For local avant-rap outfit OuterLimitz, an unconventional hip-hop trio that pairs cerebral lyrics with slamming beats, what started as a classic young band's nightmare ended up as its first big break.Read More
In the late '90s, the group won a talent show and the prize was a chance to perform at a Gulf Coast music festival. Getting to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi was an adventure in itself, recall the group members. The tour bus ferrying OuterLimitz and a dozen other area performers to the festival broke down in southern Missouri, so the travelers had to scrape together enough money to rent a U-Haul--no easy task for cash-strapped musicians.
Still, the group members figured they'd make the money back and then some by selling new copies of the group's first independent album, "Wrong Actions for the Right Reasons." But shortly after they arrived at the festival, OuterLimitz's box of CDs mysteriously disappeared.
"It was money out of our pocket," recalls MC Qwa (a.k.a. Qwazaar, also part of the Chicago hip-hop unit Typical Cats). "Money we didn't have." And while the gig went well and everyone made it back to Chicago via Greyhound bus, it seemed a serious financial setback.
But several weeks later, Qwa started getting e-mails and phone calls from fans in cities like Atlanta. "They were saying, `We love the OuterLimitz CD!'" Qwa recalls with a laugh. "We got on radio playlists, people were hitting me up from all over the South.
"Whatever had happened to our box of CDs, they'd started circulating--and because of that we were getting a name down there."
For this interview, Qwa, fellow emcee He.llsent (a.k.a. H.E.) and OuterLimitz's manager Corporate Avi sit in the boiler room of a South Side theology school, reminiscing about the early days. It's also the location of Qwa's and H.E.'s day jobs. "The hours are flexible, and it's peaceful," says Qwa of his maintenance gig.
"We call him the Genie of the Boiler Room," says Avi. It might've been sorcery, indeed, that's enabled Qwa and H.E. to turn OuterLimitz into one of the more head-turning musical groups in Chicago, or anywhere else. "Suicide Prevention," released in late August, has garnered favorable fanzine press and become one of the most high-profile rap CDs at Lakeview's Gramaphone record store.
"`Suicide Prevention' is a top seller here," says independent hip-hop buyer Justin Dawson, who attributes the CD's appeal to the intriguing tension between its seemingly opposing elements: "It's raw and clean at the same time; it can be very dark, but also beautiful."
Qwa and H.E. met as teens in 1992 at Dunbar High School on Chicago's South Side. "We were just rhymin' in the lunchroom," Qwa recalls. "Everybody'd congregate around the middle table, and if you were on the outside, you'd always be trying to get into the [inner] circle."
The two partnered in earnest, starting OuterLimitz after high school and seeing it through personnel changes and side projects--including Qwa's better-known outfit Typical Cats, which he says is still a going concern.
Current producer and deejay Silence came on board as OuterLimitz's third member. Qwa and H.E. were impressed by the unusual beats Silence crafted for Chicago's Frontline collective.
"He's the character of the group," says Avi of Silence, who besides concocting OuterLimitz's ominous, sometimes-eerie sounds, frequently appears onstage in outlandish getups, from a Freddy Krueger mask to swim cap and goggles. Silence recently moved to New Jersey but remains an integral part of OuterLimitz, and will appear at Friday's gig.