Sidewalk Chalk is a lyrical nu-jazz project. No, wait … they’re a conscious hip-hop collective. Or, actually, wait — are they an updated mid-‘90s R&B band? At every turn of June-released LP “An Orchid is Born,” it gets harder to pin down or paste labels on Sidewalk Chalk’s huge, diverse sound — and that’s OK by them.
“As of now, we call ourselves the evolution of hip-hop, soul and jazz,” says vocalist Maggie Vagle, speaking both to the group’s multifaceted identity and its acceptance of that identity being in constant flux. Vocalist and emcee Rico Sisney sits next to her, nodding and adding that genre fluidity is a big typifier of their Chicago home scene. “The poetry influences the hip-hop,” he says, “and the hip-hop influences the jazz, and the jazz influences the funk, and it’s all cyclical.”
“An Orchid is Born” subscribes to a similar chain reaction dynamism, moving from sound to sound with striking sanguinity. Lyrically, the album tackles some substantial themes (its longest track is titled “Suite for Black Lives”) and it’s divided into three distinct parts, giving it a magnum opus feel. Make no mistake, though — its singles are all-out funk jams, built to last all night on the dance floor.
Here, Sidewalk Chalk performs a sound check set at Portland’s newest jazz club, the downtown Jack London Revue. Maggie and Rico sat down with us afterward to talk Chicago hip-hop, the importance of gratitude, and how music-making can shed light into a seemingly dark world. Watch video of the performance above and hear the interview below, plus download mp3s of the songs.


Audio recording and mixes: Steven Kray
Editor: Nate Sjol
Videographers: Nate Sjol, Jarratt Taylor, Andrew Barrick, Tiara Darnell
Interview: Isabel Zacharias
Executive Producer: David Christensen