Chicago has seen many generations of innovative music. In regards to house, three exponential periods come to mind. Check one, the later period of Sal Soul- record label of the mid 70’s to early 80’s that carried disco (ala Loretta Halloway) to the building blocks of house (with their early Pettibone and Frankie Knuckles material). Check two- the birth of acid, with Marshall Jefferson and Fast Eddie recording for Trax and DJ International respectfully. Check three (after a lull), Cajual and Relief, making Chicago a place to watch again.
Currently Chicago is in a state of flux. Cajual is moving along with soulful and deep tunes, Underground Construction (for the most part) is pushing hard Latino house, and DanceMania is… well, you know, DanceMania. All are making great records, but the label currently representing all spectrums is International House Recordings- due, for the most part, to producer and label A&R man CZR. Unless you are a bear (in which case you’ve been hibernating all winter) you’ve heard ‘Chicago Southside’, a stompin’ cut with all the elements of a disco stormer. If you’ve searched for more, you may have discovered a diverse collection of tunes, from Ghetto to Latin to tracks. CZR has created quite a pile of works, and at only 24 years old, you could be equally surprised to find out he’s not the new jack you might expect.
A Chicago native, CZR began mixing early HipHop and house in his mid-teens. Then in ‘88, he started a job at Quantum, the distribution company that sold releases by DJ International and its subsidiary Underground Records. It was there that CZR was exposed to the production side of the music- watching the likes of Tyree, Fast Eddie, and Kool Rock Steady do their thing in the studio, and thus enabling him to produce his own 12”s.
But while being from Chicago has it’s benefits, it also has it’s drawbacks. When Quantum dissolved around the turn of the decade, the city entered it’s aforementioned limbo. With the exception of artists like Armando- who were releasing records globally on DJax, Chicago music usually stuck close to home, and active record labels were sparse. So, CZR did the logical thing and started his own label, Grifa, which set the stage for the rebirth of International House records.
Founded by Bad Boy Bill and Mike ‘Hitman‘ Wilson in 1990, IHR had been shelved because of time constraints. But with CZR at the helm, IHR took on a new life, allowing artists once looked over their chance to shine. CZR himself lead off his releases on IHR with ‘Abstract Musik’, which also coincided with the opening of his record shop, bearing the same name. Abstract Musik (the record and the store) contains something for everyone- comprised of a hard, bassy cut (Ghetto Musik), a swingin’ bit (Structure), and two Latin pieces… truly worth the wax it’s pressed upon.
The altering shades and textures of innovation continue to come from International House, and with CZR at the wheel there appears to be no end in sight. The formula is perfect- why should anyone besides a great producer run a label? In the future, CZR plans to help develop more artists on IHR, both in Chicago and globally, which, no doubt, is fine by Bad Boy Bill (who has controlling interest in IHR’s father company, Mix Connection Multimedia). “Bill trusts my ear,” CZR says in a way that seems to glaze over the fact that every record he approves of receives radio play (via Chicago’s B96 FM) to millions of people… now that’s pressure! CZR himself plans to do more remixes and also focus on producing vocal oriented tracks. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. At only 24, CZR has seen the Birth, Rebirth, and maybe the Future of House.