Whether he’s talking about Headbangers Ball, watching TV shows on his couch, or pizza (and it’s often pizza), Chicago rapper ShowYouSuck brings a relentless positive energy rarely seen in the rap world, the music world, hell, even life in general. Rather than play cool about making the Riot Fest Chicago lineup, the man born Clinton Sandifer tweets his excitement and gratitude regularly (and always in all caps): “HOLY SHIT IM EXCITED FOR RIOT FEST BRO!!!!!” went a recent one. When acting as a panelist at a music trivia night I hosted with fellow CoS staffer Dan Caffrey, he staunchly defended the Black Eyed Peas — the Fergie era, to boot — and was pumped about receiving the authorized biography of WWE diva Chyna as a prize. Sandifer is a super saiyan energy burst of cultural references, specific passions, and smirking jokes. Also, his rhymes absolutely kill, if all that weren’t enough to make him one of the most compelling personalities in the booming Chicago rap scene.
The amalgam of oddball reference points begins with his stage name. Though he started as Show, based on Sho’nuff from the movie The Last Dragon, a few more wrinkles were added: “The internet is dawning, and I kinda figured out my name was stupid because you couldn’t Google it,” he grins. The solution, of course, was to borrow a page from Primus, a band whose fans chant that they suck almost as a defense mechanism against those that would actually feel that way. “I’ve always been a huge, huge Primus fan,” he adds. “At a rap show, if you like me, you’re gonna yell my name because I tell you to yell it, or if you really think I suck, you’re gonna yell it, so I win either way.” In a world of dollar signs and odd spellings, that sort of self-effacement is a rare and refreshing change. To put it simply: “It’s humbling in a genre that’s all about bragging.”
While his verses power through those cultural references and his videos echo the work of Tim and Eric (and yes, we did discuss the merits of their TV shows and movie), there’s a genuine appreciation for these signposts rather than an ironic nod. “A part of me was always worried about that, of coming off campy and shit,” he says. “But I don’t know, man … I’m just really making what I want to make … If I’m ever writing a verse and I go, ‘Man, maybe I shouldn’t mention Fast Times at Ridgemont High, maybe that’s kind of corny,'” the thought of someone hearing that in a rap song and going, ‘Oh, shit, I love that movie!'”, that takes over.” He adds that the reference he’s proudest to have worked into a song might be ’80s teen comedy Just One of the Guys, but the list is pretty deep.
Part of that unique perspective comes from the fact that Sandifer was involved in the hardcore and metal world before rapping. When I bring that up, he starts to go into an analysis of the two specific subgenres and their influences on one another, bands that stand out as distinct in each, the tricky crossover that the rap world has had with metal, and his struggles to get a band together. When I ask him if he’d want to give it another shot, he seemed torn. “Past experiences … It just doesn’t work,” he laughed. “You wind up like Limp Bizkit.” Even after four releases in his One Man Pizza Party series and 2013’s excellent Dude Bro EP, shades of that hard rock intensity still carry through, though in a way far more approachable than that might suggest.
His excitement for Riot Fest has a lot to do with this hardcore punk past, and when I ask him if he’d give the collaboration a shot were he to be asked by a band on the lineup, the “absolutely” that came out of his mouth was the most serious thing I’ve heard him say. After a long pause when asked what band he’d dream that would be, his answer is equally serious: “Slayer … Me being on stage with them … I couldn’t handle that.”
But the festival spot itself seems to be a dream come true as well. “People just don’t get opportunities like that,” he said. “And in the rap world they play everything so cool. I just want my excitement to be known.” When I ask him what he was doing when he found out he made the bill, he explains that (naturally) he was on the couch, watching Hoarders, and gets that bewildered chuckle of excitement again, re-experiencing the moment. “It’s kind of like the first lineup where I feel at home,” he says. “There really isn’t any anxiety or pressure at all … I’m just excited to do it and go see some bands that I love.”
For a while now, Sandifer’s been performing in a short-sleeved blue shirt with white polka dots to a consistent enough point that he tweeted his latest nickname, “LIL YUNG POLKA DOT”, adding that to a list that includes Rad God, Mr. Where The Snacks At?, and many more. When I suggest that the shirt might have some sort of mythic, super-heroic origin, he reins it in to another, more personal reference: Besides paying homage to early ’90s rapper Kwamé, “it’s more of a cartoon thing, like watching Doug,” the one outfit becoming iconic.
That shirt represents the man himself in a video for the recently released “Gucci Mane”, and another features a bunch of people standing in for ShowYouSuck via the shirt. You read that correctly: multiple videos for the same track. There have been four videos for the VR Troopers-referencing cut, though one got pulled from YouTube as it spliced together footage from the title rapper’s appearance in Spring Breakers for a functional karaoke video. “I had a few different ideas for the video, and it kind of got to the point where I was like, ‘Why do I have to choose?'” There’s the one that mimics Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” but with the shirt floating in the tub instead of a person, the one where he plays his own wacky backing band, the Gucci super-cut, and the rotating cast donning the polka dot — all released in a single week.
While the art of the music video may be past its prime, Show puts serious thought and effort into it, making them as eccentric and fun as he is. The video for “All Wavy Everything” turns his skin to more polka dots, and he floats through scanning VHS footage of Eagle Man commercials (if you grew up in the Chicago area, that shot of the eagle staring you down will hit home), while the trippy “Girls, Nachos” spins between exercise infomercial and slo-mo shots of nacho cheese dripping on stuff.
The best of the bunch, though, might be “Big Gulp”, in which he picks up a girl only to chill on the couch and share a few slurpees. While getting cheered on as he guzzles the icy red beverage might separate him from a pack that might be more focused on drugs or booze, the lyrics do too: “Got a big gulp and a bad broad/ And by bad broad, I mean smart girl,” he brags, before adding that if you “got a math problem, she gon’ stomp it out.” He also references Chicago deathcore band Oceano, creeping on Tumblr, his lack of a taste for drugs, an insistence on respecting women, and a preference in watching Bill and Ted instead of getting busy with his companion (at least at the moment).
The rapping is great and the videos are great, so naturally the next move for Sandifer is to fuse the two into a sum greater than their parts. Presumably scheduled after the recently announced release of the fifth One Man Pizza Party collection and his Riot Fest appearance is Bummer, a project that has evolved from an EP to a short film. When I ask if there are still plans to release the music on its own, he agreed excitedly. “On pink vinyl,” he said. “I’m stoked.”
Simply put, he just doesn’t do anything the way another rapper would. When he first released “Gucci Mane”, he announced that the SoundCloud stream would be up for exactly 24 hours, and then gone. “I thought it would be cool to build a sense of urgency in people,” he explained. “Things come out every five minutes, and it’s like, what’s the difference between listening to this person’s song or that person’s song? How cool would it be for the people who heard it to have something that other people didn’t hear?”
The abstaining from drugs and alcohol and his honest dialog about the decision is another relatively rare thing in the rap world. “I feel like the only thing it’s kind of held me back on is building relationships with other rappers because it’s such a communal thing,” he shrugs. “When it comes to weed, though, you never know. I get closer to it every day. I don’t have super personal convictions.”
Months later, he still sticks to his defense of Fergie, will.i.am, and the rest of the Peas. “I feel like I should always stay loyal. The Black Eyed Peas with Fergie, they make some awesome pop music,” he insists. In a world often dominated by cynicism, empty references, and tough-guy images, ShowYouSuck is honest, open, and positive. Especially when it comes to pizza. “I live across the street from a Pete’s … oh and Gino’s North,” he began, as if a bunch more places were about to spill out of his brain. “I’m a pepperoni dude.”