Gearing up for his first set at home in Chicago since Lollapalooza, I spoke with rapper Femdot about his summer appearance on stage in Grant Park, performing with a full backing band, endowing a partial college scholarship and what's in store for Friday night's show at Lincoln Hall with opening acts L.A. VanGogh and Shawnee Dez...
2018 was a year of growth for Chicago rapper Femdot personally and professionally. In a span which saw him appear for the first time at Lollapalooza, the Evanston native, who performed last year at Schubas, makes the jump to a bigger stage Friday night at Lincoln Hall, a show which will also see him award the first recipient of the "Delacreme scholar" scholarship.
A recent graduate from DePaul University, majoring in health science with a biological science concentration and a minor in peace conflict and social justice, Femi Adigun is the son of Nigerian immigrants. They're experiences that inform the batch of songs which make up his debut full-length effort Delacreme 2.
Tackling subjects like school shooters, student loans, racial bias and more, his songs artfully tell stories that are informed by his own experience. The "Delacreme scholar" scholarship is an extension of that relatability.
As a recent grad, Femdot is intimately familiar with the scholarship process - how it works and when it doesn't. Most aren't available in the middle of the year, kicking in instead at the beginning or end of the school year despite the fact that many students in need run out of funding mid-year during a critical time. Specifically scheduled so as not to interfere with finals, the application process for the "Delacreme scholar" was announced a week before Thanksgiving with a deadline of midnight on December 2nd and will be awarded on stage Friday at Lincoln Hall.
"DePaul has finals right up to Thanksgiving and then they’re on break. I didn’t want anyone to try to do too much while they also had finals," Femdot explained. "After finals, you had a week to submit. We sent out reminders and tried to be cognizant of the idea that these are students who have other stuff going on. That deadline makes sense and is understandable for students."
After announcing the scholarship on Twitter, Femdot worked with groups at DePaul like the Black Student Union to get the word out. The simple application process required only the submission of a one-page essay and wasn't necessarily based on grades or scholastic achievement.
"'You have a 300 page autobiography, submit page 217.' That was the topic. 217 is more than half. I didn’t really have too many instructions whether this is an autobiography of you. It allowed people freedom to speak on something. You’ve only got a page - your glimpse of you as a person, that you would want somebody to know, that would give insight into who you are," said Femdot of what he was looking for from applicants. "I’m trying to be a resource that I wanted to use a year ago. And hopefully I can continue to grow it to the point that I can help way more," he continued of the scholarship which will be endowed by a portion of the proceeds from Friday night's show.
But the rapper was clear about wanting the focus of Friday's show to be on the music. As he continues work on new music for release in 2019, Femdot is excited for a Lincoln Hall bill where each act, including handpicked openers L.A. VanGogh and Shawnee Dez, will be backed by a full band.
I spoke with Femdot about his August performance at Lollapalooza, the importance of telling relatable stories in his songs and how the Chicagoland area informs everything he does. A lightly edited transcript of our phone conversation follows below...
Q. In looking back on your year, performing for the first time at Lollapalooza would seem to be a big moment. How did everything go?
Femdot: It was cool. There was a lot going on. There was so much running around and stuff and then the aftershows... but it was fun. I think it went probably the best it could’ve went. It was super hot that day at like noon but it ended up working out really well. All my friends had a ball. It was a great time overall.
Q. You performed at Lollapalooza with a full band. What can fans expect this week at Lincoln Hall?
Femdot: We’re going to have a band at Lincoln Hall this week too so it’s going to be interesting I think. I think it’s a great way to experience a lot of these records for the first time with a larger sound. For people who weren’t able to make Lollapalooza it’ll be a nice intro and for people who were able to make it, I think it’ll be a nice refresher. I think it just brings a different element.
What it does typically is draw a lot of those musical elements in the song that you may not really catch the first time or really hear - it enhances whatever the feeling or emotion is. I think just having live instrumentation on stage just brings a whole new dimension. It brings a whole new life to a song.
Money-wise or funding-wise, you can’t always do that. But any time I can, I will try to - because it definitely brings out a whole new feel.
Q. On your album Delacreme 2, you explore so many different styles of music and different genres, a lot of it for the first time. How have these recent live performances with a band impacted your creative process?
Femdot: It just allows me to continue to trust in my judgement and experiment and try out different things - different sounds, or different things with my voice, and just be open to different production and things of that sort. Because I really like how it sounds a lot. And I think it was received well. So it kind of further validates my current ideas of what I should be doing musically. It just allows me to not hesitate to experiment with a sound or try something new.
Q. You’re awarding a DePaul student with a scholarship Friday night at Lincoln Hall. How did that come about?
Femdot: I recently graduated from DePaul. I’ve been saying I wanted to start a scholarship for maybe three or four years now. So I was trying to figure out how I wanted to do it. We were mapping everything out and I was like, “It would be cool to be able to take some proceeds that I would make from the show and be able to give some of those away.” And I wanted to start at DePaul because it’s my alma mater and also because I directly understand where that money will go to or how much a student can use at this very moment.
People don’t realize that there are no scholarships in the middle of the year. Everything is always at the beginning or the end. Typically, if people run out of funding in the middle of the year, there are so many people out there who aren’t able to come back after their first trimester, or first semester, because their financial aid runs low or they have a hole in their account of like five-hundred dollars or one-thousand dollars or something. But if they could put something down, then maybe they could pick their classes for the next semester. Or their scholarship money goes to tuition so they don’t have anything for books or anything of that sort.
Just knowing how that is… Even me being at DePaul, I didn’t have that much financial aid myself. So I had to take out loans and do all this extra stuff. So just seeing how this can effect somebody, I was like, “Well, ok. Let me try to at least keep somebody in school.” If you don’t want to be in school because you want to pursue other passions, or anything of that sort, that’s fine. But if you’re not in school because you can’t afford to be, that’s not your fault.
So I’m trying to be a resource that I wanted to use a year ago. Hopefully I can continue to grow it to the point that I can help way more. But I figured the best way to start it would be for me to kind of take the initiative and front the money myself.
Sometimes, when people help, they wait until they’re in a bigger position or have a larger status. But you can help somebody now. You can assist somebody in whatever position they’re in.
In the same capacity, I didn’t want it to take over the idea of the [Lincoln Hall] show. The forefront is the music. The main thing is the music. I just felt like what I could also do is help somebody else in the process.
Q. When we last spoke, we touched on the idea that, especially in your songwriting, it’s important for you to address your world and tell stories that your fans can relate to. The scholarship seems like an extension of that relatability. How important is that to do?
Femdot: I will say that I can’t speak for anyone else but, for me, personally, it’s kind of like a duty to not only tell these stories but then, when I’m able to help somebody who connects with these stories, you should. That’s just how I look at it personally. I think it’s a duty. If you’re going to tell these stories - if you have the capacity to help, then you should.
So that’s kind of what I think about when I do things.
Q. Whether it’s the city of Chicago or the suburbs - the Chicagoland area in general, all of it collectively - what kind of impact does your experience calling this area home have on you and your songwriting?
Femdot: I’ve seen every type of trajectory you can think of. I’ve seen every type of lifestyle that you can think of or the type of person you can think of. I think that allows me to have a very broad palette of experiences to pick through in trying to relate to other people.
Plus, there’s so much being done here. I wouldn’t have even been a person to try and do a scholarship like this had there not been people like Chance doing Social Works. Or SABA doing the John Walt Foundation. Even places like Young Chicago Authors and all of these other places who have started opening up their spaces and invest so much in the communities they’re a part of.
So I think just as much as my own personal songwriting and abilities and experiences are diverse because of where I stay, I think just watching people help and invest in their community makes me want to do the same thing.
I think a lot of that wouldn’t have came had I been somewhere else.
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Friday's Femdot concert at Lincoln Hall below)
Friday, December 21, 2018
Doors open at 7:30PM
Also performing: L.A. VanGogh, Shawnee Dez
Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
Click HERE to purchase tickets