J Wade and Cloud Boy build a Creative Mansion

Jaylin Wade remembers a night in 2019 when he’d just gotten into bed, shortly after 1 AM, and a FaceTime call yanked him awake. His friend Jordan Patterson had just finished a track and knew he had to send it to Jaylin. Jordan produces loose-limbed hip-hop under the name Cloud Boy, and Jaylin raps as J Wade. For that track, Jordan had slowed down a vocal sample from a soul song till it began to droop, then looped it atop a palatial instrumental; Jaylin liked it so much that he starting working on his verses right then and there. “I got up out of my sleep, wrote the whole song,” Jaylin says. “I sent him a video of me rapping the whole song and went to sleep.” 

That track would become “Accused,” and it appears on J Wade and Cloud Boy’s newest album, The One Who Knocks. It’s far from their first release, but it’s the one they consider their grand opening statement and their introduction to their world—to the extent that they delayed it for years, working to get everything just how they wanted it.

Jordan and Jaylin began collaborating in fall 2017. For their first song together, the vibraphone-speckled “Global Saturation,” Jaylin recorded his verses in Jordan’s bedroom closet at his mom’s house in Jackson Park Highlands. Jaylin raps in a baritone rumble that pairs well with Jordan’s rhythmically slippery quilts of blocky samples. For their first few years as a duo, they dropped the occasional single, and in 2020 they put out a trio of impressive projects: the Lily of the Valley EP in May, the four-song EP Yall Thought We Was Done but We Right Back on It FYTB in August, and the full-length Ozymandias in November. 

Ozymandias features contributions from half a dozen members of the Creative Mansion collective.

Jordan and Jaylin consider those releases stopgaps—they helped build buzz and allowed them to sharpen their skills while they figured out how to bring their big album across the finish line. The One Who Knocks finally came out last month, pressed in a vinyl edition of 250 by boutique Danish label Copenhagen Crates. The digital version is essentially self-released—that is, it came out via the label arm of Creative Mansion, a local hip-hop collective to which the duo belong. 

Jordan began dreaming of building such a collective even before he partnered with Jaylin. His interest goes back to his admiration for Odd Future, who rose to infamy when he was in junior high. “I didn’t really have a lot of friends growing up who liked the same music as me,” he says. “I wanted to have a group of artists that were like-minded, like the same stuff, and can make something super cool.” 

Over the past few years, this dream has come to fruition. Creative Mansion now has more than a dozen members—enough that nobody involved seems sure exactly how many. In early March, when I met up with Jordan, Jaylin, and producer-rapper Bill “Elkay Sapphire” Bonansinga at the Harold’s Chicken on Wabash near Harrison, Jordan told me that 18 people were involved in the crew. A couple days later, he texted me the names of all the producers, rappers, videographers, and photographers in Creative Mansion, and there were 17. 

Creative Mansion members Sidaka, Aln!/Akf!, AjaniMF, DvntBeats, Jaylin Wade (aka J Wade), Bill Bonansinga (aka Elkay Sapphire), and Jordan Patterson (aka Cloud Boy) Credit: Matthew Gilson for Chicago Reader

Members of the crew have already made waves, even if only locally. Producer-vocalist Blake Parker (formerly Blake Saint David) put out an EP called Be Your Own Celebrity in October, through Chicago indie Sooper. Producer and Clairo drummer Eddie Burns, who’s working on a full-length with Chicago rapper Qari, has a distribution deal with the label run by music magazine the Fader

While working on The One Who Knocks with Jaylin, Jordan built up Creative Mansion’s ranks. He’d ask people to hang out, sometimes at a session, and they’d often develop a friendship strong enough that he’d invite them to join. The album isn’t a product of the entire collective by any means—only one other member, Elkay Sapphire, makes an appearance, as one of three guest vocalists. But The One Who Knocks is as important to Creative Mansion as a whole as it is to the two artists who made it.

Jordan and Jaylin became friends in the mid-2010s while attending Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Englewood. Jordan started his freshman year in fall 2014, and Jaylin was a year ahead; they met in a computer science class during Jordan’s first year and bonded over music and video games. Jaylin would later serve as president of the school’s fighting-game club, and he still plays an anime-influenced game called Skullgirls competitively. In January 2022, he entered the 14th Frosty Faustings video-game tournament at a hotel in suburban Lombard, where he says he fell one win shy of the top eight in the Skullgirls bracket.

Jordan also played video games a lot in high school, at least at first—then he downloaded FL Studio, and by spring 2015 he was spending practically all his free hours making beats. “I was very depressed at that time,” he says. “I was excused from school, and I would do all my schoolwork at home. I didn’t have anything to do at home, so I just made beats. And since I had so much time at home, that just became what I did. I did it to feel better.” 

Jordan transferred to Mount Carmel High School in Woodlawn in fall 2015, but he and Jaylin stayed in touch. At Mount Carmel, he befriended and collaborated with a rapper who’d later become known as HateSonny.

When Jordan began experimenting with FL Studio, Jaylin was already involved in music—he’d taken up saxophone in eighth grade. He started writing raps in 2016, and he made his first recorded song, “Crumble/Congregate,” with a producer named Noah Mac he’d befriended at an Urbana jazz camp. In fall 2017, Jaylin started at Valparaiso University, which constrained his ambition as a rapper. 

Jaylin Wade’s first recorded song, “Crumble/Congregate”

“I didn’t have any equipment. I didn’t have anybody out there I knew that could record me,” he says. “I was writing a lot, but I didn’t have the means to record.” While he was away at college in Indiana, Jaylin would make videos of himself rapping a cappella and send them to Jordan, but that arrangement didn’t last long—Jaylin dropped out after a year.

In spring 2018, Jordan and Jaylin developed a rapport with Blake Parker. “We tried to make music together, and it worked,” Blake says. “I don’t make music with anyone. I don’t know how to collab—[I’m a] terrible collaborator.” 

Blake Parker’s 2019 full-length Cairo, Illinois features J Wade, Cloud Boy, and other Creative Mansion members.

Blake shared more than their talent with Jaylin and Jordan, though. They shared their space. “I’m like a hermit,” Blake says. “I don’t like leaving the house.” To hang out or work on music with Blake, people basically had to go to their three-bedroom apartment in Garfield Park. Blake had outfitted it with the three things they need for a place to feel like a home: a Spider-Man poster, a TV, and a lot of music equipment. 

“The whole living-room area had a couch with a TV, and then behind that couch there was a whole office area,” says Bill Bonansinga. “So we would be making music in that area. And then we would be back in Blake’s room—all the way at the end of the hallway, past all the bedrooms—we’d be making music over there.”

“Two completely different music environments,” Jaylin says.

“There were also booths by the front door,” Bill adds. “So sometimes it would be, like, three different projects going at once.”

In fall 2018, Jordan began his freshman year at the Illinois Institute of Technology. During the week, he studied computer science. On Fridays, Jaylin would take the train to Jordan’s IIT dorm, where Bill would pick them up in his car and drive them to Blake’s apartment to make music. Jordan would often spend the entire weekend there, sleeping on an air mattress in an unoccupied bedroom.

Blake lived in the Garfield Park apartment for less than two years, but that was long enough. “That was kind of the birthplace for CM,” Bill says. “For real.”

Jaylin Wade and Jordan Patterson. “I wanted to have a group of artists that were like-minded, like the same stuff, and can make something super cool,” says Jordan. Credit: Matthew Gilson for Chicago Reader

Jordan formed what would become Creative Mansion while he was still in high school, and at first he called it simply “Create.” It’d be generous to describe the group as a collective at that point, since it was just Jordan, Jaylin, and a producer named Lavaboi, who’d met Jordan through HateSonny. Lavaboi would eventually bring his best friend, producer Gualagabe, into Creative Mansion. He’d also gone to middle school with Bill—though Jordan and Jaylin met Bill through Blake. 

Create became Creative Mansion before the Garfield Park apartment years—Jordan looked up the preschool he’d attended in Hyde Park, also called Creative Mansion, and discovered it had closed in 2016. “I was like, ‘Damn, that sucks,’” he says. “And I was like, ‘That’d be a cool name for a group, instead of Create.’”

Jordan says Creative Mansion officially started in 2017, but it became a crew at Blake’s place. By then producer, rapper, and DJ Sidaka had developed a rapport with Jordan. Jordan had first reached out to Sid during the Create days to book him for a show that included several other future Creative Mansion members, and the two of them kept in touch. One day in 2018, while Sid was interning at Classick Studios, Jordan walked in with Eddie Burns and invited Sid to Blake’s place. And Sid kept coming back. “I started asking Jordan, ‘Can I come over to Blake’s crib?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, we’re all here, come on,’” Sid says.

Sidaka released the EP Coming Back Home in February 2022.

Sid liked what he heard from Blake, Bill, and the duo of Jordan and Jaylin. So when Jordan asked Sid to join Creative Mansion, it felt like an obvious next step. “I never worked with a group of people to that extent, because of my trust and my own specific flow of making music,” Sid says. But his new friends overcame his reluctance. “These people care just as much with sonic delivery as the delivery on a social basis and trying to create a following,” he explains. Creative Mansion also helped him fill out the roster of his band Brinstarr—Bill drums, and Jaylin’s cousin JP (styled “.jp”) plays bass.

Once Creative Mansion developed its own gravitational pull, all sorts of people in its orbit became members. Producer-rapper Flee Ku was Jordan’s best friend at Mount Carmel; videographer and producer Rigo had homeroom with Jordan at Lindblom; and videographer EJ shared a friend group with Jordan in high school. Rapper KofiDaChemist and rapper-producer-dancer Aln!/Akf! were close friends with JP and had crossed paths with Jordan in after-school programs as children. 

Other members made their entrances online. Rapper AjaniMF first messaged Jordan on Instagram in 2017, and introduced future recruits Eddie Burns and producer-engineer Sobby to the collective. Producer DvntBeats also met Jordan on Instagram. 

It’s not often that all 17 members end up in the same room, but they keep abreast of one another’s work in an iMessage group chat. “We give input,” Bill says. “We send [music] to the group chat with all of us in it before doing anything. It’s a lot of checks and balances—we’re always being like, ‘Oh, how does this sound?,’ and give honest feedback.”

The members of Creative Mansion could often give Jordan and Jaylin that feedback face-to-face while the duo worked on The One Who Knocks, even though the rest of the crew didn’t spend nearly as much time at Blake’s. The two of them made the bulk of the album at that apartment, usually in Blake’s room or in the living room. And if Jordan and Jaylin were in the living room, chances are they were watching TV while working on the album. As its title indicates, it’s inspired by Breaking Bad.

Some of the earliest material on The One Who Knocks dates from 2018, when Jaylin was coming out of a breakup. That colored his interpretation of Breaking Bad. The show’s cartel battles, secret second lives, and verboten chemistry weren’t at the front of his mind as he wrote his lyrics—other elements of its story felt more important to him. “It’s a lot of how you lose sight of love, chasing . . . your dream or whatever you’re after,” he says. “Not focusing on love until it’s gone, until it’s too late.” 

Work on the album continued into summer 2019. After Jordan finished his freshman year at IIT, he moved out of the dorms and back to his mom’s place in Jackson Park Highlands. But Blake’s place was his real home that summer, and some weekends he worked through half a dozen songs. Even when his Breaking Bad project with Jaylin wasn’t the focus of their sessions, the show was often on the living room TV. Jordan says he’s watched the entire series four or five times.

Jaylin Wade and Jordan Patterson consider The One Who Knocks their proper full-length debut.

Not everyone in Creative Mansion feels the same way about Breaking Bad, of course. “I don’t like that show,” Blake says. “I didn’t until super recently, until they got over it or whatever. They’re not over it, but until they stopped watching it watching it. I didn’t like that show because I was like, ‘It’s just an old white dude terrorizing communities with drugs, and we’ve seen it.’ But I get it now.”

Sometimes Jordan and Jaylin couldn’t work in the living room, and the TV wasn’t an option either. One night they showed up to the apartment to find a party raging away, and they slipped off to Blake’s room to make music. Jordan found a sample to use in the One Who Knocks track “What It Cost,” and Jaylin borrowed some cognac from the party to share with the folks who’d followed them back. “There was a bottle of Hennessy in the front of the house, and I was like, ‘They’re not drinking this,’” Jaylin says. “I grabbed it while [Jordan] was making the beat, and I was passing it around the room.”

Jaylin and Jordan finished most of The One Who Knocks before the pandemic, but they were hesitant about releasing it. “What we had was really strong,” Jordan says. “But I also feel it needed, like . . . the skits I put in there. It needed that to bring the narrative together. And I feel like it needed a few more songs.” 

After COVID struck, the duo developed a relationship with Charlotte rapper Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon, who’d found them on Twitter in 2019. When Ogbon posted a video he’d shot of a live performance by Jaylin and Jordan at a show they’d played with him last summer, it caught the eye of Copenhagen Crates. The label reached out, and once the duo had finalized arrangements for a release, they set themselves a deadline of fall 2021 to complete The One Who Knocks—they had to get final mixes to Copenhagen Crates in November. 

As that deadline approached, they came up with more tracks (including the brassy “Celeste” and the intro “Sweet Perfection”) and re-edited some old material. Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon appears on the bonus cut “Blurred Lines.”

On the home stretch, Jordan and Jaylin discovered that the usual feedback from the Creative Mansion group chat had lost some of its usefulness. After years of listening to the developing tracks, their friends all liked them just as much as the duo did. “We’ve been listening to those songs for so long, so it was kind of hard to nitpick songs that are special,” Jaylin says. “Our friends have been listening to them for so long too, so it’s kind of hard to get an unbiased opinion.”

Jordan hopes to make a Creative Mansion album that will feature everyone in the collective. He and Jaylin are working to manifest that dream, and for now they can know that they’ve opened a door for their crew with The One Who Knocks. They made it for their friends as much as for themselves. “For everyone else in the group, this album means a lot to us, because we were watching that happen, and we love these songs,” Bill says. “These songs specifically, to our group, feel like classics.”

Source link