When Alexander Fruchter stepped down as RubyHornet‘s Editor-In-Chief four years ago in order to focus on running Closed Sessions –the independent label he co-founded with Michael Kolar–the separation seemed riskier for Fruchter than the blog. After all, the music industry was struggling to sell records while bloggers held roles as influencers and were considered to be the ultimate tastemakers.
Back then RubyHornet had become a trusted source for fresh new talent. With a unique editorial voice, a special focus on Chicago talent and original content such as its First Look, Essentials Lists and Freestyle in the Park features, artists saw a post on the site as an important stepping-stone in their careers. Simultaneously, a lot of videographers, photographers, and writers (including myself) were given a sizeable platform to showcase and work on their talents for the first time.
Alongside FakeShoreDrive, RubyHornet covered and promoted Chicago’s artistic community in a way bigger publications would have never been able to. In fact, its archives are filled with seminal moments in Chicago Hip Hop history that trickled over to the scene’s current renaissance era.
Nonetheless, once Fruchter stepped down, RubyHornet failed to adapt to new trends (rising streaming platforms and the immediacy of social media) and was not able to retain its audience in the long-term. On the other hand, Closed Sessions managed to grow its critically acclaimed catalog and now fosters an eclectic roster of artists, including their newest signee, Chicago emcee Femdot.
The risk had paid off for Fruchter, but RubyHornet was inhabiting blog purgatory with no real audience and its historical content slowly disappearing. Its demise felt imminent and alongside it all the stories that had been told about Chicago Hip-Hop.
In a surprising turn of events, RTC was able to purchase the site and with a simple post, he announced his return to the exaltation of everyone in the community. I recently sat down with Fruchter in his Columbia office to talk about RubyHornet, Closed Sessions and his plans for both ventures moving forward. Check out the Q&A below.
Why was it so important for you to purchase Ruby Hornet?
There’s a couple [of reasons]. First, just preserving the content. I would get the Facebook Memory notifications, I would click to read the article and the links weren’t working. There was a real fear of “wow, this is not up anymore and that was my work.” It’s how I spent my twenties and it just disappeared. That was the number one thing, preserving the history. Also, when the larger story of Chicago Hip-Hop gets written, I don’t want to be left out of that. What RubyHornet meant to Chicago and Chicago Hip-Hop is important.
It’s definitely important. You can trace back a lot of history from early Chicago to where acts are today and I think artists themselves realized this as well. When you made the announcement, I saw a lot of positive feedback. How was that like? Did you expect it?
No! I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if anyone would care at all because it had been awhile since the site was really updated powerfully. I had done this for a week or two and didn’t really know how to tell anybody or what we were going to do. We thought about various ideas and I just felt like that day was the day. I just needed to get this out. The feedback was awesome, it was amazing to see that people still cared. It wasn’t like “now we’re back! Watch out for new content every 20 minutes.” That’s what we were doing before, but now it’s getting it back and figuring out what to do.
The landscape of blogs has changed a lot since the last time Ruby Hornet was prevalent. How and with what type of team are you trying to figure out what’s next?
How to consistently make great content and I don’t know yet. It’s hard. I don’t have a lot of time. I have to focus on that with everything else going on, moreso at the heart doing what we did previously which was really championing the music and artists that made a connection to us. That’s what I think people liked about Ruby Hornet. Writing about artists, big and small. Wherever they’re from. Whatever they look like. We just had to have some type of connection. Write-ups should be informed, they should come from a personal space.
I think we can do a lot of video content. A lot of what Ruby Hornet was doing nine or eight years ago, when we first started doing Digital Freshness, the in-studio documentaries that became Closed Sessions or the videos for Freestyle in the park, are done now and very common. We were in the pioneering era of that stuff. If we just keep doing what we were doing in the past, I feel the audience and how the internet works it has caught up.
In other exciting news, you also announced that Femdot had joined Closed Sessions. From an outsider’s perspective it makes perfect sense, but up-close how was the process of behind making sense of the fit and getting him signed?
He records a lot at Soundscape. We’ve known about Femdot and he just kept coming around. He has a management team and one of his managers, Carlton, would hit me up just to talk about stuff. He would actually meet me at Columbia to talk about the music business and how he could become a better manager.
I was seeing that his team was trying to get better, everybody liked him –Boathouse is a fan, Kweku is a fan–, and he was just someone we kept seeing. One day I listened to all his music throughout my day. Some of it was when I was prepping for class. I went home and I was cooking by myself and put on another one of his projects. At the same time, we were just thinking how at Closed Sessions we are trying to grow and expand. Femdot was an organic artist that we could work with and that we could actually add value and help out. It was a great pairing. Most people that have feedback in Chicago have said this makes perfect sense.
Femdot is really the person to talk about his project. I don’t want to step on any toes or what he’s trying to convey. The album is for sure in the works. I don’t know how far done the album is, but it’s in motion.
Is that song going to be on there? Again, I don’t really know. If I had to guess, I would say it won’t be on there. It was more of a song made for this moment in time. He just wanted to show where he was in that present moment. We let the artists make their album, they play it for us and we talk about it.
Everything surrounding the label feels very organic and I like that. I think that’s one of the reasons you guys had such a huge year. What moments stand out the most to you from the past year?
That’s a good question. I’d have to close my eyes and think a little bit…
Yeah, I kind of put you on the spot haha.
One of the bigger moments was having the Closed Sessions show at The Metro. We took over the venue, brought our own merch, had a packed crowd, showcased everybody. Doing that with Joe Carsello and Joe Shanahan. Seeing all the things Jamila has been able to do…I was in Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and I didn’t even know what was going on. I just saw that she was right there next to beck. That’s incredible. Celebrating Kweku’s 21st birthday, lowkey at our balcony drinking beer and making hotdogs. Every day just brings something new and they all kind of blur together.
You guys are on a roll right now.
We are working hard, that’s for you to decide. Another great piece was being at Lollapalooza with Kweku. He was literally the first act to open the gates and he had a packed lawn. There were a couple hundreds of people there. There’s been a lot of cool things.
I see that you’re very day-to-day with work, but in the grand scheme of things what do you plan to close out the year and kick off 2018?
From now to the end of the year we have that East Coast run with Kweku. The other piece is solidifying our roster, if we are going to make any other changes to the roster, that would be between now and January and then setting up the release schedules. Every artist is working on new stuff, so planning for 2018 and spacing out the releases is where we are at for the next couple of months.