The West Side crew’s first project in five years is a showcase in skilful sparring and lyrical dexterity…

Chicago’s rich hip-hop history – figures like Kanye West, Twista, and Common to name a few – has inspired the latest creative collective to come out of the city: Pivot Gang. From the West Side, all six members are lifelong friends and family who have shared successes, failures, happiness and pain.

Whilst they all pursue music individually, the most notable member – Saba – has received the most attention, with last year’s critically acclaimed album ‘CARE FOR ME’ receiving huge support across Europe and the USA. Gaining attention for his unique lyrical flow – likened to fellow Chicago native and friend, Chance the Rapper – he helps spearhead the collective alongside his brother Joseph Chilliams, another set of brothers in Frsh Waters and squeakPIVOT, plus rapper MFnMelo and producer daedaePIVOT to complete the six.

A lot has happened in the six years since their first mixtape ‘Jimmy Mixtape’. Frsh Waters served four years in prison, and the group also suffered the loss of former collective member, Walt. It seems then that debut album ‘You Can’t Sit With Us’ has been a long time coming for the collective, and the work they’ve put into it is clear. The varied flow and delivery between each track makes every song feel unique, each member applying their own style and perspective to different stories.

‘Death Row’ opens the album with members Saba, Chilliams and MFnMelo introducing listeners to their experience of being black in America and living in fear, having seen so many of their peers die around them.  

Another lyrically hard-hitting track is ‘No Vest’, where fellow Chicago native and wordsmith Mick Jenkins joins the Gang. Ringing chime sounds hit up against the kicks, creating a moody pensive atmosphere, which scintillates and invigorates the proud, braggy bars of each artist. Jenkins doesn’t disappoint – as ever – confidently taking the pilot seat and matching the track’s gritty production with his own powerful lyrics.

Stand out track, ‘Studio Ground Rules’, lays down a silky down-tempo backdrop for the Pivot Gang’s lead rappers to spar over. With Saba, Frsh Waters, and MFnMelo stepping up, their nonchalant, comical references throughout sees them almost trying to outdo each other lyrically, with moments of clever word play.

Pivot Gang skilfully and thoughtfully depict stories that probably resonate with many young black males growing up in the West Side of Chicago, and they’ve done that while creating an authentic and distinguished project befitting of the standards set by previous generations of their city’s hip-hop artists. A proud moment. 

8/10

Words: Kofi Yeboah-Mensah

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