Interview by Charne Graham (@88nae88)
Fake Shore Drive is the world’s number one source for what’s good in the Chicago music scene. Since October 2007, FSD has been the only site solely dedicated to Chicago’s talent. The site is now the most prevalent blog for anyone in Chicago who wants to make a name in the music world. The man behind Fake Shore Drive is Andrew Barber. The Indiana native woke up one day with a hangover and the idea to start covering the entire Chicago rap scene underground and mainstream. Barber wants you to know Chicago’s talent and FSD has given a voice to many people in the city. JENESIS spoke with Andrew to hear his thoughts on the city’s hip-hop scene, Chief Keef, Chance the Rapper and more.
JENESIS: Other than being an avid fan of hip-hop for years, what was the strongest inspiration to start FSD?
Andrew: Hip-hop is definitely number one, but number two is just the lack of coverage and notoriety that acts in Chicago were getting. There was all this talent and a great scene in the city that no one really bothered giving any kind of shine to. Unless you were Twista, Common or Kanye at the time, no one outside of Chicago would know who you are and the outside media wasn’t interested in hearing you. At the time in 2007 blogs started popping up and people were reading to keep up with what was hot. So we had people like The Cool Kids, Bump J, Hollywood Holt and Mano who made a lot of noise in the city that needed coverage and they didn’t have any kind of outlet. So I started Fake Shore Drive.
JENESIS: Did you ever have any idea that the blog would be as major as it is now when you started?
Andrew: No, I didn’t think it would be as big as it is now. I knew that I could do it and make a difference into the music industry, but I had no idea that it would be what it is now. It’s been a long road and you know I’ve been doing it for a lot of years now, it’ll be six in October. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it. I’m just thankful every day that it worked out.
JENESIS: What was your major in college?
Andrew: I majored in something called “SPEA,” which stood for the School of Public Environmental Affairs. I got in that major because my guidance counselor before college told me I could be a politician. I was never into politics or anything, but that’s what I was told. It obviously has nothing to do with what I’m doing now, however I did minor in music, so I took classes on the history of rock and roll and things like that.
JENESIS: When you started the blog you had a 9-5 in ad sales with FX. How did you manage the blog and a full-time job?
Andrew: Man, it was tough, it was just a lot of work. I had to be dedicated. Lots of people just start blogs, and this happens a lot, I’ve seen countless people start a site and think it can blow up overnight. They think it’s something that they can do for a couple weeks and a couple months and people will start paying attention. They have the mentality of being internet superstars.
It never succeeds, because you have to pay your bills. A lot of people get frustrated quick, but I just stuck with it. I never did it to make money; I did it because I loved hip-hop. My job was very demanding. I had to suit up and go in everyday early in the morning. I ran the site from my desk job whenever I found time and it was not easy. The job held me back from a lot of things. I don’t regret anything, but I do wish I had quit sooner to focus on the blog full-time. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, just told me to do it. She supported me 100% through it all and motivated me to do the blog full-time. I never looked back.
JENESIS: When you started, we didn’t have social media like Twitter to get the word out about a specific site. Was it difficult to make people aware of the blog back then?
Andrew: Social media today makes everything easier. You can just mention someone [on Twitter] and post links on Facebook. I didn’t have any of that back then. MySpace was around, but you really couldn’t post links as easily as you could today on MySpace back then. Shit was very archaic and dinosaur-esque. My strategy at the time was to get like 1,000 business cards. I had my name, the logo, my phone number and even my home address (some shit I would never do now,) but at the time I didn’t know anybody, I was desperate. I would go to shows and every event that I could and pass out my business cards.
People would look at me all types of crazy. They would say “You want me to give you my music for free?” or “What the hell is a blog?” I would stalk and message artist on MySpace and that was all I had. Eventually people responded. Bump J’s camp was one of the first to really support. They saw an article I wrote on Bump and emailed me. They said, “We like what you’re doing, you’re putting on for the city and we’re going to send you exclusive music.” From there I just started meeting people. After that my strategy was to get the exclusive Chicago content that you couldn’t get anywhere else but FSD.
JENESIS: The Drill Scene brought a huge amount of attention back to the city. But why do you feel it’s important that the rest of the nation knows that Chicago has different styles of Rap?
Andrew: That’s funny, because you know I’ve been covering this scene since 2007, back when these kids in the drill scene were like nine-years-old and shit. They couldn’t even rap then, so that wasn’t even what was going on, but it just so happened that the drill movement pushed Chicago into the spotlight even more. The drill scene happened five years after me starting the site and no artists were getting deals here like they are now. We were writing about it and sure there is a lot of dope artists from here, but none were getting signed like they did last year. It was kind of the perfect storm.
JENESIS: What made it the perfect storm?
The catalyst just so happened to be Chief Keef. He couldn’t be a more polarizing figure, because when he burst on the scene, that was the most controversy you’ve ever seen from a young kid rapping. He brought the most traffic than any artist in history of FSD, other than Kanye. Keef brought the attention back to the city. He a 16-year-old kid who came out of nowhere; he has a hit song, he’s a gang member from Englewood, he’s on house arrest living with his grandma, he has a kid and he was the media’s dream. They thrived on Keef’s story.
The media looked deeper into it and found all these other kids on the scene with similar styles of Keef and they jumped on it. Last year was tough and people were upset. As great as it was for the city in rap, all people cared about was Keef’s image. Anytime something bad happened as far as violence linked to the music everyone would call me for a quote. I would tell them “Listen, there is so much more going on here in Chicago.” I tried to get them to check out all the other talent, but they didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was GBE to the media. The outside media didn’t give a shit if it wasn’t Keef, Reese or Durk.
JENESIS: At the time, did you attempt to get outside media to check out any other artists who are hot now?
Andrew: Definitely I tried to tell people to check out Chance the Rapper last year and they ignored me. Now Chance the Rapper is arguably more popular than any of them. I would tell everyone about Chance and no one cared. Then all of the sudden Chance came out of nowhere this year and sucker punched everybody. Then they’re all like “Holy shit, who is Chance the Rapper” and I’m thinking, “I told you this guy was going to be a star last year,” now everybody is all about Chance. Everybody was mad about Keef being the face of Chicago rap at first, but they should be happy that he kicked the door down. Love or hate Keef all you want, but the kid did bring nation-wide attention to the city. Now I’m glad we have more diverse coverage of the scene.
JENESIS: I completely agree because no one cared about “10 Day” as much as they do “Acid Rap” and I think it’s imperative for people to know that they all come from the same place, but have styles of telling their stories.
Andrew: Right, it’s like giving people food with their medicine so they can’t taste the medicine. Eventually they’ll get it even if you have to deliver it in a different way. We’re not just a one-dimensional city. Drill is a very small portion of the music we have to offer.
JENESIS: When I was in high school around 2005-2006, I felt like Bump J was our version of Chief Keef. Do you think he would have had the same effect as Keef did if the internet was what it is today?
Andrew: That’s actually one of the best questions that anyone has ever asked me, because people now pretend like the whole Bump J and Goon Squad movement didn’t happen. Bump is very rarely given the credit that he deserves. He really was a big deal back then, but he came out in this weird period of no real blogs. Bump was caught in between the old style of internet and the new style. Bump was pre-YouTube. He was really for the streets before people were shooting their own music videos and using Twitter. He was around when digital presence wasn’t that important to an artist. I think if he would came out a little earlier than 2005 or a little later, things would’ve been different for him, but he was very influential to the Chicago music scene, he just didn’t have the internet.
The thing about Keef and the kids out now is that they were able to use the Internet to their advantage. They didn’t need blogs and labels to make themselves known, they literally filmed their own music videos and uploaded them to YouTube. They didn’t need studios like Bump did; Keef would just record in his living room. That’s why Bump is just a legend in Chicago there was no Internet for him then the way it is now.
Thank God there was no social media around when the goon squad was popping, because I think Bump would be feared and loathed just the same as Keef can be at times. The other thing is that Bump was really a skilled lyricist, so his image was a bit forgiven, because people look over violent content as long as the raps are good. I don’t think Keef is a bad rapper at all; he has his own unique style, but traditional rap fans have a problem with his music. Bump J’s content was taken a bit more lightly because he had more of an east coast style than the southern style of Keef.
JENESIS: How do you feel about the unity in Chicago rap now?
Andrew: The unity is definitely strong now. Not saying FSD changed that, but it’s a lot easier for people to get in touch with each other via the web. Before it was like if you’re from a certain part of town or a certain gang you weren’t messing with any other artists not affiliated with where you’re from. The internet has made it a lot easier and made a lot of artists more comfortable with each other.
JENESIS: What has been your most memorable moment with FSD so far?
Andrew: I have so many, but I can tell you one of my favorites. Twista gave me a birthday cake with my name on it and Fake Shore Drive. I thought that was one of the coolest things to have an artist, who is an OG and I looked up to for years, to go out of his way to get me a birthday cake. To have one of your idols give you a birthday cake was a pretty dope feeling. There a lot more great memories and I’m really just thankful for them all to be honest with you.
JENESIS: Give me three signs you’re dealing with a struggle rapper.
Andrew: [Laughs] 1. They spam people with their music all day. 2. They feel entitled to a post or a write up without having done anything besides being from Chicago. 3. They put no thought, interest or creativity into their music, artwork or recording. They have recordings that sound like it was recorded in a broom closet on a Dell from 1997. If you’re going to do it, please be good and creative. Just being an artist from Chicago won’t meet the criteria to get a post. You have to be good for us to care. I tell rappers all the time it should not be you chasing me, but I should be chasing you.
JENESIS: If you had any advice to the young bloggers of the world what would it be?
Andrew: I would say to keep this quote in mind, “Opportunity is there for the people who are most prepared.” You never know when your time to shine will come, so just be prepared. Be knowledgeable and do it every day if you love it. I studied hip-hop since I was a kid and having knowledge of what you love will make you great.