed new release “Swim” along with “Towkio Drift” and others. His final song, the hedonistic trap-anthem “Gang with Me” featuring none other than Vic Mensa, was a statement of a finale. It feels wrong to call it an opener, because I knew several people in the crowd that had come for Towkio as much as they’d come for headliner.
Then comes Aminé, the yellow-centric XXL Freshman whose pop-infused style separates him from most others on that list. His viral hit “Caroline” went triple-platinum, earning him the praise of celebrities from Beyonce to Malia Obama.
Aminé’s style is unique, but bears similarities to some of his Hip-Hop contemporaries; I’m thinking Lil Yachty, who has a very different vocal style, but also has beats that tread in the pop waters as much as they sound like a rap song. Aminé’s bright and vibrant color palette, his aesthetic choices in videos and merch, and his sonic offerings come together to produce an upbeat and light-hearted vibe, even as he addresses subjects like the tragic nature of gentrification in songs like “Turf.” Though this is a just one song on his latest release, Good For You, it shows that there’s more to this rising star than bananas and lovelorn pretty-boy charm.
The crowd was notably young, many seemingly from high-school, which is not uncommon for rappers of this generation. That being said, his mash-up of “No Scrubs” and “Gold Digger” (perhaps a nod to his Chicagoan tourmate), along with his later rendition of “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, made evident his attempts to reach a wide-array of fans. In the current rap landscape, niches are the name of the game, but breaking conventions at the right time is essential to authenticity.
Throughout the night, Aminé’s call and response was “You’re Beautiful,” with the crowd responding “I know.” Not your typical hip-hop mantra, but it seems to suit him well. With colorful synth patterns & playful aesthetics juxtaposed with potent delivery and a few feats of bravado such as “redmercedes,” he’s a hard act to characterize.
I’ll admit, I hadn’t listened to Aminé much before I knew I was covering this show, other than the obligatory first listen of any new project getting critical acclaim. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the album and by his performance; the live band coupled with his infectious, energetic delivery made for a Tuesday night that was perhaps a little too hype for a work-a-day veggie like myself. But despite my overindulgence, my memory of the night is relatively clear, and I’m glad to have seen the two shut down one of the most poppin’ music spots in the city.