MFnMelo + squeakPIVOT Team Up for Collaborative Summertime Chi Tape, ‘En Route’
Evan Dale // June 30, 2021
It’s a continued evolution, that of Chicago’s not quite underground, yet not quite mainstream exploration of rhythm and poetry for a new age. At its center spin immaculately lyrical yet oft-lighthearted creative collectives like Pivot Gang and Zero Fatigue who although both extend beyond the edges of the city, are also undeniably epicentral curators of a new renaissance for Chicago hip-hop. Channeling the city’s daunting past with lyrical depth and sociopolitical penmanship, weaving in its history as a center for the wide-ranging Soul and R&B circuit, and blurring it all with the a more well-balanced energy that at once speaks hard truths while also ringing anthemic on the dancefloor, Chicago’s young generation of emcess are dynamic and explosively up-and-coming.
Of them, MFnMelo is one particular point of focus, and linked up with teammate squeakPIVOT for new and pointedly titled, En Route, another chapter of the emerging Chicago rap-scape is born. But first, some context: Both MFnMelo and squeakPIVOT are a part of Pivot Gang – the Chicago-centric collection of creatively transcendent hip-hop minds that have spun the careers of myriad names, of which, Saba probably connects the most dots for new listeners. Also on board though, are Joseph Chilliams (The Plastics), Frsh Waters, Dinnerwithjohn, and more. And being the collaborative Mecca that Chicago tends to be, Pivot Gang also connects with anyone and everyone in the scene. Names like Mick Jenkins, Kari Faux, Jean Deaux, Femdot, and Smino (a de facto Chicagoan who transcends his roots in St. Louis), are frequent featuring names.
For his part, MFnMelo has been a central force in the collective and grinding as a solo artist for years, lyrically shining in the group’s 2019 You Can’t Sit With Us, and delivering full-length project, Everybody Eats from the same year, that together, put into focus just how well-curated the balance is between his thought-provoking penmanship, his attention-grabbing, deep register, and his collaborative nature. On the other side, a debut of sorts for producer, squeakPIVOT – the younger brother to fellow PIVOTgang OG, Frsh Waters – whose rangy future feels rooted in its foundation, here, through a project brimming top-to-bottom with the connective tissue of subtly sunshiny keystrokes, the juxtaposition of heavy bass, and the perfectly balanced union between his production and the many names who seamlessly weave in and out of it.
En Route is a short project, coming in at eight tracks spanning just over 15 minutes. But, it’s the kind of mixtape era reminiscent EP that finds itself replaying over and over again when a listener isn’t consciously paying attention to the fact that it’s restarted. Much of that is owed to its simple listenability. It’s a warm weather, good vibes tape that brings to mind the summertime chi era of Graduation Kanye, albeit with a more lyrically pervasive script, and a more nuanced range of instrumentation. Nonetheless, it feels suited for the Summer months, and not only because it was released on June 4. It just has that kind of indefinable hip-hop texture that speaks to a certain season – mellow yet tough; thought-provoking yet fun-loving; balanced.
That balance – something always striven for, but rarely perfected in the rapper-producer joint tape – is a testament to the real-life relationship between the two artists. Though always intertwined through music and life, the two’s lives became exponentially more so when Frsh Waters asked MFnMelo to look after his little brother while he was in jail years ago.
“Melo was my big brother when my big brother left. I instantly looked at Melo for guidance as far as teaching me how to move or just learning from him…. I wanted to learn after him, and I kind of told him like, ‘Hey, I want you to be my big brother,’ and he just embraced me like, ‘Make sure you straight. You're going to be you, and you're going to learn just being around me,’ and I accepted that.” squeakPIVOT for These Days Mag, May 18, 2021
Since then in particular, Melo and squeak have been brothers, themselves, and the family dynamic bleeds into the harmonious partnership of En Route. Where MFnMelo’s fiery bars drive intensity into the tape, squeakPIVOT’s cool keystrokes douse them in equilibrium. Where MFnMelo’s established artistry saw just another day in the studio, squeakPIVOT’s pervasive, youthful energy in the creative process pulled both artists into their respective sweet spots. And from beginning to end, En Route – true to its name – is a Summertime case study on the producer-rapper relationship through more than just one project, but through life and towards a continuously emerging future for Chicago’s always influential soundscape.