The year 2017 will be remembered as the year of Chicago hip-hop with everyone from Chance the Rapper to Vic Mensa and Noname making national headlines for their powerful messages coupled with grassroots activism. While that activity and attention is poised to continue in 2018 (Chance most recently appearing with former president Barack Obama in a PSA on the cusp of the new year), when it comes to what’s next, Christopher Korokeyi and his on-stage alter-ego, Marshall Hendrix + the Vengeance, are names to watch out for in the coming months.
MARSHALL HENDRIX + THE VENGEANCE When: 8 p.m. January 5 Where: AliveOne, 2683 N. Halsted Tickets: Free (donations will be accepted) Info: aliveone.com
On January 5, the Chicago-based talent launches his attention-grabbing project with a show at AliveOne to promote his debut album, “Zuckerburgh, Vol. 1: Matter & Energy.” It will be the first in a “Zuckerburgh” series, he says, a title that pays homage to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the city of Pittsburgh where a friend of Korokeyi’s that was influential in his hip-hop upbringing hails from.
“This is the world I live in, a world of hip-hop and technology fusion,” he says. “The title track is about living as a black hip-hop artist and working in the tech industry, where you see things but you can’t talk about them at work because you don’t want to rub people the wrong way or turn work into an environment where people feel they are being preached at. Or you may hear people say things and want to [react], but I’ve found it’s better for me to hold my tongue,” says Korokeyi, who also established himself professionally in the tech sphere. He has worked in various project management positions at Fortune 500 companies like Motorola and McDonald’s before settling into what he calls a welcoming and diverse startup culture at his most current place of employment, Sprout Social, a social media management company based in Chicago. At night, he is also pursuing an MBA at Northwestern University.
With Marshall Hendrix + the Vengeance, Korokeyi says he is trying to bring about the “dawn of tech rap,” or “telling the story of what it’s like to be a black technologist in the age of startups and failfasts.”
“I realized there’s all this hip-hop out here that musically I can vibe with, but I don’t vibe with what they are talking about. We are in totally different places,” he admits. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to talk about startup culture and the tech industry and how you can break into that, instead of dealing drugs on the corner? There’s all these options for people thatmaybe they don’t know about. And I wanted to make an album that talked about those things and show people a different blueprint.”
Korokeyi’s message is unique in an evolving new world order where technology has become an important launchpad for opportunity. The only one who has come close is Jaden Smith who claims to have been inspired by Elon Musk with his debut album, “Syre,” which came out in November 2017. Korokeyi’s music style (with help from German-based producers DopeBoyz) is also fresh, “merging Kanye West-style production with The Black Keys sound,” he says of the guitar-driven tracks on “Zuckerburgh, Vol. 1” such as “Chicago Fire” — inspired by the new lineage of artists who are putting the city back on the map.
The song style harkens back to Korokeyi’s time growing up in Rochester, New York, where his earliest musical ambitions were to be an acoustic singer-songwriter “totally like John Mayer and Jack Johnson.” It was only in the attempt to bond with his younger brother that led Korokeyi to explore more hip-hop. His brother, an emcee who goes by the stage name Tonye Kay, is slated to open Korokeyi’s Chicago show.
At the gig, Korokeyi will also have merchandise available from his own Zuckerburgh Streetwear line, a fashion venture that is inspired by his music with proceeds becoming seed money for a technology startup that Korokeyi hopes to launch.
“Music and fashion is what I’m doing as part of a social mission and a fundraising opportunity. But if I start a company that can hire 100, 200, 500 people, how many kids is that who I’m able to give an opportunity to, to get out of what situation they may be in and do something amazing with their lives?,” he says, noting his key motto (seen on many of his hat designs) is the idea of being infinitely greater. “I want people to know that they are infinitely greater than they have ever imagined or anyone has ever labeled them as being.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.