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Pivot Gang: John Walt Day

Friday, November 29 at Metro

Piv Piv! Piv Piv! Piv Piv!

Spirited cries from a growing Metro crowd infuse the venue’s fluorescent red ambience with the warmth of homecoming. Onstage, a velvet pool table and Victorian couch foreshadow reckless performance and theatrical storytelling, trembling with subwoofer-induced anticipation. Behind them, photographs of the Addison blue line, Austin red line, and a memorialized portrait ground the venue in Chicago, inspiring the chorus of Pivot Gang faithful to belt a cohesive, emotional truth –

Long live John Walt! Long live John Walt! Long live John Walt!

John Walt, a.k.a dinnerwithjohn, born Walter Long Jr. – Pivot Gang’s seventh member – was tragically killed in February 2017 at just 24 years of age. An up-and-coming lyricist, Walt was a founding member of Pivot Gang and a cousin to leading members Saba and Joseph Chilliams. Following his death, the John Walt Foundation was established in his name with the goal of “empowering and enabling youth across multiple artistic platforms.” This show marked the third annual John Walt Day, a concert in memoriam for the West Side rap collective’s fallen brother, with proceeds going to his charity.

The tribute began with the arrival of DJ Dam Dam, a West-sider himself who immediately launched into a set exhibiting both released and unreleased John Walt music, setting the stage for a musical memorial and celebration of Walt’s versatile artistry. Followed by a brief hiccup in sound equipment functionality, Pivot Gang associated act Femdot took the stage in his trademark orange beanie, delivering twenty minutes of riveting narrative rap and witty bars, highlighted by a performance of “Happy Break Up Song” and the personal favorite double-meaning line of, ‘take the watch out the fanny pack / don’t go wasting my time.’

Another technical mishap drew longer the wait for the evening’s main attraction, with Pivot member and DJ squeakPivot filling the time with an impromptu sequence of crowd work and beats.

At long last, the tuxedo-clad DaeDae emerged from the shadows to uproarious applause, planted himself on a chair, and read aloud from a red hardcover book:

“In the beginning, there were seven young boys split between two houses: The Grand Masters of the Hang-time Dojo, and the Rally Camp, both hailing from the Westside of Chicago man, damn crazy. A bond that would never be forgotten was forged in the depths of grandma’s basement. The houses put their differences aside and formed a supergroup, the likes of which had never been seen before. Once Frsh Waters, MFn Melo, John Walt, Joseph Chilliams, Saba, Squeak, and Daedae came together, there was no stopping them. Soon come would they be killing the game my guy, damn crazy. And that’s no cap. But first, they needed a name…”

As the audience provided their exuberant response to this call for Pivot! glorification, the rap ensemble – also wearing tuxedos – manifested in the flesh and made their presence felt. Swaying in unison with a giddy two-step routine, each member’s inaugural verse elicited boisterous approval from the crowd, with Saba – the final voice to be heard – receiving the grandest cheer of them all.

With the opening number complete, clothes-changes occurring, and momentum to be propelled, sequences of both solo and group performances ensued. The ever-flamboyant Joseph Chilliams, whose unorthodox influences include Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, delivered “Buck” and an unreleased, unnamed song that interpolated the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme and celebrated the show’s star: “Go Will, go Will Smith! Go Will, go Will Smith!” In classic, goofy Chilliams fashion, he invited crowd members to a chaotic onstage dance-off, a coronation of sorts for the king of cute rap. MfnMelo, fresh off his latest studio album “Everybody Eats,” brought his powerful, consistent flow with “Flow Seats,” “MF DOOM,” and “What a Life.” Saba’s solo performances – punctuated with table-climbing bravado – included his two biggest mainstream tracks, “LIFE” and “CALLIGRAPHY.”

But the magic of Pivot Gang, like any good group, is the cohesivity of the members’ complementary styles and charisma. “Death Row,” “Jason Statham, Pt. 2,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “Studio Ground Rules” saw the group visibly blissful and collectively in-tune – as verses alternated between Pivot rappers, the others looked on from the comfort of their pink Victorian couch. Femdot made a triumphant return to feature on “Mathematics,” while Mick Jenkins and Kari Faux appeared for stellar contributions to “No Vest” and “Mortal Kombat,” respectively.

The performance ended with a brief shift to somber tone. The reason and inspiration for the night – the late John Walt – was emotionally driven home by Saba: “There should be eight of us onstage. Tonight, there’s seven.”

Pivot Gang remains an effervescent, talented, unique collective with vertical trajectory in the rap universe and stalwart status in the Chicago music scene. All this without the group’s heart and soul – John Walt is and will continue to be missed. As if to punctuate the evening with this emotional sentiment, calls for encore quickly changed to the evening’s verbal heartbeat, perhaps the most important lyrics delivered this night:

Long live John Walt! Long live John Walt! Long live John Walt!

(photos retrieved from

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