It’s the beginning of the last days of warmth in Chicago. A precarious time every year where locals are bitterly reminded of the five month hibernation period that is to come. As the temperature began to dip and the trees slowly shed themselves of their leaves, I found myself in a dingy attic of a house on the north side of Chicago with one of the city’s most promising rap groups, Hurt Everybody. As we hang in the drafty, under-lit space waiting for the videographer to set up, each of the three members is in a different place: Devon, the producer of the group better known as Mulatto Beats, poking away on a phone that illuminates his face in the shadows; Freddy, known to fans as Supa Bwe, smoking a cigarette on the roof just outside the window; Qari, who also goes by Carl, with a mic in his hand, sits solemnly in a chair petting a kitten. The moment is a small snapshot of the group as a whole, together and aloof of one another simultaneously. It’s this careful interplay and the individual’s ability to see past one another while channeling their own ideas that has allowed Hurt to become one of the most exciting acts making music in Chicago today.
Since the summer of 2014, hip-hop “DIY Band” Hurt Everybody has helped lead the charge by the sort of ‘second wave’ of Chicago hip-hop acts to emerge on the national scene in the wake of Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Towkio and the like, who have since ascended to larger stages. Together with acts like Mick Jenkins, Saba, and Logan, they also represent an increasingly DIY approach to the music, staying independent and, in Hurt’s case, taking their future squarely into their own hands rather than placing it in someone else’s.
Only officially a group for a little over a year at this point, Hurt Everybody’s exponential rise has been both surprising and an indication of the scene at large which rewards a little elbow grease. Their debut project, Hurt Everybody EP, released on Fourth of July last year, put the trio on the map decidedly. A year later, Supa Bwe, Qari, and Mulatto Beats are in charge of their own destinies. Their music is at once uplifting, intense, and deep; all delivered with a distinct chip on their collective shoulder. The owners of their own studio, purveyors of some of the most exciting shows in town, and two months removed from a successful sophomore release, Hurt Everybody may just be ready to take the city over from their own little corner.
Sitting in the attic on one of the first cold nights of the year, the three mill about from the roof overlooking the city’s skyline in the distance to the chairs scattered throughout the haphazard room. Watching the three interact now, it’s hard to think that around the beginning of 2015 all of it was far from a certainty. The beauty of the group, what gives their brand of hip-hop a distinct ability to connect with listeners, is the careful interplay of its cast of characters, a yin and yang if one ever existed. It’s that careful balance that keeps them in perpetual motion. Without it, they don’t run.
“Rapscallion!” Supa yells across the room at Qari, prodding him to roll a blunt. “You’ve been holding out on us all day,” he continues, settling into a steep-backed armchair. Spend ten minutes with Supa Bwe and it is immediately evident he’s an entertainer through and through. Talking to him, it’s easy to feel as though he’s been waiting for everyone else to realize his genius for awhile now and seems fueled somewhat by that fact. Carl is as complex as his name is simple and as calculated as Supa can be instinctual. At 19 and with a daughter nearing her second birthday, the high school dropout is already a seasoned veteran of hip-hop, this being his third group since beginning his foray into music. Thoughtful and careful in his words, Qari possesses a kind of tenderness that doesn’t immediately call to mind a rapper. As we talk, the kitten stops meowing and purrs gently in his hands as he looks on solemnly in thought. It’s obvious in that moment why people refer to him as Father Carl. Mulatto, meanwhile, is a stoic third, often seen standing behind a Macbook with his high head of hair. Despite his loud hair, he is rarely heard from. The Rogers Park native is the steadying hand for the trio, providing both production and serving as the group’s show DJ. One of several brothers, it’s immediately obvious from talking to him that he understands his place within the dynamic and welcomes the opportunity with open arms.
“I can genuinely say me, along with my brothers, built this from the ground up and it’s dope that it’s getting recognition because it’s something that we really started from the base. When we get recognition for our music, it’s a good feeling because we’re still building and other people are going to see what we’re going to do,” said Devon. “I really believe in Qari and Freddy. I listen to all the rappers on the radio every day and I know that’s who they’re competing with.”
This careful understanding of roles and places is what keeps the group together and it’s what has allowed it to circumvent those uncertain times. As a father, Carl’s responsibilities differ greatly from the rest of the group; thankfully, the others work to help him with those and work around whatever is necessary. It’s also created a real brotherhood amongst the three who spend most days and nights locked away in their studio within the city’s West Loop Music Garage. There, amongst blunt guts, empty cigarette packs, and a PS4 (that Supa traded for a guest verse) connected to a flat screen television, the three pump out their music which reaches fans with a sort of frequency that is somewhat unprecedented. At time, it has made folks wonder if there’s strategy behind the single-mill.
“Being outside is fruitless,” said Supa. “We have managers to talk to people and do all of that stuff. We need to be in the studio working and getting better. Because even when we’re working, I’m becoming a better engineer, better at mixing, writing, rapping, everything. The more time I spend in the studio and they don’t, that means I’m getting better and they’re stagnant and plateauing.”
Together, the group exists outside the en vogue movements of their city at-large. They’re not drill, not SaveMoney, not PIVOT, Mubu, or OTF. They are Hurt Everybody.
The group grew organically out of the ground-floor collective Legion of Dudez, a loose conglomerate that counts ShowYouSuck, Holt, and photographer Bryan Lamb amongst its ranks. A band of misfits that didn’t quite seem to fit squarely into any one subset of the city, it became a sort of community unto itself. Over time, Hurt grew into the embodiment of what the collective stood for, a way of going about your craft with a decidedly benign chip on their shoulder.
The Hurt Everybody EP was a collection of songs released in a fashion Supa describes as ‘rubber-banding’ where the group would release and remove tracks from SoundCloud at random. The EP established the group as a multi-faceted, genre-bending group with a heavy upside. Without a real conceptual aspect to tie the whole thing together, the project relied heavily on the group’s ability to accurately touch on the sort of introspective feelings that have allowed them to truly connect with the variety of listeners that have gravitated their way. Because of the ‘rubber-banding’ strategy, it also served as a sort of ‘greatest hits’ before most of the world even knew who they were, and the reaction was palpable from the get-go. The album was crafted by carefully identifying the singles that had performed the best when released in the months prior, acting as a sort of analytics-based way to piece together a debut.
“We’re only a year old,” Qari says. “Supa talked about not being satisfied with how 2K47 came out and we feel differently about that but I was surprised at how the first one came out.” He takes a puff of the blunt, now rolled. “We just made some music and people rock with it. It’s been a year. We have time. We’re a fresh-ass group, we just started, I just met Supa like two years ago and we’re still learning how to work together and we’re getting a good response so we’re going to keep it going.”
To be sure, Hurt might be at the apex of the cross-section of the current ’Twenty-Year Loop’: the idea that art, music and fashion has a tendency to regurgitate every couple of decades. Calling themselves a “DIY band from Chicago’, rocking flannel and Vans and overseeing shows that resemble a mid-90s rock show, they have ’94 down pat and a co-sign from Twista doesn’t hurt their case. As for the other end of the loop? Well, let’s say they’ve sort of figured out this Internet game. In fact,Hurt Everybody is putting the Internet to work in ways that could dictate how future acts interact with the other side of the virtual matrix. Currently, the group’s management is piecing together a tour based on analytics culled from a SoundCloud Pro account. City by city, they are looking into where their fans are nationwide and, as has become custom, reaching out themselves to spread their brand of do-it-yourself. It’s in this sense that one can truly begin to appreciate the interplay of Hurt’s ability to pull from the past while looking steadfastly forward and it’s an ability that could prove to continue to push them into the national spotlight.
Together, the sum of Hurt’s parts are stronger than its whole, for now. On October 4, Supa Bwe released his debut full-length solo project, The Dead Occasion (despite having a series of past EPs). For the time being, it is obvious that he is the center of the stage, evidenced by the group’s decision to release 2K47 on his SoundCloud profile which boasts over 17,000 followers. While Supa might be the spectacle of the three, Qari is the steadying voice, the consistent undertone that keeps folks coming back. While he doesn’t have a solo project out yet (other than his short Beta EP), the whispers around the debut are thick and we would expect to see something of the singular variety some time before the next president is chosen. Together, though, the result of these two opposite charges interacting with one another is a resonating sound that has garnered a dedicated fanbase and label-free freedom. With Mulatto and his beats acting as a steadying force between the three, they appear just unruly enough, just raw enough, to appeal to a large sub-section of the globe that is nostalgic for mid-90s grunge with a hip-hop twist.
As we wrap up and start to help pack up the wires, lights, and cords necessary for the shoot, the conversation turns to more light-hearted topics. Qari, who quietly rolled a blunt while sitting off-camera, now blows puffs of smoke into the rafters of the attic while Supa continually badgers him for a toke. The two of them laugh as Qari eventually gives it up, offering the brown stick with a toothless smile that stretches across his face. Devon comments on Qari’s shirt which is green and features three galloping horses prominently across the front. Qari quickly snaps back. The interview is over for the day, the mood once again turns light and the trio pile into their manager’s car to head back to their studio. It’s nearing midnight on a Sunday, but new ideas have been brought up, and who knows what kind of track it might evolve into.
“We’re perceptive,” says Qari. “We learn. It’s normal shit. We’re different minds coming together and trying to get shit working. We’re going to run into some walls, we’re going to have petty disagreements, but as men trying to run a business, we have a common goal and music extends the little things we think about on a daily basis. We can help each other move and that’s the most important thing. It’s difficult dealing with people you don’t agree with, that’s a problem with all humans, but we know how to communicate with each other beyond our disagreements.”