For Alex Fruchter, no day is like the one before.
The 30-year-old Indiana University graduate and founder of the Chicago blog RubyHornet decided to forgo a more “traditional” path after college, investing his future in an art form that had followed him his whole life: Hip-hop.
“Hip-hop was going on all around us,” said the Hyde Park native. “You’d hear it outside or walking down the street. Eventually I just fell in love with it.”
In 2009, Fruchter joined forces with Mike Kolar, owner of Soundscape Studios on Chicago’s west side, to create the independent Closed Sessions record label. Along with the studio, website and label, the pair also helm the Digital Freshness concert series, which kicks off Feb. 23 at Schubas, with Roc Marciano and local talent Julian Malone on the bill.
“The idea was to blend a website and a recording studio; we thought it was really everything a blog could be,” said Fruchter, who also teaches at Columbia. “The goal was to bring in national artists, have them play a show, spend a weekend here and put on for the local talent as well.”
The showcase is a big moment for Fruchter (and Kolar and Closed Sessions), whose long, winding road to the corner of Southport and Belmont this weekend began with a choice made in 2004: A car or turntables? Fruchter chose the latter, opting to trade wheels for a vehicle that would take him on a journey a Honda Civic never could.
“DJ’ing for people, doing new stuff, it really led to everything,” said Fruchter. “I’ve been able to take the DJ RTC thing very far and it has opened doors for me that the car probably wouldn’t have.”
After college Fruchter worked with Teach For America where he taught 2nd- and 5th-graders at Henderson Elementary in Englewood. He also began working with local artists, helping record mixtapes, and reconnecting with old friends from the neighborhood, including Naledge of Kidz in the Hall. It was at this time he and a small team decided to start the hip-hop site RubyHornet.
“When I started RubyHornet I didn’t want it to be the [mainstream] press,” said Fruchter. “I wanted it to be the people in the scene who happen to be writers, more to document than report.”
Soon after, he met Kolar backstage at the Rock the Bells festival series in Chicago and the two immediately hit it off. A series of mini-documentaries dubbed “Closed Sessions” were shot at SoundScape for the website, and eventually the two agreed to work together on a label.
“We started working together, [and] the things we were doing together seemed to make sense and give each other a leg up,” said Kolar.
The first artist signed to the imprint is 19-year-old fellow Hyde Park native Alex Wiley, whose raucous lyricism and speedy flow has slowly built a buzz around the city’s underground hip-hop scene.
“We want to open doors now to young, talented artists with goals and a vision… we’re trying to become this communal-based label where if people see a Closed Sessions logo they’ll know it’s some dope hip-hop music. “We’ve always wanted to take the site offline. We couldn’t be more excited to get Digital Freshness going with two artists like Marciano and Malone. There’s plenty more to come.”