Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to catch Philly-born, burgeoning rapper DonChristian at the Empty Bottle–an infamous Chicago dive. If his name doesn’t ring any bells and you like hip hop, you’re blowing it. A rich combination of baritone rhyme, tender soul, and trippy beats make up DonChristian’s unique style that lately, I’ve been calling cereb-rap. His effortless, if not lazy, flow and undeniable charisma have earned the producing talents of Le1f, Cybergiga and R&B collective JODY among others. On Sunday, January 5th, the many faces of DonChristian’s budding internet following made themselves known.
DonChristian at The Empty Bottle
DonChristian began his set with R&B crooner Rahel, and they shared the spotlight like star-crossed lovers. The on-stage chemistry between the two was palpable as they traded verses in a seductive ballad called “Vibes” featuring Le1f. While the “The Bottle” is hardly large enough for stadium crowds or blunt smoke clouds, the tiny room was filled to capacity with hypnotized audience members bobbing to otherworldly beats in a synchronized trance. Once he had the stage to himself, DonChristian’s songs evoked 8-bit sensibilities and nineties charm, particularly “Harikari” a track rich with drum machines and metallic arpeggios that rattle around the brain.
His debut album’s (The Wayfarer) undisputed hit, “My Crew” turned the room into a circus, DonChristian its clear ringleader – swinging the mic like Joe Tex. Donning his Sunday best (a jersey tucked into slacks), he bounced all over the modest stage, belting the record’s anthem. Even at a glance, the words speak unmistakably to his roots and thriving musical collaborations. DJ’s for the night and fellow JODY collaborators, Brandon Boom and Jeremiah Meece, combined to form The-Drum. Together, they provided an inviting rhythmic backdrop that was both psychedelic and accessible. When they weren’t spinning, the pair cheered offstage, mouthing along to the lyrics like a shared secret between co-conspirators.
A delicate balance of rapping and singing comprised the true finesse of DonChristian’s sound. In songs like “$erenade,” he stacks syllables to the ceiling, spitting about bitches, money, and the usual fare with swagger and gusto. The influence of artists like Young Lean felt especially evident in his video gamey remix of “Gatorade.” Still, from within his vocal interludes a vulnerable side emerges, unafraid to sing about hometowns and heartbreak. During his brief time on stage, DonChristian’s intricate wordplay and soulful take on rap proved his merits as a serious musician. His work painting murals for Groundswell, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia, is an extended testament to his eclectic artistry. In short, those who came to the show not knowing DonChristian, left as fans. And those who came as fans, left satisfied.