Chicago Hip-Hop Misfits: Chore Boy & Brad Kemp Deliver on Stories You Can Tell Yourself

On the surface, Chicago-based hip-hop duo Chore Boy and Brad Kemp have very little in common. Chore Boy is an intense, Connecticut-born, bearded rapper, with a fondness for psychedelics and underground hip-hop. While the blond-haired-blue-eyed Kemp was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and is a classical composer with a love for musical theater. While the two had vastly different upbringings and musical influences, they both came to Chicago with the same mission – to find work in the city’s illustrious comedy scene. 

Chore Boy, real name Dan Rahig, studied comedy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studied comedy. In January 2013, he moved to Chicago with a group of friends from college to work in the city’s comedy, which has helped make stars out of famous comedians such as Tina Fey, Chris Farley, and many more. 

During Chores’ early days in the Chicago comedy scene, he performed at various theaters around the city and got his break when he subbed in for a friend at an iO Theater show called Bastards of the Underground, which was founded by Chris Redd of Saturday Night Live. Rahig was asked to be in the show permanently after his one-night fill in and eventually became the lead rapper for the show. 

Around that time, Kemp was teaching music improv and songwriting classes at Second City, after graduating from Columbia College in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in music composition. Kemp would go on to find work as a music director for Second City and has since written 15-20 shows that have run in Chicago. He is also a member of a comedy rap group called Handsome Naked, which appeared on NBC’s Bring the Funny

However, Kemp wouldn’t get into hip-hop production until years later. In his younger days, he got his first taste of hip-hop from pop radio, which introduced him to Eminem, OutKast, and Kanye West. In college, he became a bigger fan of hip-hop after hearing West’s 2010 opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Before that, his knowledge of hip-hop was minimal, but he used the skills he acquired in doing musical improv comedy to learn how to make beats.

As a musical director for improv comedy shows, he would have to play different genres of music (ragtime, ‘90s R&B, Boy Band), and that’s how he learned how to focus on different sounds and tropes from different styles of music. He said he’d study different genres by listening to various Pandora radio stations and then try to emulate the sounds and arrangements on his keyboard. 

“I turned him into a hip-hop producer, and he turned me into a rapper,” Chore Boy said about his early working relationship with Kemp.

Chore Boy and Kemp’s paths finally crossed in April 2015, when the rapper heard Kemp’s work with Handsome Naked. Chores reached out to work with him for his own comedic hip-hop group, Baby Cock Gun Money. While the group didn’t land many gigs, it did help set the groundwork for both Kemp and Chore Boy to more seriously pursue hip-hop careers.

“I’m a fucking student of it, and he is too, but in a completely different way,” Chores said. “I’ll bring up a song, and I’ll be like ‘I want this vibe.’ And he’ll make a completely different fucking beat than what I want. Cause what that means to us is completely different, but it’ll result in a cool thing… We have very different brains about music, but like the way we grind on it is similar… (Brad and I) are both very technical in our thinking of how to do it, and we both pull a lot of the same tricks.”

Over the past three years, the two worked closely together on Chore Boy’s various projects, including D.R.U.G.S., Chore Boyfriend, and Pongo. However, the two never released a full-length project together until 2019, when they put out two different LPs, including Exordium and Stories You Can Tell Yourself, which dropped in June

“It definitely feels like the first time, especially thinking about all those projects that the sound and the lyrics and the stories and the hooks, all of it are at their best potential where they could have been,” Kemp said about the new record.

Stories is one of the most ambitious albums of the year in Chicago hip-hop. Both Kemp and Chores said this record is the culmination of three years of working with each other and focusing on what type of music they want to make. The LP is decidedly mid-tempo, with heavy subject matter often pointing out the faults of capitalism and hypocrisy of American society.  

“The whole point of the album, is like that every person that listens to it, and thinks at one point, any point of the album, ‘oh I haven’t thought about it that way,’” Chore Boy said. “Just cause like, yeah a lot of it is lies you tell yourself. To me, it’s attacking conditioned thinking that you had put in you as a child. Stuff you don’t even think to question.”

Stories You Can Tell Yourself is the first time Chore Boy took his time on a project and fleshed-out concepts that he has touched on in his earlier work, but not with the same depth and insight. The heady subject matter was in some parts influenced by Chores’ affection for psychedelics, which he said helped him analyze his beliefs and how he developed them. 

“No one song is like an answer to another, they just contain references and different ways of thinking and advances in thinking throughout,” he said. “When you trip mushrooms as much as I have, which was up to 100 times in a single year at a point, you start to see cycles in your thinking and roots in your thinking… If you start thinking long enough about the way you think and why you think that way, you can trace it back… We all operate off based assumptions and based ideas that if we actually critically engaged with them, we’d say that’s fucking absurd, I don’t think that. And you probably don’t, but it’s been in you for a long time. You fed that phantom scraps until it grew.”

Stories You Can Tell Yourself shows two artists, who are both in some ways misfits in the Chicago hip-hop scene, at their most self-indulgent. While they have many radio-friendly pop-rap tracks and boom bap-leaning hip-hop cuts in their catalog, they are at their best when they go left and indulge in their more experimental tendencies. Kemp fleshed out his production by using more live instrumentation over his obscure, atypical sample choices, while Chore Boy doubled down on what he said are people’s biggest criticisms of him as an emcee – his dexterous vocabulary and fast flows. 

“It comes down to like, I may never make it, right?” Chores said on the night he quit his job at a ride-share company. “But I’m going to be making music regardless. So I might as well start making music that I like and want to listen to.” 

Written by: Zach Goose

Header Photo by: Patriac Coakley