If you didn’t know who Sidewalk Chalk was before, you probably should now. The Chicago soul/hip-hop band’s fourth full-length, out June 2, 2017 via Ropeadope Records, is bombastic to say the least. Opening with a pulse-quickening drum that picks up in speed and pitch, it gives way to MC Rico Sisney’s winding and forceful flow. Immediate in Sisney’s verses are mentions of the violence incited since the arrival of the “Niña, Pinta, the Santa Maria” on these shores, along with pleas for “infinite growth for [his] family, for [his] art.” Singer Maggie Vale’s voice soars at the 2 minute mark, sliding out of horn blasts from trombonist David Ben-Porat and trumpeter Sam Trump, who is an accomplished solo artist as well.
This album is about growth – for the band, and for our society. Lyrically, Sisney and Vale traverse stories of personal growth and various social justice issues plaguing Trump-era America, most exhibited in the track, “Suite for Black Lives.” Sonically, the track list is full of hills and valleys, but without hesitation, its highest peak is the album’s lead single, Dig. The song is a stomping, bang-down-your-door, hip-hop epic, told from the perspective of someone who’s just been shot by a police officer (slightly reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s intro to his recent DAMN.). Vale sings the hook menacingly: “Dig it up, dig it out, take yourself out of the ground. Dig for you, dig it up, dig the truth out of the ground – dig away.”
This desire for the truth echoes the cries of protestors and families of the victims of police brutality, from Trayvon, to Mike, to Eric, and beyond. The hook is followed by a slugging beat and sharp horn interjections. The overall effect is tense and raucous.
The only thing missing from this album is the incredible energy you feel from a live performance – though the energy is still transmitted through their recorded performances and production value. I’ve gotten to see this band play live twice, and they never disappoint – not to mention that they are incredibly nice people. It’s worth noting that the album was produced by Robert ‘Sput’ Searight, of Snarky Puppy fame, which is a testament to the group’s obvious jazz capabilities. The musicianship displayed on the record is not to be balked at, and Sput’s production does the band many favors. The production style is deeper than their previous efforts, with booming bass and just the right amount of horn effects.
The last track on the album, “The Epilogue” begins with Maggie gorgeously singing, “Might not be the same, people will say we changed…stretched out our wings…” – which is exactly what they’ve done. People can expect to see great things from this band in the coming years. An Orchid is Born is just the beginning.