There was hardly a better time to be an aspiring rapper coming out of Chicago than 2012.
That year, label scouts began flocking to the city like never before, allured by Chief Keef’s thunderous “Finally Rich” mixtape, along with buzzing music by King Louie and Sasha Go Hard. While drill music ran the city, heading the left-of-center-scene was a squeaky-voiced talent named Chance the Rapper, who’d just turned a suspension from high school into a breakout mixtape, “10 Day.”
“[MTV2’s ‘Sucker Free’] did an episode in Chicago,” Chance recalled, speaking between hits of a vape pen at the Pendry West Hollywood. “Within a week, every label flying their reps to Chicago, trying to find the best drill artist and the best ‘alt’ artist. I, my friends, people I grew up with, anyone who’d started rapping in 2011 or 2012 were taking label meetings. A lot got signed.”
Famously, the man born Chancellor Bennett, now 30, would spurn the labels and go at it as an independent artist. In 2013, he released “Acid Rap,” a mixtape so potent that he proclaimed it would be your “favorite f— album” before the intro track had even finished. Over the ensuing 50 minutes of music, he backed up his claim, delivering soul-piercing wordplay centered on love, death and drugs over gospel-tinged production. The album was met with immediate critical acclaim, appearing on numerous year-end best-of lists; Pitchfork would rank it at No. 84 in its top 200 albums of the 2010s.
Ten years after its release, Chance will bring the mixtape to the Kia Forum for an arena-size celebration, playing songs from “Acid Rap” along with some recent hits. The show, set for Thursday, will be a wholly Chicago affair — longtime collaborator Vic Mensa will open the night with a throwback performance of his own cult classic “Innanetape,” which turns 10 this month.
“We made ‘Innanetape’ and ‘Acid Rap’ to inspire ourselves first, and the people after,” Mensa said. “I think Chance and I have grown a lot since then.”
Since “Acid Rap,” Chance has achieved the highest heights and endured some surprising lows. His 2016 mixtape, “Coloring Book,” became the first digital-only project to win a Grammy, for rap album. But in 2019, his wedding-themed album “The Big Day” was largely panned by critics and listeners, and a subsequent tour was first postponed and eventually canceled.
In response, Chance broadened his artistic horizons. Last year, he collaborated with visual artist Mia Lee for an installation at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring an emotive painting by Lee themed to his song “Yah Know.” Months later, he helped organize the Black Star Line Festival in Ghana, which drew 50,000 people and featured performances from Chance and Mensa along with Erykah Badu, T-Pain, Sarkodie and more. (A second edition of the festival is set for Jamaica in January.)
“I’ve been saying for a year and a half that we’re in a renaissance, and this will be a time period that people look back on — especially Black folks — that exceeds all our past understandings of community, wealth, education or art,” Chance said. “All of those things are being revolutionized, with a larger goal of reconnection.”
Your music has shifted pretty far from what you were doing on “Acid Rap.” Is it a strange feeling, re-immersing yourself in 2013? It really was when I did the first show in Chicago. That was a deep thing to me, because I don’t really play much “Acid Rap” at my shows now — I’ll play “Cocoa Butter Kisses” or maybe “Everybody’s Something.” So to dig through old footage to create the content for the screens at the shows, and reconnect with all the people from Chicago, it just takes you back.
Each bar reminds me of people I need to hit up; every place that gets mentioned reminds me where I need to get some food. It’s a very aesthetic album. Some people get the acid vibe from it or the juke-gospel-hip-hop vibe, but I think it’s really just about me living in Chicago, putting pressure on myself to make a breakout project.
What song connects with you the most today? “Acid Rain.” I wrote that when I was opening up for artists playing 300-cap rooms. I’m rapping about doing open mics but closing my eyes and seeing arenas. Going back and playing arenas for that project just makes me proud.
Remaining independent throughout your career has been a big part of your image. How strong was the urge to sign in the early days? [Signing] was the main thing on my mind, all the way until late 2012. I thought, “This is the way. I gotta get a deal.”
I was in a label meeting, and they were giving me a weak-ass deal, but I was still down to do it. But instead of having a budget for physical albums, I wanted to do no physical copiesand only put it on iTunes and pocket that money instead. They told me there was no world where people would ever buy music without having it physically.
So if they’d foreseen our digital future, you would have signed? Hell, yeah. I needed the money. But I think I was lucky to be scared and wary enough to not sign.
A lot of “Acid Rap” touches on addiction and the darker side of drug usage, yet you’ve talked about people bringing you vials of acid at the early shows. Did it ever feel like some people missed the message? I don’t think I was trying to get a specific message across. I feel like the coolest part about “Acid Rap” is it was so inquisitive and questioning things I thought I knew to be true.
I remember, two or three months after it dropped, I got tired of n— offering me acid and telling me about their trips every time I met them. But I couldn’t control it, because the project was out. It taught me that these projects are photographs of who we are in a moment but they last forever, and they shape a lot of people.
Did that lesson change how you made music? I really learned that lesson around the time I had my first child in 2015. I had moved out to L.A. and had a great time, but I wasn’t very productive. But when I had a kid and needed money, I went into a different mode. So during the creation of “Coloring Book,” I went through the process of “this baby’s really finna come and I need to tour and sing these songs proudly.” My kid’s going to grow up, and this is going to be a picture of my youth, of who I was before I was super-grown dad.
What was life like for you when you made “The Big Day?” It was hectic. I got married during that time, I had my second kid during that time. There was a whole bunch of s— going on in Chicago, between the mayoral campaign and Kanye coming back, everything. I remember crossing new thresholds in my life that were coming to me as an adult but still being in my youth at 26.
That album got some pretty harsh reviews, especially compared to your previous projects. How did that affect you? When I dropped “Acid Rap,” I got a lot of negative mentions at first, because [“10 Day”] was all about school. And then with “Coloring Book,” it was people mad that I was on some churchy s—. A new record is always a little bit jarring.
But when “The Big Day” dropped, [the reaction] definitely affected me. Like, “damn, this many people are talking about me, and it’s negative, all over the internet?”
I remember there was an initial reaction outside of my core fan base that I was noticing. It was way more of a Twitter conversation than I was used to. But it helped me understand, after the first week or two, that I had to stay outside. Views, mentions, comments all are important, but if you sit and read all of those and make them the measurement of the love versus hate that you had for something, you end up forgetting why you made it in the first place.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently? I think I’d do everything the same. My life isn’t easy at all, but it’s very eventful, and when things happen, they tend to work out in the best way for me.
Last year, you threw the Black Star Line Festival. What inspired that move? [In January 2022], I went to Ghana for the first time to visit Vic; he’d been staying out there. He had to make a bunch of moves around the continent, so he left me in the care of these amazing artists. I got shown the city of Accra by some of the renaissance artists of the 2020s. We really created community, and by the end of the trip, me and Vic were talking about doing a large initiative to reconnect Black folks in all the different Black countries. And we put together not just this concert, for 50,000 Black folks from around the world with top-tier artists from around the world, but did a whole week of events, with panels, Dave Chappelle speaking at the university, and all these different spaces for us to have intelligent discourse about what we want, what we need and what we can give each other. It reminded me of the Pan-African Festival of Algiers from the ’60s.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over hip-hop not having a No. 1 song or album for the majority of the year. What do you say to people who claim that hip-hop has peaked, that it’s falling off? I don’t believe that. Hip-hop isn’t dying when you have every single legend being platformed this year. You’ve got Chance the Rapper doing arenas for a 10-year-old mixtape, you got 50 Cent doing arena tours for a 20-year-old album. I think hip-hop is not only here to stay but it’s here to change things.
Are rap’s leaders doing enough to make that happen? I’ve been seeing a lot of hip-hop legends doing a lot of work. A lot of investing, supporting other artists, so that they don’t have to grow old and die in obscurity or without the honors they deserve. I think all we need is time and to re-emphasize the collective. And I think we’re getting closer to that.
Cobweb didn’t quite make waves when it was released in July, but its aptly timed Blu-ray release comes right in time for the spooky season, which fits it much better than summer. Samuel Bodin’s directorial debut has a talented cast that features Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, and Cleopatra Coleman, alongside child actor Woody Norman, who continues to be one to really watch. With some fun ideas, a unique framing, and some cool practical effects, Cobweb winds up making an impact despite its limited resources.
“Eight-year-old Peter is plagued by a mysterious, constant tap, tap from inside his bedroom wall – a tapping that his parents insist is all in his imagination,” says the synopsis. “As Peter’s fear intensifies, he believes that his parents (Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr) could be hiding a terrible, dangerous secret and questions their trust. And for a child, what could be more frightening than that?”
What makes Cobweb really stand out is the performances. Caplan and Starr are great as the parents, delivering creepy performances that leave the audience truly guessing if they are anxious parents, abusive psychopaths, or somewhere in between. While not particularly scary at any point, the film is always engaging, and Norman does a great job of portraying a child’s natural fear in such a situation.
The film will leave viewers with a lot to digest, especially if you engage with what you just saw and try to make sense of it. How much is to be taken literally? Could it be a child’s imagination that leads to a tragedy, and the more supernatural elements are simply used to cope? There are a lot of ways to read the events that take place, which makes this a prime candidate for rewatches. It’s one of those movies that are just as fun to discuss with friends as it is to watch.
The special features don’t really engage a ton with its interpretation — which is fine and almost ideal as we don’t need literal answers to every piece of art –, but I still would’ve loved to have heard a director’s commentary discussing what went into the movie. There are three short featurettes, though, totaling around 8.5 minutes. They provide a decent look into the practical effects that went into its final act, using a child’s perspective to tell the story, and taking advantage of primal fears, such as being afraid of the dark and spiders. While I wish there was a bit more to sink your teeth into, they do complement the film well and are worth checking out after you finish watching.
Cobweb Blu-ray Review: The Final Verdict
Cobweb winds up punching above its weight, and there’s no better time than fall to revisit it. Just as intriguing a film to engage with as it is to watch, it’s a quick and rewatchable movie that is worth discussing. While there aren’t a ton of special features, what is here is an interesting glimpse at production. While it’s not one of the year’s best horror movies, it’s still a fun watch worth your time.
Disclosure: The publisher sent us a copy for our Cobweb Blu-ray review.
Groundbreaking choreographer Rudy Perez, a pioneer of 1960s postmodern dance, died Friday, according to Sarah Swenson, a fellow choreographer, friend and member of Perez’s company.
Perez died of complications from asthma. He was 93.
Perez’s minimalist but wildly experimental work, marked by spare, precise movements, helped ignite a budding Los Angeles dance scene after he moved west from New York in the late 1970s. L.A.’s open spaces and natural landscapes inspired his innovative, site-specific works; and his interpretive abstract expressionism was so revelatory at the time, it opened up the dance landscape to new approaches.
“He came to L.A. as a major artist, a choreographic genius known for making his own rules,” choreographer Lula Washington told The Times in 2015, adding that Perez was an influence on her. “There was nobody here doing that type of experimentation then. He allowed other people to see the possibilities.”
Perez told The Times that his work sprang from the unconscious.
“Nothing is planned,” he said in 2015. “When I put things together, unconsciously, it comes from my lifetime experience up to that moment. Then ultimately, it turns out to be about something for someone, certainly for me. But I don’t expect for it to be the same for the audience.”
Perez was born Nov. 24, 1929, the son of a Peruvian immigrant and a Puerto Rican, and grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx with three younger brothers. He began improvising on the dance floor at an early age, with cha-cha and the samba, at family gatherings. His father was a merchant marine who traveled frequently; his mother died of tuberculosis when he was 7, at which point he contracted the disease and spent the next three years in the hospital, mostly bedridden.
“I think a lot of the pain you see in some of my work that’s very sort of contained comes from that experience, from being in the hospital and hardly having any visitors,” he once said. “It’s all very suppressed, but it’s there in my work.”
Perez studied with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham in the 1950s, as well as Mary Anthony, but found his voice in New York’s ‘60s-era, avant-garde dance scene. He was part of the experimental collective Judson Dance Theater with Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown.
His first choreographed work, “Take Your Alligator With You” (1963), parodied magazine modeling poses. Three years later, he put together his first solo piece, “Countdown,” which featured Perez in a chair smoking a cigarette. He recalled that initially audiences weren’t sure what to make of his unique form of dance. But eventually, he broke through the largely white dance establishment of the time and won over audiences.
Perez moved to L.A. in 1978 for a yearlong substitute teaching job at UCLA and formed a dance company shortly thereafter.
“In L.A., I felt freer; I was able to go beyond,” he told The Times. “I wanted to get away from the emphasis on dance, and work more with theater and natural movement.”
In recent years, Perez’s vision had been severely impaired due to glaucoma and macular degeneration. He continued working every Sunday with his Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble at the Westside School of Ballet. During the early days of the COVID pandemic, several dancers in Perez’s ensemble kept the workshop going over Zoom. They have since moved it to MNR Dance Factory in Brentwood.
“Rudy was so pleased that we continued the workshop,” said Anne Grimaldo, who danced in Perez’s ensemble for 35 years. “Even when his eyesight was going, [Perez] could still ‘see’ like a fine-toothed comb. He’d say, ‘point your toes.’ … He could see everything with extreme detail.”
Shortly after she graduated with her master’s degree in dance from UCLA in 1988, Grimaldo met one of Perez’s dancers at an audition. He told her to come to his class. Grimaldo hesitated; she had heard Perez had a reputation for being tough. She eventually ended up going. “Right away he said he wanted me in the company,” Grimaldo said. “And I never left.”
“Rudy changed all of our lives,” Grimaldo added. The workshop “wasn’t just dance: It was theater, it was choreography, it was improvisation. It was up to a performance level and professional. You didn’t sit down during a break and lean against the bar. When we first started out we’d always wear black. And the company was very tight. It was like a collaboration with all of us and Rudy and his direction.”
“Rudy was a titan of minimalist movement,” Swenson said, “achieved by just being himself, unique in his approach and product. Fierce and demanding in the studio, he secretly had a tender heart, and I’ll miss that more than anything.”
Perez insisted his dancers take Pilates, Grimaldo added. “Now I’m a Pilates instructor,,” she said. “I met my husband, Jeff, in the company and we have a daughter. … I mean, everything I do and what I have is because of Rudy and my connection with him.”
Throughout his career, Perez created dozens of pieces, including work for the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. He was also a teacher whose influence — at the USC School of Dramatic Arts and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, among other places — lives on in generations of choreographers and dancers.
Dance critic Lewis Segal told The Times that Perez’s vision sparked “a real firestorm in L.A.” in the late ‘70s. “Teaching it and choreographing [in his style], he made a difference,” Segal said. He added: “It encouraged people to really go with their instincts, to go for broke.”
In November 2015, UC Irvine presented Perez with a lifetime achievement award during “The Art of Performance in Irvine: A Tribute to Rudy Perez.” Perez’s dance ensemble debuted work there that he’d choreographed for the event: the three-piece performance “Slate in Three Parts.” A month later, Colburn School restaged Perez’s 1983 piece “Cheap Imitation.”
Among his many honors, Perez was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and L.A.’s the Music Center/Bilingual Foundation’s ¡Viva Los Artistas! Performing Arts Award. He held honorary doctorates from the Otis College of Art and Design in L.A. and the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, and his archives are part of the USC Libraries’ Special Collections.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Perez said in 2015 of his long-running career. “I’ve always been told, ‘Grow old gracefully’ — and I’m good at that. At this stage of my life, sure, it’s hard, but I’m striving for excellence. I wanna go out with a flash.”
He is survived by his brother Richard Perez, his niece Linda Perez, and nephews Stephen and Anthony Perez, as well as numerous former Rudy Perez Ensemble Members, collaborators, and friends. A memorial for Perez is being planned.
Times arts editor Paula Mejía contributed to this report.
1 of 5 | Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren star in “Caligula.” Photo courtesy of Vitagraph Films
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 30 (UPI) —Caligula: The Ultimate Cut, which screened at Beyond Fest in Los Angeles, is unlikely to win over critics of the original film. But, fans of the notorious Penthouse production will be treated even more debauchery in a more focused narrative.
The film charts the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Caligula (Malcolm McDowell). The empire’s excesses involve the carnal delights that Penthouse magazine specialized in.
However, producer Bob Guccione took the film away from director Tinto Brass and added hardcore sex to the film’s orgy scenes. The Ultimate Cut is comprised entirely of alternate takes of scenes or footage that has never appeared, and none of Guccione’s additions.
It remains the story of Caligula, though. Caligula’s predecessor, Cesar Tiberius (Peter O’Toole) already had a harem of sex slaves performing for him or fulfilling his needs.
So any take chosen is still full of background actors naked, writhing and simulating sex. Some sex acts are even suggested in shadow.
Once Caligula becomes Cesar, he enjoys the abuse of power. He makes light of the actual duties of the position.
Some absurdity remains in the nature of the material and is not necessarily out of place in an epic of decadence.
Caligula dances and prances around. In the rain his palace becomes a Slip N Slide. With his short kilt, McDowell inadvertently moons the camera every time he turns around.
The most memorable scenes from the film are still in this cut. Those would be the execution by decapitation machine, and the assault on newlyweds Proculus (Donato Placido) and Livia (Mirella D’Angelo).
Much of the film’s last hour is restored for the first time, which gives Caligula an actual arc. It explores Caligula’s insatiable madness to its inevitable conclusion.
McDowell plays the megalomania of speaking in dramatic declarations like, “If only all Rome had just one neck” and declaring himself a god.
The third hour also restores much of Helen Mirren’s role as Caligula’s wife, Caesonia. Considering the softcore sex scenes she shares with McDowell in this section, it’s surprising Guccione would have ever omitted erotic material with his lead actors.
Caligula is never boring. It can be exhausting, so at three hours plus an intermission, one might have taken the opportunity to hone the cut down to a more manageable running time. Perhaps Caligula is destined to be excessive by its very nature.
The only excess that feels out of place is the decision to open the film with more than five title cards explaining the circumstances of the original production. That is too much information to read at the beginning of a film.
This version of the film should just be presented either for people to discover afresh, or for fans to explore further before or after the film.
At that, even without Guccione’s interference, there are plenty of orgies and taboos in this edition of Caligula. Even without the hardcore sex scenes Guccione added, Caligula will never be tame.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.