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2018 Fall Arts Guide

The Rapper Without Borders

Kweku Collins isn’t restricted by hip-hop orthodoxy.

Published Sept. 24, 2018

The way Kweku Collins has experienced fame is a familiar story: When he’s out in public, people ask him if he’s Kweku Collins. The 22-year-old rapper and self-professed homebody didn’t mind at first. “It’s a good litmus test for my original goal,” he says. “I want to be able to reach people.” Yet Collins is already seeing the drawbacks. “Like when I get too stoned and go to Chipotle and get recognized. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘I’m not Kweku.’ But then I feel so bad because they’re like, ‘Really?’ So I’ll tell them, ‘I’m sorry, I’m just so damn high.’ ”

Collins, who grew up in Evanston, is understandably protective of his identity. He is often lumped in with Chicago hip-hop artists like Saba and Chance the Rapper, but his influences are distinct. His father is a black African percussionist, and his mother, a white dancer-turned-educator. His tracks are as inspired by psychedelic rock and pop as by hip-hop. “I was exposed to so many different things that it was only natural that my dad’s traditional West African drums would come together with the screaming guitar of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution.’ ”

Stylistic diversity has been a hallmark of his since Collins started self-recording in his bedroom in high school. His 2016 studio album, Nat Love, named for slave insurgent Nat Turner, tackled alienation and racism. Collins is gearing up for an ambitious full-length to be released early next year. Expect it to get deep. “I try to talk about being a dude and being white and black and coming to terms with events that are out of my control that have happened in my life. I’m trying to work my own shit out, but I want to put my bug in somebody’s ear.”

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