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House vs. hip-hop: Documentary discusses local musical divide and the two genres’ place in history

‘It’s Different In Chicago,’ scheduled for a Black Harvest Film Festival premiere, details how local music continues to be locked in an ongoing rivalry for respect at home and abroad.

DJ Duane Powell makes the crowd move to House, a Chicago-created music genre, in the documentary “It’s Different in Chicago.”
David Weathersby

Purveyors within Chicago’s often segregated music scene are well aware of the difficulties of being heard. When the local hip-hop legend then known as Kanye West rapped “From the Chi, the city of hella haters,” on the 2006 track “Grammy Family,” many creatives from the city’s marginalized communities understood what the former South Side rapper was saying.

Even though Chicago is widely known as the birthplace of House Music, over time the genre hasn’t garnered the respect many “House Heads” believe it deserves. And, locally, there’s a divide between House Music stans and fans of non-commercial hip-hop — otherwise known as “backpackers.” The animosity between two of the city’s burgeoning music scenes is explained in a new documentary slated for release in November.

“It’s Different in Chicago,” directed by David Weathersby (“Jazz Occurrence”), which is scheduled to premiere as part of the Nov. 5-Dec. 2 Black Harvest Film Festival, not only details the impetus behind the “divide,” but also shows how Chicago hip-hop and House Music continues to be locked in an ongoing divide for respect at home and abroad.

“I’ve lived in Chicago since ’98. One of the things I found fascinating about living in the Chicago area was the strength of House,” said Weathersby, a Seattle native. “Chicago is the home of House, but in other places, House very much mislabeled. It’s lumped in with EDM, and to see the strength of House in the city is like nowhere else. In most places, it’s hip-hop, and everybody else gets a little corner.”

The film features a variety of local stakeholders within the aforementioned music scene including South Side rapper Ang13, WLPN-FM’s (105.5) “News From the Service Entrance” host Mario Smith and House DJ Duane Powell.

“It’s Different in Chicago” director David Weathersby says the city has enough culture to foster a divide in approaches to music.
David Weathersby

Is Chicago “different,” as the title of the documentary suggests?

The city’s place in creating music is the proof, Weathersby says.

“I’ve noticed that, especially within the Black community, we like the music but it also becomes our tribe — the flag that we fly,” said Weathersby. “And chronicling this, and chronicling it from the people who are taking part of it, makes it so it’s accurate before it becomes a topic that somebody outside starts coming in. They might come in with a preconceived notion of Black Chicago. I wanted to have the people who are a part of it have their say first.”

Some Chicagoans were of the belief that they had to choose between the rival music scenes.

“That choice wasn’t necessarily based on the music. It was based around the culture around the music, whether it was sexuality, gender, and whatever neighborhood you lived in,” said Weathersby. “From my research, there were a lot of people who felt like the choice was made because of where they were from or their neighborhood, or who they were as a person as opposed to the music itself.”

“It’s Different in Chicago” director David Weathersby.
Tony Smith

Weathersby sees the local “divide” as a testament to the city’s variety of culture, not a negative.

“Because of the different places I lived, I thought it was fascinating. I saw some positivity that there was enough Black music and enough Black culture to have a ‘divide,’ ” said Weathersby. “I know that sounds odd but I’ve lived in other places where you don’t have enough strength in the Black community to even have a divide, to have a choice. So I thought that was fascinating in itself.

“Chicago has enough of a musical and cultural strain that you could have a divide — even amongst House. Some folks are Frankie Knuckles people, and others like Ron Hardy.”

In the documentary, Weathersby aims to show the nuances that set Chicago apart from other cultural landmarks.

“So much has been taken from Chicago, especially from Black Chicago, and repackaged, and never given the credit to the point where if you argued to someone, they wouldn’t believe you,” said Weathersby. “Somebody who takes something from Chicago will be the ones that people pay, and the people who actually spent blood, sweat, and tears won’t see any of the benefits.”