Lynette walks late in the city as her two children wait for her at home. At 17, she has no friends and sells herself as a prostitute to earn money. She smiles to keep from crying. Fran walks to a party where she meets up with some of her guy friends. After a long night of drinking gin, they surround her and gang rape her. Fran lays there and cries. She later sees the doctor and finds out she has HIV. She steps out of the clinic and sees the men who raped her. She sarcastically tells the men to smile. They, too, may now have HIV.
This is the story line from the song “Smile” by the Chicago hip-hop duo Earatik Statik, who perform March 4 for Dance Marathon at 11 p.m. in the McCormick Auditorium.
After working with several artists in the underground Chicago rap community, the group will release their debut LP “Feelin’ Earatik” on March 8 on Chicago’s Gravel Records. The album features 16 tracks that the band hopes pairs its eclectic rap styles with a socially conscious message.
“It’s just a sad-ass story this fictional person is telling me,” band member Seth Rich, 30, says of the inspiration behind “Smile.” “(My part of the rap) is kind of like an interview with her. I asked her, ‘How do you smile?’ She said she does it to keep from crying. The more she cries, the closer she feels to dying.”
The group — featuring Rich, 30-year-old Carlos Polk and turntablist DJ Rude — has been performing together since 1998, playing live and recording all around Chicago. The band’s rich Chicago roots play an important part in their songs.
“We’re trying to do something no one in Chicago has ever done,” Polk says. “I thought we just took a different route than most guys in Chicago do. A lot of guys are like, ‘West Side this,’ and ‘South Side this’ but we take Chicago as a whole and expand peoples’ horizon and the whole culture of it.”
Much of the band’s Chicago pride stems from their upbringing. Rich and Polk met while playing on rival football teams.
Rich went to Loyola Academy for one year and then to Mather High School on the city’s Northwest side while Polk went to Evanston Township High School. Both continue to reside in the Chicago area. Many of their experiences in the city serve as inspiration for their songs.
“We’re true Chicago residents,” the band raps on the track “Evil is Timeless,” a song the band says touches on everything from their experiences with police brutality to harassment.
“My verse deals with a lot of the problems with black society caused by black society and it’s like a viscous cycle of evil,” Rich says. “Sometimes it seems like a cycle, a chain needs to be broken. It seems to happen over and over again.”
Rich recalls some instances of police brutality as a teenager in high school. Since he wore a red St. Louis Cardinals hat to school, one security officer thought he was in a gang and one day the confrontation got out of hand.
“When I went into homeroom, he barged in, made me put handcuffs on,” Rich says. “He was hitting me in the face, trying to knock me down.”
The central chorus in the song repeats “Evil goes on and on and on” amid the gentle background music of a toy piano.
“Basically the evil goes on and on and on because if it’s not one thing, it’s the next,” Polk says.
Both Rich and Polk say they were influenced by all types of rap styles and wanted to bring this mix to their debut although their next release will be structured more like a concept album.
The band’s name plays on the words “ear” and “static,” but Rich and Polk want listeners to remember one thing about their music: it’s an addiction to listening to underground music.
Medill junior Sheila Burt is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected]