Chicago has its fair share of musicians and various forms of music for everyone to enjoy. For thousands of commuters who take public transportation, they become familiar with the world of street performers who transform their platform into a makeshift stage.
For the past five years, South Side native Solow Redline has carved out a niche for himself on Chicago’s Red Line subway platform in the downtown loop district. His presence and powerful lyrics have attracted several video clips to be uploaded on YouTube for both journalists and regular daily commuters to capture on film.
Since 2011, Larry Newberry’s clip of Solow has captured viewers’ interest, as well as Ralph Braseth’s upload in 2013. But it wasn’t until a year later, when indie rap artist Cordell “Co-Still” Hunter came across him performing —sharing his performance on social media — sparking a viral avalanche of views.
He didn’t find out about it until later. “The weird part about it all is when I got home, my sister said to me, ‘Your video is all over Facebook.’ She said, ‘The dude said you’re homeless.’ I talked to him and I know his producer and his circle, so I was a little upset about it,” said Solow.
Not homeless, he’s gradually worked on local projects in the recording studio with producers on features and mixtapes. He said he didn’t see a problem performing in the subways because so many others he’s admired went that similar route.
“I looked up to R. Kelly because he used to perform in the subway. The other cats like 3 Piece. There was a group called Subway and they were all down there and they made their way, and I figured maybe I could do the same way.”
Since, the post by Co-Still — a notable rap artist, himself — the ”homeless” man video has received over 410,000 views on YouTube with countless interviews and a new spotlight on him. He soon signed with a Chicago record label, releasing a new album project Started From the Bottom.
Promoted as the “homeless” rapper, he’s freestyled on BET’s Cypher and has released a couple of music videos during his bout of fame.
Nearly three years later, a lot has changed for the ex-offender who says that before he found his passion for music, he followed the ills of the street.
“As a youngster, my mother gave me up for adoption. She was a foster child, by the time I was 2 years old, her foster mom persuaded her to get me out of the foster home. When I was eight, we ended up separated, so me and my little brother grew up in the same foster home,” he said. “Her foster mom became my foster mom — she raised us the best that she could. When I was 14, I was a straight A-student — I turned into a thug. I was running the streets — I was shot three or four times. I just went through a lot.”
Having rapped a little bit here and there, he began to take it more seriously as he began to try it out on the subway platforms. Soon after, his confidence of seeking another way out pulled him away from the streets.
“When I saw that music was a way out, I gradually used it.”
His current situation is an open book of lessons. Solow is with a new record label with a new music project, Freedom Papers. The album is an open-book testimony of understanding the African-American experience through modern-day times.
“It’s kind of deep. If you’re familiar with the slave times, you had to have freedom papers to roam in society freely. A lot of people believed that we are all free in America, which I don’t really believe. I believe you are free once you gain economic freedom. So freedom papers in this country now would be money. You are not free if you don’t have money because you can’t take care of your family, you can’t do anything — you’re stuck in the ghetto and you don’t have the freedom to leave.”
Featured songs include “Watch How I Do It” featuring Zoey Dollars, the radio single “Get It” and his favorite, “Let Me Live My Life.” He says, “It represents what I went through and everything that I had to do to get where I’m at.”
The album has collaborations from Bobby V, Young Dro and hip hop pioneers Do or Die. Released in part by Slang Music Group, the music video for “Get It” has nearly 60,000 views on YouTube since the top of the year.
Growing up in the foster system, he’s witnessed his life take a turn for the worse, and now he’s determined to build a better one for his kids.
As a single father, he is committed to guiding his children on a better path, learning from his mistakes.
“My lesson to them would be don’t think with anger. It’s the worst thing that we could do to not put color in it, but the worst thing we can do as Black people is think with anger. It’s what’s expected of us. If you ever watch the television shows, whenever they portray a Black man or woman, it’s always anger,” he explains. “A Black woman rolling her eyes and cursing people out or a Black man pulling out a gun. This is what they show us to be in the media. I want my kids to know you can’t physically fight through life. You must use your brain.”