Rest in power to Chicago hip-hop’s first breakout artistLeor Galilon September 28, 2020 at 10:15 pm

Black A.G., aka Tim Poindexter - COURTESY RYAN BROCKMEIER AT MIDWAY: THE STORY OF CHICAGO HIP-HOP

As hip-hop culture spread throughout the U.S. in the late 80s and early 90s, a Miami-based UHF station called the Box helped it take root. The station was dedicated to music videos, and viewers could call in and request their favorites. As former Box executive John Robson told Thrillist in 2016, callers weren’t interested in the rock clips MTV prioritized: “We very rapidly became a channel that was dominated by hip-hop,” he said. According to Nelson George’s 1998 book Hip Hop America, by 1992 you could tune in to the Box in 36 states. And in 1991, a video from Chicago had made its way into the Box’s rotation: “No Typa Drugdeala,” credited to producer and DJ Quicksilver Cooley and rapper Black A.G.

“A.G. was one of the first guys to actually get a nice buzz here in the city–not even just in the city but a little outreach, without a major push,” says rapper Vakill (aka Donald Mason), who hit the Chicago scene in the 90s as a member of foundational underground hip-hop crew the Molemen. “At that time, that was pretty big, because nobody was actually doing that.”

In 1991, Chicago hip-hop didn’t have much of what you’d call a national profile. The following year, Twista, Common, and Ten Tray would drop their debut albums through big labels that distributed all over the country, but before Chicago hip-hop made that first big push, Black A.G. and Quicksilver Cooley got national exposure for the video of the B side of an independently released 12-inch single. That made “No Typa Drugdeala” a landmark and a source of inspiration. “It put a battery in my back,” Vakill says.

Black A.G., born Tim Poindexter, never repeated the crossover success of “No Typa Drugdeala,” but he continued rapping and recording, often with Quicksilver Cooley. A.G. was working on a comeback album when he died Sunday, September 6, at 51 years old.

A.G. grew up in Englewood near the intersection of 56th and Emerald. He first got hooked on hip-hop in the mid-80s, as a student at Hyde Park High School. “At Hyde Park, they was big into breakdancing–real big,” says childhood friend Keith Carson, who goes by KC. “He fell in love with it at Hyde Park–they’d go there, practice their skills, battle. He came back to the neighborhood and decided he wanted to start his own breakdancing group.” A.G. recruited KC and four other friends from the neighborhood to form the Soul Sonic Rockers.

“They used to just bring out the cardboard, man, and they’d have their windbreaker outfits, and they’d just go at it right there on 56th and Emerald,” says Spencer “Spoon” Hampton, another longtime friend. “It used to be a crowd back then–it was dope, man.”

The Soul Sonic Rockers mostly battled neighborhood breakers. One of their frequent opponents was a crew called TNT, whose members lived a block east of A.G., off 56th and Union; they included Quicksilver Cooley and a dancer known as Sirgio. “Everybody had their specialty, but A.G. shined at the top, because he could do windmills,” Sirgio says. “I would never tell some of his buddies, but they edged us out because of A.G.’s moves.”

The Soul Sonic Rockers came to an end in 1986, after A.G. enlisted in the Illinois Army Reserve National Guard. He returned home a year later, which is when he started making music with Quicksilver Cooley, who’d previously produced and DJed for pioneering Chicago rap collective O.Z. & the D.V.S. Crew–their 1985 “Right to Rock” 12-inch was one of the first local hip-hop releases on vinyl. “Cooley, he heard about A.G., and so we had him come over and do a couple lyrics,” Sirgio says. “We looked at each other and we said, ‘Wow, this dude’s pretty good.'” Sirgio’s dance crew, TNT, also tried their hands at rapping around then. “After I heard A.G., I kind of said to myself, ‘You better get better at your day job, because rapping is not going to be it.'”

KC says A.G. and Cooley moved to California for around a year and a half in the late 80s to try to break into the music business. At the time, A.G. rapped as Tim-Ski. While his friends were out west, KC moved to Philadelphia for college, where he could find underground rap cassettes that were hard to get in Chicago. A.G. and Cooley were back in town by the time KC returned in 1990, and he gave A.G. a mixtape that included Big Daddy Kane’s “Young, Gifted and Black,” which caught A.G.’s ear. “He was like, ‘I love that. Imma change my name ’cause I’m Black and gifted–so Imma change my name to Black A.G.,'” KC says.

In 1990, Poindexter dropped his debut as Black A.G., the cassingle “Straight Gangsta Mac,” which Cooley produced. From that point forward, they shared credits on most of their releases. “Him and Cooley is inseparable, man,” says Vakill. “Like Premier and Guru–you can’t say one without the other. Those are the legends.” After Black A.G. and Quicksilver Cooley dropped “Fame Goes to Your Head” b/w “No Typa Drugdeala” in 1991, they put out a joint full-length (1995’s Tell the Truth) and an EP (1996’s Paper Story), all on independent labels. They traveled to California, Atlanta, and Houston to network with stars in an attempt to boost their careers. “A.G. and Scarface is pretty good friends,” Spoon says. But that kind of big success didn’t rub off.

A.G. had begun to move into a mentorship role by the time he met Keith “Shawtbizle” Wiley in the late 90s–he wrote the hook for a Shawtbizle song called “Droppin Bombz.” “He was basically tooling us to start our careers,” Wiley says. “Once I was inspired to produce, I wound up going to SAE.” Wiley studied engineering and graduated in 2018.

Spoon says A.G. never stopped writing, even though his recordings and performances tapered off. Over the past decade, Spoon had been encouraging his friend to return to the mike. “I would not let him retire,” he says. “I used to always tell him he’s my favorite rapper of all time. I’d always tell him, ‘You got a gift, so even if you don’t make a dollar off of it, still release that gift to the world.'” To help A.G. do that, Spoon opened a Canaryville studio in the mid-2010s called Alien Audio Studios. That’s where A.G. met engineer and producer Dennis Moore in 2015.

“I originally was hired to do Black A.G.’s visuals,” Moore says. “The first thing we actually worked on was a visual, which was a track called ‘Damn!’ From there we developed a chemistry.” Moore admired A.G. for his intellect and spirituality, and A.G. clearly took a shine to Moore. “If you know A.G., he will call you two, three in the morning,” Moore says. “Just talking about life, God, and music.”

A.G. enlisted Moore to produce what he saw as his comeback album. He was still booking studio time in early September, and he had plans later in the month to meet up with Wiley to record. Moore and Spoon ended up releasing the album, titled Long Live Black A.G., on Friday, September 18, the day of his funeral.

“I would rank ‘No Typa Drugdeala’ in the top ten most important Chicago hip-hop songs, historically,” says Chad Sorenson, aka DJ Risky Bizness, an executive producer on the forthcoming documentary Midway: The Story of Chicago Hip-Hop. “It’s one of the most influential songs. Other people heard Black A.G., they knew he was from the neighborhood, they heard the quality, and they thought, ‘Oh, I could do that.'”

Sorenson and the Midway team interviewed A.G. a few years ago for the documentary. They managed to interview Cooley too, before he died in March 2019–thus preserving the voices of not one but two pivotal early players. “We lost a chunk of real Chicago hip-hop history, losing these guys,” Vakill says. “It sucks to lose them as early as we lost them.” v

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