Imagine performing as a solo hip-hop artist, relying on nothing but vocals and backing tracks, when suddenly the show promoter announces the backing tracks have failed. At this point, there’s two options: walk on the show or recruit musicians from the night’s bill to back the performance.
Nearly six years ago when this situation happened to emcee Dhan Dee, he choose the latter; opting to share the stage with guitarist Chad Wynes and drummer Kyle Voivodas. Artistically, Dee had nothing in common with Wynes’ and Voivodas’ band. Dhan Dee was a poet, rapper and lyrist. Waynes and Voivodas were folk rock instrumentalist. Having never met or rehearsed, the three musicians took advantage of the serendipitous moment, having no idea it would lead to the creation of one of Chicago’s leading genre-mashing projects; Chicago Loud 9.
“These two saved my ass,” says Dee. “We had instant chemistry jamming [and] ended up going for like 45 minutes. The promoter ended up putting it on television and it was funny because I was a little hip-hop artist at the time and one of my boys called me and was like, ‘Yo, somebody that looks like you is on TV, but I know it’s not you because he’s with a bunch of white people!’ I was like, ‘na man, that’s me!’”
Today, Chicago Loud 9 blends more than just hip-hop and rock. They’ve brought in touches of soul, pop and jazz with vocalist Aya Smith, trumpet and keys player Ivan Pyzow, saxophonist Tayiib Dauda and bassist Jordan Maier. With their latest album, Reason, set with a release show on Friday, June 16th at 1st Ward at Chop Shop, the band has taken their music one step further, focusing on melodic details instead of just cool beats and rhythms.
“The last record was more about the feel good jam,” says Pyzow. “This record is definitely more dynamic within each song. There might be three or four different vibes or different feelings, and we worked a lot on making sure the transitions between the sections were really good. It’s definitely more of a musical journey than the last record. There’s a lot more melodic interplay, [and] it’s a lot more melody driven than groove driven.”
This growth is notable in the first two released singles. The first song, “Fresher”, exhibits the band’s maturity starting with strong melodic trumpet lines before Smith pulls out a catchy vocal tune. With their second single, the album’s title track, unconventional instrumentals are given spotlight, such as the collection of bass bits played by Maier. Both songs are progressive for Chicago Loud 9’s library without losing their groove and the genre-bending palette that brought them fans.
“[This album] represents our new identity, new sound and the growth we’ve experienced over the last six years,[but] it also represents the unity between us as a band,” says Wynes.
The determination among Chicago Loud 9 members is evident in their success. From the moment they played their first official set at the House of Blues, the band has continued to knock out achievements. Not only have they performed at most every major venue in Chicago, they’ve also performed as the house band on Chicago’s Windy City Live, have had international radio play, provided entertainment at biker rallies, and most recently they’ve headlined SOHO Music Festival in Springfield, Illinois.
“There’s been a lot of boxes ticked,” says Voivodas. “We’ve been doing [music] because [we] love it and all of a sudden things just happened. The reasons we started doing this, and the reasons why some of us moved to Chicago in the first place, have become a reality.”
Even with infectious songs, Chicago Loud 9 doesn’t rely solely on their music to turn their dreams into realities. When attending a show, one excepts to see vocalists take center stage as they are often idolized as the band leader, but as the members of Chicago Loud 9 set up for rehearsal in their fourth floor space at Music Garage, they fall into a semicircle, equally sharing the spotlight with each other.
As soon as the music starts, energy explodes throughout the room. Dee jumps about from corner to corner. Smith dances behind her microphone. Pyzow bounces around while switching between his trumpet and keyboard. Dauda gets downs with his saxophone during his featured musical lines. The interactions between each other are genuine. They are not on stage acting. They’re simply having fun; together and in their own elements. They know this is what their fans come to see and they make sure to deliver every time.
“We’ll stage dive and do all that good stuff when the time calls for it,” says Dee.
Voivodas joins in with a laugh, “No matter what, the look of a fully dreadlocked man head banging will never die.”