Femdot pauses his rap career to help feed ChicagoLeor Galilon September 17, 2020 at 11:00 am

Femdot, aka Femi Adigun, coordinates volunteers in the Aldi parking lot at 2600 N. Clybourn. - MATTHEW GILSON FOR CHICAGO READER

When grieving, outraged crowds marched through downtown Chicago on Saturday, May 30, to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Chicago rapper Femdot was among them. And when Chicago cops began assaulting those protesters, he was among the targets–one or more officers struck him in the head with a baton. Even after a hospital trip to have his injury closed with staples, Femdot–born Femi Adigun–didn’t shrink from the fight against systemic racism and police brutality. But he did let friends talk him out of heading right back into the streets–in part because a new front in his struggle against injustice and inequity opened the very next day. On Sunday, May 31, Chicago Public Schools responded to citywide unrest by announcing that it was suspending its free lunch program as of Monday.

The CPS announcement went out after 10 PM. Its free lunch program had already served more than 13 million meals since the start of the pandemic, so a lot of families were relying on it to feed their children–and CPS gave them almost no time to prepare for its absence. Several of Adigun’s friends sprang into action in the early hours of Monday, June 1. Rapper and Young Chicago Authors teaching artist Matt Muse posted online that he was headed to meet volunteers who were setting up rapid-response food distribution outside Burke Elementary School in Washington Park, which was ordinarily a pickup point for free CPS lunches.

Adigun read that post and reached out. “He saw it and called me instantly,” Muse says. “He was like, ‘Hey, do y’all need help with anything? I’ll pull up.’ I don’t know if I told him to bring anything–I was probably like, ‘Bro, just go to the store and get whatever is on the list that they put up.’ He pulled up with donations–and then stuck around that first day, and helped with the volunteering and helped coordinate.”

Adigun returned to Burke the following day to help with what would become the People’s Grab-N-Go, a Black-led food distribution program that continued every Monday till the end of August. By midweek, Muse became part of the Grab-N-Go leadership team, which also included fellow YCA teaching artist Dominique James, activist Trina Reynolds-Tyler of Black Youth Project 100 (among other organizations), and Jihad Kheperu, a regional manager for youth outreach program Becoming a Man. On Tuesday, when Adigun left Burke after a second day of giving out food, he got an idea for a different way to provide for those in need.

“What about people who can’t get there? The elderly, or people who are scared of COVID, things of that sort,” he says. “And also, when I was driving back, leaving the neighborhood, I didn’t see a grocery store open. So the next day I started delivering groceries.”

On Wednesday, June 3, Adigun began spreading the word about his plan via Twitter and Instagram: “If you need food we will slide on you with groceries! No questions asked.” He encouraged people to reach him through Delacreme Scholars, a nonprofit he’d established in 2018 to provide financial assistance to Black and Brown college students. He decided to call his new food distribution program the Scholars Slide By.

“When we started in the beginning of June, I was doing everything myself–doing all the running around, deliveries,” Adigun says. “I was mapping out a system. I did it five days a week for two weeks straight, and I did 100 deliveries a day. I was working out the kinks of the system of how I wanted to do it.”

Adigun couldn’t keep up that pace for long, and by the end of June he’d created a process that’s enabled him to coordinate a team of 25 to 50 volunteers to deliver groceries to as many as 100 homes per day. The Scholars Slide By settled into a biweekly schedule on June 27, operating on Saturday and Sunday every other week, and it’s continued all summer. By the middle of August, Adigun and his volunteers had delivered groceries and other essentials to roughly half of Chicago’s 77 community areas as well as to a few suburbs, including Cicero and Riverdale.

The Scholars Slide By volunteer Korrina Zartler loads groceries for delivery. - MATTHEW GILSON FOR CHICAGO READER

He’s decided to wind down the program this month, in order to shift focus to the scholarships that Delacreme Scholars awards each winter. The final Slide By of the year will take place Saturday, September 26, and Sunday, September 27–though with any luck it’ll be back. Adigun says he’d love to pick the Slide By back up next summer, if he’s able to get funding.

The biweekly schedule of the Scholars Slide By has allowed Adigun to continue volunteering with other food distribution efforts, including the People’s Grab-N-Go and Feed the West Side, a monthly initiative based in Austin that’s overseen by the Pivot Gang-affiliated John Walt Foundation. He’s stayed busy enough with community service this summer that he nearly forgot about a big booking that COVID-19 had canceled for him. “I was out doing something and I realized, like, ‘Damn, I was supposed to be doing Pitchfork today,'” he says. “That would’ve been cool.”

As Femdot (which he styles femdot.), Adigun is one of the strongest young MCs to emerge from Chicago in the past few years. He can deliver richly detailed verses at such a blistering speed that you could be convinced his first gear is most other rappers’ fifth. He’s worked hard to develop mike skills that can turn heads, and he’s smart enough to put that technical flash to use in the service of storytelling and lyricism. Though his wordy, labor-intensive approach to rapping befits the underground, he’s also got an ear for hooks and melodies with mainstream appeal.

And Adigun’s career is picking up traction. In 2018, the year he graduated from DePaul, he performed at Lollapalooza. Last fall, he went on his first nationwide tour, supporting popular Chicago rapper Tobi Lou; all 24 dates sold out. While on the road, Adigun self-released his best project yet, 94 Camry Music, a concept EP revolving around his first car. Had things gone according to plan, he would’ve performed it in full at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Instead Adigun spent the summer driving around the city to bring strangers groceries. The city’s punitive response to May’s street demonstrations and looting–cutting off CTA service, raising bridges in the Loop, suspending the CPS free meal program–aggravated the inequalities and injustices that had brought protesters downtown in the first place. The Slide By can’t undo the harm done by decades of disinvestment in Black and Brown communities, but it’s provided much-needed relief by mitigating the lack of access to food for hundreds of Chicagoans.

“It’s cool to know that when the world fails us, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Adigun says. “For everyone to be figuring it out together, it gives me a sense of peace in the midst of all this. A lot of times when we’re doing this, stuff is stressful, but those end up being some of the best days.”

Delacreme Scholars had its beginnings several years before its launch in 2018. Adigun, 25, struggled with the financial burden of higher education while at DePaul. “I had holds on my account a lot. I had to put money down to schedule classes,” he says. “In college, in general, you watch people who don’t come back after the first semester, or the next year, and it’s over funds.” In 2013 or 2014–around the time he began college–he got the idea to offer scholarships to fellow students, but he wouldn’t have the means to do it till after he graduated.

Adigun got by with a lot of loans, which he’ll be paying off for a long while yet. He also figured out how to navigate a byzantine, opaque administrative network in order to find resources for students in need. “It’s like a secret . . . not society, but you’ve gotta tunnel through, talk to the right person, meet in person, do this, do that–somebody could probably help you get an extra grant or something,” he says. “It’s a whole process.”

His schedule at DePaul didn’t leave him a lot of uncommitted time to spend jumping through these hoops. He majored in biological sciences and worked a part-time job, all while he laid the groundwork for his rise as a rapper. “I’d be in class from, like, nine to two; I would probably be in lab from three to six; I worked from six to 11; I’d record from 11 to, like, seven,” Adigun says. “In between those times I’d probably just be in the library. I’m known for being in the library.” That’s not all he was known for. “I didn’t sleep,” he says. “I could fall asleep standing up, because you gotta get what you can.”

Adigun’s rap career gained momentum steadily throughout his college years, despite this grueling routine. The difficulty of making time for music taught him to budget every minute and sharpened his perfectionist streak. He performed his first public set as part of a show sponsored by Columbia College at Subterranean in 2014, then landed his first headlining gig at Schubas in May 2017. In June 2018, just days after dropping the album Delacreme 2 (distributed by beloved Chicago hip-hop indie label Closed Sessions), he graduated from DePaul. That summer he appeared at Lollapalooza, and for his next big show he headlined Lincoln Hall in December. As he prepared for that date, he revisited his idea to start a scholarship.

“I’m like, ‘I could just take the proceeds from this show and give this away to the people at DePaul, and if it works I can continue to grow and do this next year with people outside of DePaul,'” Adigun says. “I’m fresh out of college–I know what people in college need, because I graduated four months ago.”

Adigun announced his scholarship program with a tweet on November 5, 2018. He asked Black DePaul students who needed financial assistance to e-mail their name, age, and major to an address he’d set up for Delacreme Scholars–named after his album. “I’m trying to make it in a way where I’m funneling my resources, but it’s also not about me,” he says. “The scholarship is a completely separate entity from Femdot. It just so happens that I’m the one who made it.”

He’s since secured partnerships that have allowed him to grow Delacreme Scholars, and because he’s no longer relying solely on his personal income, he can offer a predetermined amount rather than just giving away however much his next big show makes. Adigun’s Lincoln Hall concert funded two scholarships, but in late 2019 the next annual crop of scholars grew to six with help from Puma–and the Illinois and Indiana students Adigun selected to become Delacreme Scholars didn’t just get $750 each but also Puma clothes, shoes, and backpacks.

Adigun didn’t decide to award scholarships in the dead of winter just because that’s when his Lincoln Hall show happened–he was also thinking about the way financial aid, which is typically granted at the beginning of the school year, semester, or quarter, often runs dry right around then. “There’s no scholarships in the middle of the year–that’s when your financial aid drops, or you’ve got to wait for it to kick in when you get back to school but you have holds now, or you’re trying to figure out your whole semester and you need money for rent but you’re waiting for your refund check to hit on time,” he explains. “I just wanted to be the resource I didn’t have. I’m like, ‘I would’ve loved to trip and fall into some money in December.'”

Adigun (right) with the Scholars Slide By volunteers Fallone Moffett, Corea Mitchell, and Staci Morris - MATTHEW GILSON FOR CHICAGO READER

Adigun’s mother, Siki, didn’t know her son was even interested in rapping until 2012, when he won a competition at Homewood-Flossmoor High School at age 16. Siki considered her eldest son, Kola, who’s 12 years Adigun’s senior, to be the MC of the house. When Kola made music in the basement of the family home, Adigun would watch him work. “Femi, we knew he was listening–but nobody knew he had that interest until high school,” Siki says.

“We’ve always supported him, but I never thought he would ever go into this,” she says of Adigun’s hip-hop career. “I just wanted to support whatever he’s doing, and just be there for him, just make him happy. The only problem that he would not get my support is if school is not going well. But if school’s going well, anything else you want to do, you got my support.”

School wasn’t a problem for Adigun. He was an honor roll student in high school, and he also played on the basketball team and ran track. As the Homewood-Flossmoor 2013 class president, he gave a speech at his graduation. “If I remember correctly, a lot of it was rooted in moments that we had as a class–like beating our rival high school. That’s what success was like,” he says. “I think that’s how I ended it–like, ‘This is gonna be a snippet of what success is yet to come.'”

Since his early days at DePaul, Adigun has defined success for himself as succeeding in music. “I pretty much geared my school and work schedule around me being a musician, rather than gearing my work and music around being in school,” he says. “I was always moving around. I was always tired.”

Adigun is a meticulous planner, which helped him maximize the time he spent on music. He’d often record raps on his own at home, polishing his lines till he knew he could deliver them perfectly in a professional studio–he wanted to be able to nail his tracks in one take when the meter was running. “Because of funding, I literally can’t afford to waste time, but I also don’t have time to waste because I have to study,” he says.

The disciplined work habits he developed in college have stuck with him. “A lot of my creative process–even currently–is purely based on me being in school and having to have a structure,” he says. While at DePaul in 2014, he planned out a timetable of mixtape, EP, and album releases that extended well beyond graduation. “All the projects I’ve dropped up to this point since the King Dilla project, I’ve known what these projects have been since 2014.”

At DePaul, Adigun shared a class with Cole Bennett, founder of hip-hop blog Lyrical Lemonade, which has since become a miniature entertainment empire largely thanks to Bennett’s videography work. In 2016, when Bennett shot a video for Adigun’s “King Dilla Freestyle,” he brought Lyrical Lemonade editor Elliot Montanez with him.

“Afterwards, Cole was like, ‘I really like this guy. He’s super dope, he’s talented–I think he could use some help, like a manager,'” Montanez remembers. “Cole was basically like, ‘I would, but I don’t really have time. If you’d be interested, that’s something you should look into.’ And I was already interested.” Montanez says he spent about a year becoming friends with Adigun before he formally asked to become his manager. “I always wanted to manage someone,” Montanez says. “But I wanted it to be the right person.”

Montanez manages Adigun, sharing the job with Tamika Ponce, who met the rapper through a mutual friend. Adigun asked Ponce to manage him a few times before she warmed up to the idea and came aboard in 2017.

“I knew I was in trouble because he got booked for a House of Vans show at South by Southwest, and I asked who was going with him and he was like, ‘I’m going by myself,'” Ponce says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t let you do that.’ I booked all my stuff last-minute, and it was really expensive to go down there and help him.” After she pitched in to set up his first headlining show that May, she agreed to join Montanez in managing Adigun.

“When she got brought on, she helped so much–she makes our lives easier,” Montanez says. “We’re a good trio. I feel like we work well together.”

Like Montanez, Ponce has a relationship with Adigun that transcends business. “He took me and Elliot home to meet his mother, and I felt like I was meeting my boyfriend’s parents or something. I brought her flowers. I was nervous,” she says. “We’re friends–I mean, we have to be. We trust each other with a lot of stuff.”

Montanez and Ponce have helped Adigun with the Scholars Slide By all summer. On the second day of the People’s Grab-N-Go, Ponce and Adigun brought a large canopy that organizers used for shade throughout the summer. When Ponce noticed Adigun using his own funds on the Slide By, she stepped in to remind him that he had to budget carefully and solicit donations because there weren’t any gigs on the horizon. “Of course, as the manager, I’m like, ‘We got to get a little bit more organized, because you’re also spending all your own money and everything’s slow right now,'” she says.

In his early social-media calls for volunteers and support for the Slide By, Adigun included information for Delacreme Scholars’ Cash App, QuickPay, and Zelle accounts. By July, he’d launched a BioTapper website where people can donate money via Cash App, credit card, or debit card as well as sign up to volunteer. The Delacreme Scholars website has added a form to take grocery requests, which closes once it’s accepted as many submissions as the Slide By can handle–thus ensuring that nobody goes through the trouble of listing the groceries they need and then doesn’t receive anything. “We really get whatever they ask for–the ‘no questions asked’ is a real thing,” Adigun says. “I mean, we don’t get alcohol and stuff like that, but in terms of food and baby care products . . . a lot of people need cleaning stuff, so we’ll grab mops–whatever they really need, we’ll grab it.”

Adigun’s system involves up to 50 volunteers per day, split evenly across two shifts–the first shift runs from 11 AM to 2 PM, the second from 2 to 5 PM. He meets volunteers at a north-side parking lot adjacent to an Aldi and Jewel-Osco, then provides each of them with grocery lists for two households. Ponce and Montanez station themselves inside Aldi and Jewel, respectively, and use Delacreme Scholars’ credit cards to process grocery payments for the other volunteers.

“Fem will set up in the back of his car, in a parking lot with his laptop,” Montanez says. “He organizes all this stuff himself. He has spreadsheets. He’s in constant communication with these families that are reaching out.”

When volunteers cancel at the last minute, Adigun, Montanez, and Ponce pick up those grocery deliveries themselves. Adigun is grateful to be reminded of how rewarding it is to hand over a donation in person. “When you pull up and they start realizing, ‘Oh, y’all got what I asked for,’ it’s cool, it’s an element of care in that,” he says. “Like, ‘OK, y’all actually are considerate and care about what I have going on enough to get me my essential items that I asked for.’ It gets heavy, but stuff like that, you can’t buy that. You can’t buy that at all.”

Adigun with one of his managers, Tamika Ponce (right), and volunteer Miata Ramos (left) - MATTHEW GILSON FOR CHICAGO READER

As the Slide By became an established part of his summer, Adigun also continued volunteering with the People’s Grab-N-Go and Feed the West Side, launched by John Walt Foundation executive director Nachelle Pugh, Pivot Gang cofounder Frsh Waters, and photographer Qurissy Lopez. Leaders from all three of these mutual aid efforts consistently pitched in on at least one of the others, which helped them all grow.

“We all care about the city, number one,” Muse says. “We all care about each other, number two–we already exist with each other in community, long before all of this happened. So it’s very easy to be like, ‘Yo, Imma pull up to your shit, you gonna pull up to my shit, we’re all gonna help each other out.’ That’s how it’s been since June first. Everybody’s been helping everybody, there’s never a no, there’s never a ‘Nah, I’m not in the mood.’ It’s ‘Oh, you need help? Imma pull up.’ That’s the energy Femdot brought. That’s the energy we brought to Femdot’s shit. That’s the energy we brought to Feed the West Side.”

Pugh has made sure that people who’ve come to Feed the West Side were aware of the Scholars Slide By–it’s been the only program of the three to do deliveries. “We had a sign-up sheet for people that were in line, like, ‘Hey, if you want other assistance or have a friend or family member that’s immobile or can’t get out here today, we do have a friend that’s doing grocery drop-offs,'” she says. “I can’t even tell you how many people that I know of that have reached out and asked, ‘Hey, could you submit my information to that group again? Because they were really helpful for me.'”

Pugh understands the work that goes into coordinating a food distribution program, and she admires Adigun’s drive. “He was protesting, trying to stand up for the injustice that was happening in our community, and at the same time, still doing his grocery delivery,” she says. “It just proves the type of young man that he is.”

When Adigun has delivered groceries this summer, he’s had to rent a car, use a rideshare app, or borrow a car from his parents. He said farewell to the vehicle at the center of his most recent release, the October 2019 EP 94 Camry Music, on December 5, 2016, after he crashed into another car on his way to LA Van Gogh’s headlining set at Subterranean. “My brakes were bad, I slid into somebody, dented my car, and parked it,” Adigun says. “I did my verse, left, and that was the last time I had that car.”

“He would just always tell me how that car was basically like a piece of his family,” Montanez says. “His mom called the car Killa Cam.” Adigun had been driving the green 1994 Toyota Camry since he was 16–it’d previously belonged to his older sister, Seun, a track star who also founded the Nigerian bobsled team in 2016.

Adigun got the idea for a concept EP about his car in 2015, but he didn’t think he was ready to make what became 94 Camry Music back then–in fact, the right time didn’t arrive till after graduation, long after he’d abandoned Killa Cam. “The music I want to make now has to reflect me post-school and has to be honest to who I am,” he says. “I’m like, ‘OK, what moments have made me who I am–where did I have most of these moments? In my car.'”

Because Adigun didn’t start working on 94 Camry Music till the loss of his car was a couple years behind him, he was better able to render those memories in lucid, even-keeled verses. He delivers a career-making performance on “Snuck to Matty’s,” a minute-by-minute breakdown of an endless night out with friends that’s upended by a shooting at a house party–his vivid lyrics unsentimentally capture the thrill and sadness of a life-altering night.

Adigun had been driving a 2002 Honda Accord while making 94 Camry Music, but it gave out on him in May 2019, when he was en route to a mixing session at 2 AM. He never replaced that car–before the pandemic, he’d been doing his touring and traveling in rentals or other people’s vehicles, and he’d adapted to getting around town without one of his own.

On Saturday, May 30, after the cops whaled on Adigun at the protest, he texted Ponce asking if he could swing by her place.

“I kind of knew something was wrong–and he showed up and he was just so calm,” Ponce says. “Ten minutes later, he takes his hat off, and I see blood on his face. I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ He’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I got beat with a baton.'” Ponce stayed up all night with Adigun in case he had a concussion. He did, and when he finally went to the hospital, he needed those staples to close up the top of his head.

For years, Adigun had consistently scheduled time to write lyrics and work on music, but after his injury, he took a break. “You would think, like, ‘Oh, this is something you should probably write about,’ but I didn’t,” he says.

Adigun had been working on the Slide By and helping with other mutual aid efforts for around a month when he started flexing his music muscles again. By early July, he’d started participating in Zoom sessions with his friends in Pivot Gang–they’d set themselves a challenge to write 16-bar verses and produce beats in 16 minutes. “We’re all so competitive, it felt like we was in the basement or we was just cooking up with the homies,” he says. “That made me feel like I have it, like I can start writing again.” At around the same time, he wrote his first new song since early May.

Before the pandemic, he’d finished recording most of the not-yet-titled follow-up to 94 Camry Music. He’s been tweaking it on and off, though he didn’t touch it during his hiatus either. “The project that I’m working on now, I’m also really excited about that, ’cause it doesn’t sound like 94 Camry Music at all,” he says. “It sounds like me, but it doesn’t sound like 94 Camry Music. Whatever people are expecting, they’re wrong, and I’m pretty happy about that.” v

Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *