I think being able to have that platform [and] being able to help others, you know, it’s just the morals my family taught me. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
By F. Amanda Tugade and Jay Gentile
PHOTO BY ERIKA KRISTEN
If you thought Chance the Rapper couldn’t have possibly cast a bigger shadow over the entire Chicago hip-hop community in recent years, just imagine being his little brother. While just two years younger than the Grammy-winning, Obama-meeting, violence-fighting local phenomenon, Chance’s little brother Taylor is just beginning to carve out his own place from behind his brother’s massive shadow — most recently coming out as bisexual on Twitter in advance of his 21st birthday in January, telling fans “I’d like to be more open about myself to help others that struggle with the same issue.”
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Bennett brand knows that family members are no strangers to activism, with Taylor’s father a deputy chief of staff to Mayor Emanuel and former aide of President Obama. While both Chance and Taylor have done their fair share to fight against violence in a city whose murder rate continues to skyrocket to increasingly incomprehensible levels, Taylor had his own brush with the law in 2014 when he was charged with aggravated battery after he turned himself in following a scuffle at a local house party.
While his voice sounds eerily similar to that of his elder brother, Taylor showcases a slightly more rapid-fire delivery in the mode of one of his chief influences Twista while continuing to refine his individual style via free mixtapes that he releases online in the vein of his brother. Dropped via SoundCloud on February 24, Taylor Bennett’s nine-track Restoration of an American Idol EP is a head-bobbing follow-up to his 2015 full-length debut Broad Shoulders, from which the self-titled track was later made into a short film released last month. Restoration is full of features including Lil Yachty and Raury, not to mention a choice matchup with Chance, Jeremih and Mike Will Made It for “Grown Up Fairy Tales.”
The same night as the album release, the fun-loving West Chatham native held an intimate listening party followed by a live in-studio performance at the Chicago headquarters of the world-famous JBTV before ending his busy evening at the Second Presbyterian Church for a charity event to fight local youth homelessness. Chicago INNERVIEW met up with Bennett following his TV appearance and minutes before he headed off to the church to talk about the EP and his current efforts to highlight the city’s children and teens in need.
Chicago INNERVIEW: It’s been just hours since you released Restoration of an American Idol and performed its songs for the first time. How does it feel?
Taylor Bennett: I feel great. It’s a crazy show. I mean, my project just dropped and it’s going super viral on the internet right now. I guess I really couldn’t be happier. I’m glad people have respect for the work and the time that I put into it. I’m just glad they enjoy it. That’s definitely who I made it for, the fans.
Chicago INNERVIEW: Restoration of an American Idol. What’s the story behind the title?
Taylor Bennett: ‘Restoration’ means to either restore or to bring back to owner, but it also means to return the heir to the throne. I like to think that I’m bringing the reality and you know, love, and being yourself back to not just hip hop but for music, as well.
CI: What was it like for you to work with so many different people on this project?
TB: It was a great experience. It was amazing being able to work with so many talented artists. So many artists respected me enough to put their voice and that support system behind my project. It’s amazing, nothing short of that.
CI: Following tonight’s performance, you’ll also be showing support for [youth homelessness prevention nonprofit] Out in the Open Sleep In. What does it mean to you to lend your voice to a cause and be more involved with the community and its organizations?
TB: I think being able to have that platform [and] being able to help others, you know, it’s just the morals my family taught me. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. So I’m glad to be a part of it, and I’m also glad they allow me to be a part of it. I’m glad they see me as somebody with a voice and with a platform. To be in the position is amazing, but I think to take advantage of it is even better.
CI: Just taking a look at what you’ve accomplished so far, what does it mean to you and what’s next?
TB: I have no idea what’s next. I’m just going to continue to put my best foot forward and move up. Right now, this is a small accomplishment and I’m proud of it. And I’m just going to keep going and doing our thing.