The Lowdown: You never know when inspiration for a rap group name will strike: For Joseph Chilliams, one of the founding members of Pivot Gang, it came while he was watching an episode of Friends. The scene is well-referenced in pop culture; Ross, Chandler, and Rachel are moving a couch up a narrow staircase, as Ross continuously yells, “Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!” And thus, the moniker Pivot Gang was born.
Despite the painful mediocrity of the ’90s TV show (don’t @ me), the Chicago rap coalition has flourished. It’s a family affair; the group is comprised of brothers SABA and Joseph Chilliams, brothers Frsh Waters and SqueakPIVOT, rapper MFn Melo, producer daedaePIVOT, and the late DinnerWithJohn, a cousin of SABA and Chilliams who passed away in February 2017. All hailing from the Westside, the members have evolved, collaborated, witnessed death, and mourned with one another, which has now culminated into their ability to create powerful music. That coupled with the recent success of SABA, Pivot Gang have returned with their latest album, You Can’t Sit with Us.
The Good: There’s no weak link in Pivot Gang — or maybe we just can’t tell because of how seamlessly interwoven the entire project is. Despite the abundance of individual talents present on You Can’t Sit With Us, all components of the tracks blend together flawlessly. On the ground-level, the production is equal parts lively and elusive: They want you to know they’re having fun on this record, but you can’t get in on the action. In terms of features, the lucky few invited to collaborate on the album may not be classified as “big names,” but it’s clear that Mick Jenkins, Jean Deaux, Benjamin Earl, Kari Faux, Smino, and Sylvan LaCue were not chosen randomly. These guest appearances don’t demand fanfare for their contributions or change the song’s identity. Instead, they match the previously established vibe and radiate purposefulness. This is best seen on “Mortal Kombat”, when Kari Faux saunters in, demands respect, has you under her spell for 40 seconds, then slips out quietly.
The entirety of the album is defined by the coalition’s irrefutable genuineness. It’s not hard to guess that the members are all comfortable around each other, creating a type of harmony only aligned with lifelong friendships. But it goes further than that. On You Can’t Sit with Us, Pivot Gang don’t flaunt their surplus of money or brag about how many women they’ve slept with. They’re smarter than that and, in an unpretentious way, dissect topics that transcend just garnering hype. That’s not to say they don’t talk about women entirely; there are love songs that explore the desire to supply pleasure — but never demand it. On “Colbert”, Chilliams sings, “Can’t believe my eyes when I see you on Facetime/ Know you feel the same ‘cause we both got a great mind.” And, of course, the references to their beloved Chicago are endless and heartwarming.
The Bad: There’s no way around it: This project as a whole is a massive success. However, if the goal of You Can’t Sit with Us was to launch the individual careers of each member of Pivot Gang, then that success diminishes. It’s a kind of paradox; because the group is so proficient at blending their respective talents and creating a perfectly congruous work, there are no real stand-out performances on the record. Even though SABA is the most commercially successful of the bunch, even his presence is diluted, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Although it may be “Saba’s Pivot Gang crew,” You Can’t Sit with Us is not just a SABA album. It’s a collaborative work that explores emotional turmoil and triumph through the eyes of an entire friend group.
The Verdict: Over the course of 13 tracks, You Can’t Sit with Us flaunts the power of Chicago’s Westside. Pivot Gang have no shortage of members or talent, so it seems to almost have been easy for them to create such an exceptional project. It is built up of well-thought-out features and lyrics that are at times witty and others necessarily gruesome. It hosts songs about lust, trauma, and taking care of the ones they care for. The record is a labor of love, and it was also made by completely independent artists, which makes it even more impressive.
Essential Tracks: “Colbert”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “No Vest”, and “Mortal Kombat”