It’s no secret that Chicago is in the midst of a musical renaissance right now, especially when it comes to hip-hop.
Unlike New York and Los Angeles, which rap legends and countless record labels call home, Chicago is almost an open playing field when it comes to emerging artists. The competition and saturation of these metropolises make Chicago an ideal environment for independent artists and labels — like the Latino-led studio and label turned creative agency, Private Stock — to thrive.
Headed by longtime friends Herson Escobar, Jason Valcarcel, and Luis Arroyo, the team founded Private Stock due to the city’s lack of studios and labels, but more importantly, as an outlet for three music lovers who wanted to create a hub where Chicago’s most talented upcoming artists could be not just promoted, but supported.
“We started back in 2013, but before 2013, we all kind of had already been together,” said Escobar in an interview with Remezcla. “We always dabbled in music and had our own things going on through a lot of trials and failures and everything, and that is what led us to come together — a lot of failure, a lot of [attempted businesses], until we eventually combined forces at one point.”
Before the trio raised the funds to acquire their own studio space, their meetings were often held on each other’s back porches, basements, and apartments — dreaming and conceptualizing their future official space. The name for the label was inspired by one of Chicago’s not-so-desirable traits — the obvious clique culture that permeates the city’s art and music scenes.
“With Private Stock, the concept was, ‘Well, let’s work with who we wanna work with now, instead of us trying to fall into circles that don’t want us; let’s just make our own,’” said Valcarcel.
“I see what we’ve built and the change that we can make for everybody. That’s what drives all of us; we can change lives and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
In the five years since Private Stock launched, the label has signed and produced for the likes of Papi Beatz, L.A. VanGogh, IKON, and Flex Lennon, and boasting walk-in appearances from hometown hero Chance the Rapper and the Save Money crew.
“We wanted to be able to provide a space for not just people who do music, but creatives such as writers, photographers, videographers, fashion people – anyone who is a creative, entrepreneur, or looking to go in that route,” said Escobar. “We wanted to create a hub; when you come in here, you can be Chance the Rapper or you can be this little kid who only thinks that they want to rap, but we can provide the space where everyone can be in one room and be able to cross paths and feel like everything is possible.”
Chicago’s hip-hop traditions, combined with the city’s smaller population of artists, is what Valcarcel believes has helped put the city on the map in terms of worldwide musical attention.
“Even though [Chicago is] a major city it’s still a smaller pool — where if you’re in New York, L.A. or Atlanta, there’s just so many people doing [music], and we’re more of a fishbowl instead of an ocean,” described Valcarcel. “It’s easier to see the transitions in music over here. They don’t have A&R people here watching the scene — so when it pops up on the Internet they’re catching it when it becomes viral, instead of being ahead of the curve like they are in their own cities. There’s something special here and now they’re actually starting to gravitate towards it.”
Private Stock’s founders describe the city’s current beloved rappers — Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Mick Jenkins — as having almost “poetic” flows that set them apart from their musical peers.
“They’ve got this poetry built into their raps and you can tell they did those slams — the [Young Chicago Authors] and Louder than a Bomb [events],” said Valcarcel. “Our sound isn’t anything like [the East or West Coasts]. We’re like a mixture of stuff, and maybe it’s because we’re the Midwest.”
Aside from Private Stock being a valuable resource for Chicago’s top artists, Herson, Valcarcel, and Arroyo are working for the brand to be more than solely a studio and label. In the next few years, they hope to raise enough capital to buy out a building that will function as half music label, half community arts center, free to Chicago’s youth.
“When I was still in high school, I came from music; I was always in the studio, but growing up after that, no one wanted to share how to get into it, how to use Pro Tools, how to produce,” said Valcarel. “I know I wanted that at that age, and I felt like there were more kids like me. We want to give that opportunity to those kids to do their thing and try new things and experiment creatively.”
With creative classroom curriculum budgets in Chicago Public Schools constantly being cut in half, or being almost completely depleted, Private Stock currently offers discounted studio rental rates to high school students as well as internship programs so students who want to pursue a career in the music industry can test out if it’s right for them.
“Where we’re from we’re not the best statistics; we’re just part of the system. Our public school system is not the greatest here, and we still see it on the news all the time – the lack of funding, the lack of knowledge that they tend to give us and the lack of resources all around us,” said Escobar. “It’s important for us to go back and tell these kids, ‘I sat in this same seat you are in right now; I was told the same things you were.’ I think it’s our responsibility and duty to create a platform like this and let these kids know that they can do the same.”
Between their community outreach work, artist promotion, video production, and upcoming slew of releases (expect new music from L.A. VanGogh, IKON, JoFred and Flex Lennon soon), Private Stock’s core mission is to treat everyone involved within the studio — from intern, to artist, to mixing engineer — as family.
“It’s dope to say that I help people feed their families,” said Escobar. “My engineer now working in the other studio — being here is how he feeds his family. Together we formed something where we can employ people and we help other people get through life or whatever it is — if you’re signed with us artist-wise, or you work with us it’s a family thing, and it’s something that’s forever.”
“I see what we’ve built and the change that we can make for everybody,” added Arroyo. “That’s what drives all of us, we can change lives and that’s what we’re trying to do.”