One of the many great things about my several decades of work in the Hip Hop community is getting to observe many artists from their humble beginnings and watch as they grow. That process is especially exciting to witness when an artist continues to create great music over an extended period and in some rare cases, constantly improves. One such instance is Chicago MC Robust.
Robust is one of many MCs that got introduced to me by another young MC named Prime, who was on the Chicago scene in the very late 90s and early 00s. Prime was affiliated with the Molemen, who were my extended family and also mainstay guests on my Time Travel Radio show. As a result, Prime would regularly come by to hang out and drop lethal freestyles and verses on air. He often brought other upcoming MCs. This guy had a great ear for talent and helped introduce his findings to new listeners via Time Travel. Some of the MCs he brought through were Qwel, Matlock, Pugslee Atomz, Verbal, and Robust.
Of all the guys that Prime brought down, Robust was the most unassuming. When he came by in ’99, I remember thinking, ‘What is this guy going to sound like?’ He was this extremely young looking, nerdy kid who just smirked a lot. Quite honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, but imagine my surprise when he kicked a witty, flawless verse that was the highlight of the evening. He had the seamless rhyme structure of Big L and the humor Biz Markie, with a perverted touch, all topped off with the perfect dosage of his personality. It was an interesting and entertaining combination.
Over the next couple years he continued to impress, not only myself, but also many others, with repeated radio appearances and guest verses on various tracks and an unofficial CDR release in 2000. I recognize his two appearances on Qwel’s debut album as a key turning point. Although his previous rhymes had been entertaining, they were generally built on the same content framework of outlandish punchlines and battles rhymes. Both his verses on Qwel’s debut, as the lone guest MC on the album, gave him the opportunity to show his depth as an artist, speaking on more pressing issues.
His next major step was his debut album on the Galapagos 4 label, “Potholes In Our Molecules”. As the title suggests, the album was filled with the tongue-in-cheek type rhymes that he was most known for, but also a taste of the more thought-provoking stuff he had recently revealed. This was a balance he would continue to explore through out his next several release.
Over the next several years he continued to release a series of albums and projects, always developing along the way. Now with his latest album, “Fillin’ In The Potholes”, he successfully harnesses all his accumulative years of experience in what is his best work yet. He has achieved the often-difficult task of growing with the times without deviating to far from his roots. Naturally, over time his voice matured from the squeaky sarcastic kid voice from ‘99 and settled into a heavy, but relaxed tone that has a slight soulful quality to it. The subject matter exists as a looking glass into life in Chicago, some times through his own personal experiences and other times with Robust as the narrator. This notion was expressed early on with the first single “Northern Soul” and strongly revisited on tracks such as “All I Do”, “Loop Dreams”, “Tortured Soul”, “Realism” and arguably done best on “What’s Your World”, where he questions, “…What do you see when you close your eyes beneath the fasad/How did we even evolve into the beast we are…” The “Soloist” showcases Robust’s skills as a MC and producer and defines his process for making music, as well as how he presents it to the people. One of the album’s highlights is “Remember When”, which is produced by one of the most under-appreciated producer’s in Chicago’s Hip Hop history, DJ pns of the Molemen. Robust paints an audio picture of his early days of influence and how that reflects on the path he has traveled to arrive at this present point.
Another album stand out is “How Ya Livin”. It is perhaps the best example of his raw rhyming ability, particularly the second verse, “I get sadistic, but the s**t is still sophisticated/Pixilated patterns of atoms that I’ve originated/Digital music is physical when I instigate it/people with inflated egos, need to get ‘em dissipated/The evil’s coming out of me…automatically/It’s a part of my anatomy, it’s what I call reality/Can it be the vanity that’ll leave em with sanity/The apathy of man is trapping me single-handedly/Understandably I’m fed up with negative energy/My tendency to focus on it just keeps effecting me/Magnetically attracted to the opposite of positive/It’s not complicated, it’s just how they operated it/I don’t think I’m sane, I got demons in my brain/I see them while I’m dreaming, I don’t think it’s gonna change/I dealt with pain, my game elevated thru it/I still go against the grain, but the devil made me do it.”
Directly following that track, the album transitions into “Polluted Views” which carries on the grim viewpoint with a Jackson Jones produced track that perfectly matches the heavy and somber mode, with some soul piercing piano keys. The song’s hook best captures the sentiment, “Never amazed, every day’s another step in the maze/In the place where we labor hard and get to be slaves/Pray to God but we yet to be saved/So play your cards right or you might be the one getting played.”
The album doesn’t depend on filler. All 16 tracks are a varying degree of good to great. Other album producers include Meaty Ogre, DJ Alo, Pore, Max, Void Pedal, and Maker. Even with the wide range of producers, the album maintains a cohesive sound and is arranged to flow smoothly and the beats are well chosen to match up with the vocal direction of Robust. Although the album heavily speaks about personal struggles, Robust also doesn’t forget that some of the heaviest and most challenging issues are ones where he is merely an observer. This message is conveyed on the album’s intro, setting the tone for the “Fillin In The Pothole” listening experience, “A lesser man couldn’t stand what I been thru and back/But it’s nothing compared to what some people lack…”
Written By Kevin Beacham