Pugslee Atomz is sort of like the Chase ATM of Chicago hip-hop. If you don't see him around the city, you're probably not looking hard enough. Whether performing or promoting, the dreadlocked MC has been a constant on the scene for years now and through his many projects has succeeded in furthering the movement he desires here. Understandably, it's a tiring job…but Pugslee's never been afraid of a little hard work.
"If this is what you wanna do, this is what you wanna do," says the South Side native. "I think some people don't understand what working hard means. Every day, you gotta put forth that effort. Some positive motion has to happen, otherwise you just got little sparks happening, but no fire."
Of all the artists feeding the flames of hip-hop in this city, Pugslee seems to have the most fuel. A member of the venerable Nacrobats crew, he plays a role in everything from local DJ battles to the hip-hop TV show "Barbershop Hip-Hop" and the University of Hip-Hop, a South Side institution where he teaches a group of teenagers about rapping and the culture that surrounds it. But perhaps his most important contribution is the radio show he hosts every week along with fellow MC Thai One and JP Chill on 88.5 WHPK, the University of Chicago's radio station. Pugslee was asked to host 'CTA Radio' after years of coming down to the studio himself to get on the air. WHPK has long been a meeting spot for Chicago rappers to come and show what they can do, a place that welcomed the genre long before others would.
The show (titled "The Betty Ford Clinic" for the briefest of moments) has evolved from a fun venture to an essential stop for any aspiring Chicago MC. "Now it's kinda graduated to the point where it's like one of the places you have to go by when you got a new record out. Other places might play your record, but HPK is that place that is known." The show itself is a mix of old and new hip-hop, everything from Nas to Talib Kweli to the hottest unsigned Chicago rappers. "If it's good, we'll play it."
Pugslee recently released "Pugz Atomz Presents CTA Radio: Chi City Hip Hop," a compilation based around the show featuring all local MCs. "This is probably the best setup I've ever had for a CD, and a lot of people have responded positively because it's about more than one person," he says, noting the support he's gotten from corporations like Virgin and Tower. Having supported himself by selling homemade CD-Rs for a while, Pugslee knows how difficult it can be to compete. That's why he's pushing for more major labels to come to Chicago. "It's cool if you're underground or whatever, but at the end of the day you're competing with Ghostface and T.I. and others that have these huge budgets to get that same money," he says. "You need fans to buy your stuff."
With the recent success of Chicago hip-hop artists, Pugslee figures it won't be long before the labels come calling. But even if it is, he's prepared to wait it out. "My thing is kinda more determined from here," he says. "Work within, that's always been my thing. I'm sorta content with the slow run to make it happen."
In the beginning: My first gig was a birthday party for a young lady at Operation Push. It was five of us on stage with two mics; I think we freestyled the whole set.
What's the coolest thing in your neck of the woods: That's a Burger. So tasty, so good.
I get live at: The House of Blues. To have that stage to yourself with a packed crowd, nothin' beats it. The food is always delicious and the staff's pretty cool.
Most surreal CTA moment: The early nineties on the Red Line; at any given moment, rappers and singers would start performing over beatboxes, keyboards and stereos. My favorites were GQ the Techa, the rapping Santas, or any of the kid groups that would get on and kill it.
Fresh from the woodshop: Pugz Atomz Presents CTA Radio: Chi City Hip Hop, out now on Raptivism.
Coming soon to a stage near you: At the African Festival of the Arts in Washington Park on Monday, September 4.