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Stop Hating on ComplexCon

The hip-hop magazine’s flagship convention, which hits Chicago for the first time this weekend, can only help local creatives. Plus: Four things to check out at McCormick Place.

Schooolboy Q   Photo: RATKO RADOJCIC

“So what, exactly, is ComplexCon?”

The answer to that question will depend on whom you ask. Some say it’s a concert. Or it’s a convention. Others think it’s a giant metaphor for the Japanese cultural divide known as honne/tatemaehonne, a person’s true self; tatemae, the opinions and behavior one performs in the public eye. (Those who spend too much time online will recognize this concept as the “Instagram vs. real life” meme.)

ComplexCon is, superficially, all of the above. It’s a multiday convention split into three main features: “Conversations,” a loftier shorthand for panel discussions and interviews; musical performances; and a sprawling expo of booths and installations, with Jack Daniel’s and Toyota cozying up to the major players in streetwear, such as still-somehow-underrated brands The Hundreds and Atmos. (Full disclosure: I have written for Complex on a freelance basis in the past.)

Some in the local streetwear community, however, when asked what ComplexCon is, would say it’s a bunch of bullshit. Unhappy with how the event has (or hasn’t) included their voices, an impassioned crowd of local creatives have been speaking out about of a lack of awareness around programming and limited opportunities to participate. As with most conversations taking place at the intersection of art and commerce, there are valid points about who gets platforms for exposure and who doesn’t. It can feel like the same people are always recruited to represent the city in cultural moments like these. And it’s gross when cultural influence is exploited for a quick cash grab by huge brands, which immediately leave town without continuing to invest in local artists.

Some folks have voiced disappointment that ComplexCon isn’t giving a platform to Chicagoans who attract this kind of event in the first place. But such “criticism” about big brands is tired. The same people who furiously tweet “Chicago never gets respect creatively” complain (often because they believe they should get in free or be VIP) when the city receives attention and funding from an influential brand. The event suffers due to lack of local influence and support, which causes that brand to not invest in Chicago again, and those same creatives who could have supported the event complain that “Chicago never gets respect creatively!”

With ComplexCon, Pitchfork Music Festival (in the same weekend), and Lollapalooza (just two weeks later), the city’s creative class could use a reminder that a rising tide lifts all boats. Y’all ever hear of an abundance mindset? The two issues plaguing Chicago’s creative class are lack of capital and infrastructure; we don’t need clout, we need cash. To that point, anything that allows Chicagoans to make money in the arts or arts-adjacent businesses without having to move to another city is something that should be supported.

For those attending, I hope you finesse a grail or two (ask your kid what that means). If you’re someone who’s more inclined toward star-studded affairs, this weekend’s programming includes big names like T.I., Wale, Killer Mike, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, G Eazy, Gunna, and Saweetie. There are also plenty of local businesses at Complexcon, including fast-food icons like Harold’s and Portillo’s and newer, nonfranchised spots like Young American, the Delta, and Mott Street. And of course, there’s streetwear. Here are four things to definitely check out.

Joe Freshgoods

This member of the West Town-based Fat Tiger Works collective (all of whom are exhibiting at the festival) is going to be busy. He’s worked with everyone from Adidas to McDonald’s and has partnered with both locally based shops like Hyde Park’s Sir and Madame as well as national players like The Hundreds. His main exhibition is an ode to his West Side upbringing called The Corner Store Was My Gift Shop. Watch the trailer to get a sense of what to expect.

 

All Gone

Since 2006, French creative Michael Dupouy’s communication agency La MJC has been publishing the “bible of street culture” All Gone, an annual book that spotlights the hottest streetwear and subculture merch internationally. This is the first time I can recall where the book series will be exhibited anywhere in the Midwest other than Bucktown’s RSVP Gallery. If you’re attending and want to snag a copy, good luck: They sell out quickly and don’t do reissues.

Brandon Breaux

Widely known as the artist behind all three of Chance the Rapper’s iconic album covers, the talented South Side artist and designer has an entire booth to do whatever he wants.

JP Graziano x The Times

I don’t actually know what The Times does — it’s an ad agency, maybe? I honestly thought it was the British newspaper at first. But them teaming up with one of the last good things left in the West Loop from the old days, Italian deli and sandwich spot JP Graziano, means they deserve a visit.

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