Samantha Jordan, aka Austin-based rapper and activist FURY

Chicago native and Austin resident Samantha Jordan, 33, has been rapping as FURY since 2015, with a sound that emphasizes live-band instrumentation and politically conscious lyrics. Her community activism focuses on housing justice, and until recently she worked in rental assistance for Oak Park Regional Housing. In January 2022, her proposal for renovations to Columbus Park in Austin won a $1.5 million city grant as part of the Chicago Works Community Challenge. 

FURY and south-side rapper-producer BOLY Blaise run the open mike Lyrics & Libations every Wednesday at Hairpin Arts Center. On Friday, June 24, she performs upstairs at Subterranean to celebrate the release that day of the EP FURY REVOLUTION, her first new music since the 2018 EP Black Magic.

As told to Philip Montoro

In 2020, when everything stopped, I couldn’t do music. Thankfully, unemployment went through. I didn’t work for like a year and a half, from the end of March until last August. So I had nothing but time. So I was like, “What is going on out here?” When everything shut down, often all I had was my neighborhood to go to, and I was very upset because there was nothing to do. 

Everything was just closed, and there wasn’t a lot of walkable areas that I felt safe being in, and they were just closing grocery stores left and right. And you just saw disparity after disparity, and they didn’t care. I’ve just seen everything I grew up with closed, shut down, abandoned. 

So this grant came out in May of last year. And I loved the fact that it was a grant that a resident could fill out—you didn’t have to be with any organization. Because I found it difficult to connect with organizations. They kind of just wanted you to pay your dues, and I straight-up had people who were like, well, you just find somewhere to align with for ten years, and then you can do something. 

I did get the idea from—she was a Chamber of Commerce president for Austin at the time, Tina Augustus. She suggested Columbus Park, because I’m just like, should I do it on a vacant lot? It could’ve been a vacant lot, a city-owned park, or a library that you can use this grant—up to $1.5 million—to renovate, to do upgrades. 

And I found out in late October that I was a semifinalist. Then I gave a presentation against two other finalists. 

Columbus Park is huge. It’s historic, it’s on the National Registry for parks, which is very rare for a city park. And so I just went for it. And I found out in January that we won, and I have been over the moon ever since. We’re using it to upgrade the park. So new tennis court, basketball court. And an amphitheater. 

Samantha Jordan, aka FURY, was awarded a $1.5 million Chicago Works Community Challenge grant in January 2022.

Because one of the things I said is we need events here; we don’t have any event spaces. There’s really no bars in Austin—there’s nothing but churches and abandoned buildings. We needed something to where we can have businesses come and see there’s money out here to be made. A lot of times we’re forced to go to Oak Park or neighboring communities like Belmont Cragin or Cicero just to find fun, food, entertainment. There’s not a lot of options in Austin. 

There’s a huge field [in Columbus Park], it’s called the bowling green, which is what they used back in the day—the park is over 100 years old. And they used to use it to bowl on the grass. So there’s like a little hump in the middle of it, but it’s almost the size of a football field. And it’s right by the lagoon, where the water is. So it’s a beautiful location. And I want to have music events, I want to have festivals, I want to have Taste of Austin, I want to make it a place where we can come have pop-ups. 

I’m thinking a nice stage with a covering, some shade in the field, just so we can have events all through the summer and have businesses come and see, “Hey, maybe I should open up here because every time my food truck is here, I sell out.” And that’s the goal, is just development. 

Development—but through music, through something that’s more organic and less trauma-based. People are always like, we got to come together. But if we’re just always talking about how we’re hurt, poor, broke, that’s not what we want. As a younger generation, we don’t want to focus on—we know we’re messed up. What helps us is going to a show, having some drinks, you know, dancing, blowing off that steam. And when you go to events like that, that’s where you meet people, and people can just start forming groups organically rather than like, hey, let’s all just come here and meet and just assume that we’re all going to be on the same page—that has not worked for Black people in general, just because we’re different. 

So I want to focus on having events where we can learn each other, talk to each other. You know, like each other. I lived in Austin five years and didn’t know the people I was around. Only time I heard from my neighbors was when they were fighting, and I’m not gonna be like, “Hi, I’m Samantha. I just heard you cussing out your man. Are you fighting?” 

And green spaces—another part is, hopefully we can add an exercise park where they just have machines that are stationary, and they’re there year-round. So people can come do circuit training and, you know, walk around, and just promote health and wellness and getting back outside.

They’re already starting on the basketball courts. And then the tennis courts should be late summer, early fall—because these are gonna be major renovations. So they may be in phases, but most of it should be done by the end of this year. We still have to design the performance area. So that may be finished early next year, early summer. We definitely want some art, some murals. But the goal for this project is something with a quick turnaround, not a long drawn-out five years.

“Columbus is so big—it goes from the expressway all the way up past Jackson, and from Central to Austin,” says Samantha Jordan, aka FURY. “It has a golf course, nine holes. So it’s like, why don’t we know this? Why aren’t there golfing classes, or tennis, if we have all these things?” Credit: Gonzalo Guzman for Chicago Reader

I got a little 11-year-old. She don’t want me to call her “baby” anymore. She’s still my baby, though! She had virtual class, so it was important for us to get out and walk and not be cooped up in the house 24-7. And that’s when I was like, man, why aren’t there more parks? Why, in the park that is here, is there nothing but open space? 

So I definitely had her in mind. Her school was like two blocks from Columbus Park. Even when I was applying, I was just telling her, “Hey, I’m gonna get this grant.” And she’s like, “OK, ma.” You know kids, they don’t believe nothing. They just think all adults are full of crap. But I was like, “Camille, you guys are gonna be able to do stuff at Columbus Park.” And she’s a believer now. That’s all I gotta say. 

And to get an 11-year-old to believe you—oh, now she loves me. Now we got in the newsletter at her school, so she’s just like, “My mom’s a celebrity! She just won $1.5 million!” Like, it’s real. 

I was performing at one of those Sofar Sounds shows, and someone was talking to me afterwards. And they were like, “Oh yeah, I have a friend. She teaches in Austin at Circle Rock.” And it turns out their friend was my daughter’s teacher. “My friend told me they saw your show. Oh, I couldn’t believe it! Please let me know the next one.” So my daughter really thinks I’m a superstar now. I can’t go back.

After the shutdown, when things started opening back up, I was totally back at the beginning. To help myself get back out there as an artist, as a creative, I hit up my guy BOLY Blaise. And we brought back this open mike that I used to do—this is where I got my start. It’s called Lyrics & Libations. I had a venue that was willing to let me throw something. Hairpin Arts Center, that’s over on Milwaukee and Diversey. And we’ve been throwing this open mike since September. 

We have beer and wine, but it’s open mike—so everything from comedy, poetry, monologues, rap, R&B, country, just everything. And people have come out consistently. I know one week we had Hannibal Buress just drop in randomly. Which was so cool, because he was just, “I saw this on Eventbrite, so I just came to check it out.” 

But that’s how Chicago is—if you build it, they will come. And that’s what I’m excited to do—throw festivals. I know music, and I know food. So I’ve already gone out for another grant. Hopefully I get it next year. The Neighborhood Access Program grant. And that’s kind of the same thing: come up with an idea, something you want to do in your neighborhood, and we’ll see about funding you. I would love to do a summer series to celebrate the new performance area, so I’m hoping it all lines up.

Violet Crime, Da$htone, Barry & the Fountains, FURY
FURY’s set is a release celebration for her new EP, FURY REVOLUTION, which comes out the day of the show. Fri 6/24, 8 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, $15, 17+

My new project, FURY REVOLUTION, is gonna be an EP. It absolutely is about just me coming back into contact with music, with my community. I really had to have a reckoning—2020, it broke me. There’s no pretty way to put it. Because I lost everything. 

In 2020 I had my song “I Won’t,” which is one of my favorite singles, it was put in a Netflix original series called Gentefied. And they put it in two episodes. So I’m like, 2020 is gonna be my year. Like, I got shows booked, my band, all that. And then everything stopped. So this was me asking, Who are you when the music stops? And why do you have this super-conscious music, but you don’t know anybody in your neighborhood? There’s just no connection. 

The 2018 FURY single “I Won’t” appeared in two episodes of Gentefied just before the U.S. COVID shutdown.

I just really had to ask myself why. And when I didn’t have any answers, I had to go find them. And that’s kind of what the revolution is—being your own light out of the darkness. Because really, you’re all you have in these situations. I think a lot of us felt hung out to dry when all this happened. So I’m just like, either I can just sit, go crazy, just keep smoking, you know, just lose my mind into this abyss. Or I can talk to people. And that’s what I did. It was me saying “Hi, I’m FURY.” You know, I’m just introducing myself. Some people were like, “Who the hell are you?” Some people like, “Oh hey, what’s up!” And it was focusing on who I could build with. 

And that’s what revolution is to me. Sunup, sundown, a lot of situations happen to me over and over again. But I feel like I’m different each time. I have people come in and out of my life, like clockwork at this point. All you can do is control your reaction to it every time it comes back around. 

Who are you going to be? Are you still going to be easily triggered, easy to bait, easy to get upset? Or are you gonna be calmer ’cause you know who you are, you know what you want in your life? Revolution is just knowing, if I don’t change something, I’ll be back here next year. A lot of us are kind of in this endless loop, this vicious cycle, and we want to break free. But it has to start with you. You have to know who you are. 

I even changed the meaning of my name from “Fury,” just the word, to an acronym for Finally Understanding the Real You. That’s what came out of 2020: Who are you? I don’t want to just be a rapper. Yeah, I know I can rap hard and fast, and I’m kind of scary on the mike. But I want to be more than that. I want to be a leader, a protector, I want to be a listener, I want to be the voice for people who aren’t confident enough to get up there. I want to help give you that courage to do an open mike, even if you haven’t touched a mike in two years. 

So that’s just me, coming to terms with who I am as a person, as an artist, as a mother, as a friend. And I wasn’t happy where I was at. I got back into school, I started hosting the open mike, and all this happened at the same time. And to look back now, it was a lot to take on at once. But I’m glad I did. I just could not keep doing nothing, seeing nothing. Don’t let people tell you to wait ten years. If they’re saying that, find another way. Find another way to get where you need to go. So you can keep your sanity.

FURY considers “Taking It Back,” from the 2018 EP Black Magic, a prequel to the single “Revolution” from her new EP—they’re linked by the theme of people reconnecting with their power.

When I say I really found out where I lived, I even changed my daughter’s school. I put her in a school that had programming. This is where I found these connections—now I can’t go somewhere without knowing someone who knows someone. We’re kind of separated out west, but we’re also connected. The community input [on the Columbus Park project] kind of came naturally. It was just from me talking to people. 

What was crazy is, I reached out to probably ten people, ten or 15 people, and the only one that responded was Tina Augustus from the Chamber of Commerce. But that one idea, that was it. Once I had a place, I’m just like, “Well, what do I want here?” A lot of it will just mean walking through Oak Park or going up north to all the different parks, and then walking through Columbus—like, Why don’t we have this? Why don’t we have these kiosks so we can know events going on? Because not everybody has Internet. Why don’t we have performance areas or places for food trucks? 

Columbus is so big—it goes from the expressway all the way up past Jackson, and from Central to Austin. It’s huge. It has a golf course, nine holes. So it’s like, why don’t we know this? Why aren’t there golfing classes, or tennis, if we have all these things? Why aren’t we closer as a community? 

And I think this is just a good way to start that conversation and see, well, we need that space and opportunity. Once we get these things here, we could have people who want to be in the park more—’cause I think right now they just use it for like, you know, family reunions, barbecues. But we want something more intentional and consistent.

We’re seeing what we can fit—you know, $1.5 million sounds like a lot. But let me tell you about this thing called concrete that will laugh at your budget! It will chew it up and spit it out. So I don’t want to say we’re gonna add a bunch of stuff and then we can’t. We also want message boards, just so people can put up paper or flyers for things going on in Austin. There’s so much happening—we want to make sure we make the most of it.

I just graduated the first year of the Odyssey Project, through Illinois Humanities. It’s for college credits. It’s for people on the west side, low-income people. That’s what I did for the last nine months. I’ll go back in January to resume. 

This was another part of revolution. I’m like, “Why didn’t you go to school?” I went to high school, I did trade school, but I never went to college college, because I was just scared, didn’t really have any guidance. So I was like, forget it, I’ll just work. Getting unemployment, you didn’t have to worry about work. And I could just learn, and I had the capacity to take stuff in. 

Cover art for the EP FURY REVOLUTION, which drops on Friday, June 24 Credit: Courtesy the artist

I notice when I’m working all the time and burned out, I don’t want to meet new people, I don’t want to do anything, really, I just want to recover so I can do it all again tomorrow. And that is what I’m definitely trying to avoid this time around. I don’t want to face that burnout. Because it takes so much away from community work. 

Currently I’m just doing music full-time and doing gig work—just trying to free myself up, because the summer’s coming, it’s festival season. I couldn’t do full-time work and then still be able to get back to being FURY.

I want to be available to curate events or at least find funding—that’s something in itself, getting money to do these things. School really helped me, and it’s humanities, so we were doing things like world history, art history, things I’d never thought I would be into. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this had it not been for the virtual revolution—everything’s online now, so we have so much access to these programs. I’m excited to go back. Once I started school, now I don’t want to stop.

I was working with Oak Park Regional Housing, and I was doing a bunch of stuff: helping people with emergency rental assistance, HUD services. So for people trying to buy a home, you have to take credit counseling. It was just me learning the housing industry. For what we spend on rent, a lot of us could afford our own home, because most of us spend like $1,200, $1,400 a month, and your mortgage will be like $900 for a three-bedroom house or something. And we’re all crammed into these one-bedroom apartments. And it just shows you—it’s been made like this for a reason, to make other people rich off you renting.

I think we’re about 52 percent renters [in Austin], 48 percent homeowners. Not a lot of people own their homes, so you have a lot of people wondering, will I be here in the next year or so? Or is the building gonna get sold? 

I definitely want more of the people who live in Austin to work in Austin. They have this quality-of-life plan, and it just has a bunch of data that I scraped so hard—I had nothing but time to just go through the numbers. And you know, Austin is about 100,000 people. And it used to be like 95 percent African American. I think now we’re down to 89 percent, or maybe 85 percent Black and then 13 percent Hispanic. So it’s a lot of changes happening right now. [Editor’s note: According to the Austin quality-of-life plan released in 2018, in 2016 the neighborhood was 81.7 percent Black and 12.6 percent Latino or Hispanic.] 

This is my first time moving to Chicago—I was always on the outskirts, Melrose Park, Stone Park, Oak Park. But this is my first time really living on the west side, and I could feel everything that I ran from all these years. It’s like you get there and you don’t exist anymore. You just disappear. There’s nothing but anger or frustration, because you can yell all you want, it feels like nobody’s gonna hear you. It just feels like, “You’re here—pay your bills and mind your damn business.”

I want to see us not being worked to death to fight for a little piece of this pie. I want us to be invested in and educated. 

A lot of the people that work in Austin, they’re going downtown, they’re going to the north side, they’re going to the Gold Coast to work. So that’s probably the areas that they respect. “That’s where I am. That’s where I make my money.” And it kind of makes you feel like Austin is just out to get you. It’s somewhere you have to survive. And that’s what I would like to see change. I don’t want it to be like, you know, we take pride out here because we survived the west side, we survived the gun violence, we survived the poverty, the food deserts. Like, I’m not proud of surviving. And that’s another part of revolution, is asking, So what do I need to thrive? 

When it’s time to say, OK, what do we want? What’s the ask? If it comes down to it, people get super quiet. Because number one, we don’t really think they’re gonna do anything for us. And people are not used to being asked, What do you need? Everybody’s just kind of like, every man for himself. 

That’s what I would love to see change first, and I feel like it’s very realistic. But you got to give people the space to do it. Like, it’s not going to happen if you make them go to church and try to speak up and talk—that shit is terrifying! It needs to be a place where it feels safe and open, fresh and green. And that’s what I’m hoping Columbus Park could be. It can lead to us having these event spaces and venues and concert halls—all these things that we need.

There’s so much money going around, especially with these R3 grants [Restore, Reinvest, Renew] and all this marijuana money. That’s where it should be going to—the west side is hit hard by the war on drugs. 

I hate that these kids have to see trash everywhere on their way to school, and needles, and condoms. That really messes with you. And that’s what really hurt me living on the west side, is seeing the trash and nobody picking it up. People litter all over the city, but they clean it up downtown. They clean it up on the north side. 

There’s SSAs [Special Service Areas], that was a big awakening too—there’s special corridors, and taxes can be raised to keep a street clean. I need to figure out how to get consistent funding, so we can have these cleaning crews and beautification. Because Austin is gorgeous—these homes are just like Oak Park homes, they just haven’t been invested in. They’ve been allowed to dilapidate, to crumble. But it’s the same. You got the same architects, you know, architects that would teach a Frank Lloyd Wright something. 

We have everything we need. We got the Green Line, we got the Blue Line, we have a great infrastructure. And every meeting I go to where they’re talking about rebuilding, they say we have all the bones here to have a great, vibrant community. All that’s missing is the funding. But you can’t squeeze it out of us; we’re all poor. You can’t just keep taxing us. 

Funding is out there. But it’s just not getting to us. I want to be able to better trace this money, because people have been throwing money out here on the west side for decades. But it is not reaching its intended target.

At the end of the day, we need jobs, we need training. I want the people in Austin to not have to go way up north or downtown. I want to have jobs here that keep Austin beautiful and growing.

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