What’s going on, go ahead and introduce yourself
What’s going on, I’m Alexander Fruchter, aka RTC. Co-Founder of Closed Sessions, Journalist, DJ, and I am currently also a lecturer at Columbia College Chicago in the Business and Entrepreneurship department.
How was life growing up?
Man, growing up was great. I grew up in the Southside of Chicago in a neighborhood called Hyde Park. Hyde Park is a very diverse neighborhood. As a kid growing up I kind of related Hyde Park to – it may sound weird – but shows like Sesame Street, the Cosby Show. Obviously there weren’t muppets walking around, but there were people of all ethnicities, cultures, views that were around us. And I was fortunate to have friends from all over, and be invited into their homes and share their experiences. HP was a very vibrant and creative neighborhood. You also have the rougher elements in HP due to it being in the SouthSide. I also think that Hyde Park breeds people who value intelligence, whether it’s book smarts, or street smarts. Intelligence was always valued in the neighborhood growing up, and it was cool to be smart. Obviously, like any childhood, there were some tougher times, but overall, I was very lucky and fortunate to grow up how I did.
As someone who would be considered a jack-of-all-trades in the arts world, at what age did you begin to discover your creative side/talents?
That’s a good question. I’d have to say around 5th-7th grade. I was really drawn to creative writing. I remember making my own mixtapes using my CD player/tape deck combo at a very young age, not knowing even what a mixtape was. I wanted to mess with sounds and put weird things together. From making mixtapes, it led to DJing.
When did you begin to fall in love with hip-hop? What was it about the culture that attracted you so much that you looked to dedicate the rest of your life to it?
I think around my freshman year of high school, when I noticed Hip Hop was more than just rap videos, new CD’s at Coconuts etc.. That was an age when I was able to consciously explore the music. I noticed it was bigger than MTV, and it was a living/breathing culture with a history. I was able to find acceptance in the Hip Hop community. Growing up in Hyde Park was instrumental in that as well. When I left Hyde Park for High School, or especially when I went to college in Bloomington, Indiana, I felt out of place a little bit until I found those other kids that were into Hip Hop as I was. I also loved that Hip Hop culture was all about showing and proving, and shared many of the same values I already had.
What are your favorite rap albums of all time?
Off the top right now, I’d say, Black on Both Sides – Mos Def, Ill Communication – The Beastie Boys, Get Rich Or Die Trying – 50 cent, Ready To Die – The Notorious B.I.G., College Dropout – Kanye West.
Lets fast forward to college, you attended Indiana University, where you obtained a degree in Psychology and Sociology, with highest distinction and honors. Did college change you as a person? Also, what motivated you to strive for good grades and not live the party lifestyle majority of college students do?
Yes, it definitely changed me. Anybody who goes into something at 18 is going to be changed at 22, no matter what. College taught me that I could get anywhere in life, if I applied myself. With IU, I was able to shape my life, from the classes I took, the extra curricula’s I did, working part time. I learned how to be a leader and live on my own. My parents sacrificed a lot to send me to out of state school. I owed it to them to try as hard as I could. Once I started trying as hard as I could, I was able to see high results with my grades. Once I started getting good grades, I took on a mindset of – I just wanted to be the best. My Dad told me when I first got to school, “the first semester try your hardest, if you get a good GPA at the start, it will put you on the right path.” My first semester of my sophomore year I then obtained a 4.0 and I told myself that I wanted to get a 4.0 every semester for the rest of my time at college. And I did it.
In 2016, how important is a college degree still? Do you think it’s as beneficial as it once was?
I think so. But I also think it really depends on the individual and how much they take advantage of a college education. A college degree is much more than just a piece of paper. One of the best things about college is being able to network with all the other students and faculty members, to learn how to take ownership of your education and make decisions in your life. And, you can fail and learn from those failures. Having a college degree also shows a level of compassion, care, and follow through, and helps greatly in getting a job. It’s certainly not for everybody, and for some fields not as important – but I do believe it can be just as beneficial.
For the past couple of years Chicago’s hip-hop scene has been taking over. Who had helped push chicago’s hip-hop scene forward with you back in 2007?
It was still mainly being pushed forward by the bigger guys like Kanye, Lupe, Common, and Twista, as far as getting attention and energizing the underground that maybe bigger things were possible. Around that time you also started to see blogs pop-up here. FakeShoreDrive and my former site, RubyHornet began to put a microscope on the local scene, and things happening everyday here on the ground. Groups like Kidz In The Hall, The Cool Kids, and Treated Crew were showing what the scene was all about, making music, throwing parties, pushing things forward. These guys were able to blend the fashion and the music together. Those groups started the “Internet Era” of Hip Hop in Chicago.
In 2008 you created RubyHornet, a website which has been providing the latest coverage in Film, Tv, Music, and culture. Where did you get the idea to help facilitate artist’s careers? And why?
I’d say that goes back to me being a DJ. Being a DJ is all about ushering in the new sounds. I loved DJing, I loved being a journalist, and I loved this culture, I just wanted to continue this and have this scene grow bigger. I was going to do whatever it was I could to help push the culture forward and be involved. I was very fortunate that Virgil and Omar found me and put me in the position to do what I loved through RubyHornet. But in terms of a bigger picture, “facilitate artist’s careers”, Until you asked me this question, I never thought about it or analyzed it like that as a young kid. I just really wanted to be part of the music anyway I could.
Why did you decide to leave RubyHornet?
As much as I loved writing, I had been doing that since I was a teenager. It was an everyday grind; I was always tied to a computer. I enjoyed the work I put in at RubyHornet, I was able to do what I love, and was also able to meet my heroes, interview any and everybody. It got to a point where it was just repetitive, and I needed to try something else. And I found myself organically wanting to be in the studio more, wanting to focus on CS more. By leaving RubyHornet, I was able to place all my focus on Closed Sessions with Mike.
How did you and Mike Kolar develop a relationship?
Mike and I briefly met backstage at Rock The Bells through my friend Naledge from Kidz In The Hall. Around that time, I was working on a mixtape with Naledge. Naledge invited me to the studio to work, and it turned out being SoundScape, Mike’s studio. When it came time to master the mixtape, I asked Mike to do it for me. He did it, and I asked him how much I owed him. He said “You could pay me for this mixtape, and more mixtapes that’s fine. But, how about you don’t pay me for this mixtape and any time you need studio space it will be free.” He saw I was doing cool things and was forward thinking. His only condition was that I bring the cool stuff to his studio and we build together. With this, I had access to a studio now when ever I wanted, and Mike had free advertising for his studio on RubyHornet and all the national blogs that would pick up and repost our content. Our relationship grew very strong because we both saw that we are very hard workers.
In 2010 you and Mike Kolar teamed up to create Chicago’s premier independent label “Closed Sessions”. Why did you guys decide to start up a label? -What do you guys bring differently?
We released Closed Sessions Vol 01 in March of 2010. Around that time we were looking to make CS a company, we didn’t know what that would fully look like, but we knew we had something. We worked with a lot of great artists and made a lot of great documentaries/compilations. In 2013 we kind of actualized the vision and decided to make Closed Sessions a record label. This was when we decided to really do this; we were able to get a distribution deal. I figured there was so much talent in Chicago and we had to do something. Up until recently, there was still the idea of Chicago artists leaving and going to other cities. I would go on these trips to New York and noticed there were all these labels out there, all these distribution companies, PR firms etc. As an artist in New York, you work and have an idea of who you need to meet with for a record deal, or distribution, or PR, media etc.. The buildings exist, they are in the “phone book”. Unfortunately, that’s not something we have in Chicago, we may have the artists and creativity, but they eventually would end up on a coast whether it be New York or Los Angeles. There was no reason Chicago couldn’t have that same kind of resource. We wanted to create a team that was able to get the artists the resources that they needed. And through everything we are able to do, we’re able to structure very unique partnerships with artists. We’ve had to forge our own way, and that’s been a hidden blessing because it keeps us growing, evolving, and ahead of the curve so to speak.
Who have been some of your favorite artists you’ve been able to work with throughout the years?
I’d have to say, there’s a lot. Right now, Kweku Collins has been one of my favorite artists to work with, along with our roster of Boathouse, oddCouple, Jamila, Kipp. Outside of CS and Chicago wise, I’d have to say Thelonious Martin, Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, Mick Jenkins, ShowYouSuck. Older guys like GLC, Naledge, Mikkey Halstead, and HXLT. Mic Terror, A-Villa, Rude One… Also, Raekwon The Chef, Action Bronson, Allan Kingdom, are other artists I’ve been able to develop genuine relationships with and always enjoy working with. There are really too many to name. I’ve enjoyed mostly all of the people I’ve been able to work with.
A year ago you signed one of Chicago’s hidden gems, Kweku Collins. What did you see in Kweku Collins that other artists didn’t have? How has it been working with Kweku for this past year? Talk a bit about the feedback from Nat Love
With Kweku, I got a warm and bright feeling that I rarely get. He’s one of those artists where I listen to and go, “Damn man, how did you come up with that”? He’s just a really good person. He projects a vibe and energy that was really missing. It wasn’t what Kweku had that other artists didn’t, it was more just what Kweku had on his own. Once I got that email from him and hit play on his music, I instantly knew that this was the guy we needed on our team here. It’s been great working with Kweku. Getting to see him do things for the first time is awesome. Being able to watch him constantly get better is amazing as well. He brings such a good energy to the rest of the team here. He’s been a big piece in cementing our community vibe. The feedback has been great. I’m able to see the messages that Kweku gets from his fans on social media, it’s amazing reading that Nat Love gets people through their morning. Seeing it get an 8.0 on Pitchfork… But the best part about this project is that it’s still on an upward climb; we want this project to ride through the rest of the year.
How do you search for up and coming artists to be apart of your guys label? – Do people come to you, or you search
I’d say it’s a combo of the two. We look to develop relationships with the artists over time.
Over the years you have been able to witness Chance and Vic grow into huge national recognized artists. Did you always see it in them in the beginning days? How proud are you of them?
100%, I saw it in both of them. I’ve told this story before, but I met Chance The Rapper in 2011 at his first official show, outside of the Open Mic scene. The show was at Sub-T and I was the DJ for the night. I got there early to set up and Chance was there for soundcheck. He told me he was a fan of RubyHornet and he was excited to meet me. I decided to check out his set later in the night. I was on the side of the stage when he performed “Brain Cells” and that really got my attention. He then played “Fuck You Tahm Bout”, and from there I knew he brought something raw and fresh, and was going to do great things. And I told him that early on. Seeing how far he has come is incredible, and a testament to him and his whole team. I met Vic Mensa when he was 15 or 16, he began coming to the studio with Naledge. RubyHornet ended up debuting his first project “The Straight Up EP”. I remember him being at the RH office and telling us about this new band he was starting, Kids These Days. To see him blow up has been great as well. Both Chance and Vic are very determined and thoughtful people, and that has helped them to get to where they are at now.
For someone who has been writing and contributing to blogs for 10 years, do you think blogs are beneficial as they once were?
Blogging has changed a lot since I started. I think getting on a blog now is still important. The benefit of being on random blogs aren’t as powerful as it once was. The top blogs are some of the most powerful media outlets now, as opposed to individual writers posting from their bedrooms. With the battle between the indie blogs and the top media outlets comes a battle of exclusivity. A lot of artists now have to strategically think about where they’re going to debut their music. Quality over quantity. It’s not as necessary to be on every blog, it’s important to be on the right blogs and galvanize their fan bases.
Who are some of your favorite blogs out right now?
I’d say Pigeons and Planes, FakeShoreDrive, DJBooth, and 2dopeboyz. And I see them as separate from The FADER, Vice, Pitchfork etc…
Over the years they have begin to say that teaching is the most important profession. Growing up were there any teachers that had inspired you to become a teacher yourself
It all started with my mom, she was a CPS teacher. I was in her second grade class with a majority of my friends, and I was able to see the creativity she was able to bring to the class. What I learned from her was that school didn’t need to be boring. I ended up having a good 3rd grade teacher and 6th grade teacher. In high school and college I was able to have some great teachers and professors as well.
For the past five years you have been teaching business and entrepreneurship classes at Columbia. Discuss how the experience has been
It has been excellent so far. It’s great to be in front of these kids who will one day be my peers. What I like so much about Hip Hop culture, like I stated earlier is that you have to teach these principles to the next generations. It’s a living-breathing thing, it has to be carried on, the music scene in Chicago has to be passed on so it can sustain. I want to be able to teach these kids that are going to enter the business some of the values that someone taught me. Being face to face with our target audience everyday is great. The flexibility that Columbia as a whole, and my department specifically, shows to the teachers is a plus. They encourage me to work on Closed Sessions. Columbia wants people who are really working in the field to teach here, not people who were in the field 20 years ago and now just teach about things they used to do. Anyone who is building a creative enterprise and has the opportunity teach at a college, should see it as a gift.
Do you find it rewarding to share your knowledge and expertise to share your knowledge with your students?
100%. I get feedback from the kids that they enjoy that, that’s where the authenticity comes in.
What’s next for Closed Session in 2016?
Mike answered this question best recently. Basically, we are on a 5-day plan, we are a small company, we don’t have the luxury to necessarily have these long plans. We are going week to week with objectives and ideas. We are continuing the Nat Love campaign. Jamila Woods just dropped a new song and finishing up her project that she’s going to drop this summer. oddCouple is getting ready to release a new EP called Liberation, new stuff from Kipp Stone and GLC on the horizon as well.