Taylor Bennett stands on his own with Broad Shoulders

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Bennett's older brother may be Chance the Rapper, but today he's paving his own musical path. (Photo courtesy of TAYLOR BENNETT)

Bennett’s older brother may be Chance the Rapper, but today he’s paving his own musical path. (Photo courtesy of TAYLOR BENNETT)

Chicago built Taylor Bennett, and now he’s ready to give back.

Bennett evokes the kind of love and creativity that Chicago’s youth is simultaneously bursting with and craving. He’s currently working on the release of his third major music project for his fan base of over 15,000 followers, he’s an advocate and agency for the city’s adolescent voices, and he’s an active participant in many inner-city social works and nonprofit organizations.

And he is 19 years old.

Bennett’s love for making music began when he and his older brother were waiting for a train at an underground Red Line station. There was a man playing a set of plastic drums with a small tip jar beside him.  As the drums echoed through the entrails of the train tunnel, his brother snatched the melody and began to freestyle along with it. Bennett actively joined in to create one of his fondest memories during the birth of his music career.

Though music was a hobby that ran in his blood, Bennett’s notable success came about in 2012, around the time that his brother, who’s now most commonly known as Chance The Rapper, rose to fame.  While Chance was in the midst of releasing his most acclaimed mixtape, Bennett, then 16, was just beginning to record songs in a homemade studio behind the doors of a walk-in closet.  But Bennett didn’t need much to produce what he loved. With nothing more than a microphone and a MacBook, he recorded his first song that crept its way up to tens, hundreds and then thousands of hits overnight.

Today, Bennett isn’t afraid to hold himself to the same standard as other hometown classics, including Kanye West’s “College Dropout” and his own brother’s “Acid Rap.” But he warns fans not to compare his project to either.

“Right now, what I’m working on isn’t even a tape anymore, and I don’t want to call it an album because I’m not selling it,” Bennett said. “It’s a project. And it’s amazing.”

Bennett says that the writing, the way he articulates his words, and his overall progression on this new project is enough to let stand on its own. He’s also confident that there will be a strong fan base that feels the same.

“It’s speaking from a perspective of a young adult. I don’t want to say it’s for a young adult on the South Side, or even in Chicago, or in America at all. It’s just about growth, learning, getting older and taking the next step in life,” Bennett said. “A lot of people don’t credit their youth for the person that they are today.”

After a recent title change, Bennett decided on calling his project Broad Shoulders as a spinoff of one of Chicago’s most popular nicknames, “The City of Big Shoulders,” to incorporate his hometown into the title. He’s spent the past year working with close friends and other Chicago producers to give this project a variety of soul and talent. He promises that it’s both new and true to his youth.

“The music is 100 percent ‘us.’ There will only be instruments and the use of my voice as an instrument,” he said. “I feel like this is my last time to tell people why I’ll be where I am, when I’m 23, on a platform on a stage in some huge arena somewhere, that this is how I got there.”

Joey Cabey, Bennett’s manager and childhood best friend, describes Bennett’s latest work as “refreshing.”  Cabey is a representative for Leaders 1354, a creative hub that was founded in the historical Hyde Park neighborhood and now has locations across Chicago.  Leaders 1354 prides itself in its “vision of selling conscious customers an item that they identified as either art or part of their own story.”

Bennett is heavily involved with Leaders 1354, as well.

“The kid has largely grown up in and around the shop,” the website reads. “Taylor gives back to the brand that has supported him since day one with his single, ‘Can’t Flop,’ as the second single off the upcoming ‘Lead Never Follow’ mixtape, a compilation of understanding and progress for a city that needs a little of both.”

Bennett and Cabey spent most of their time in the River North location, which has recently announced it’s closing. There may not have been enough sales to keep it thriving, but a lot of creativity that neither of them want to see go to waste passes through there. Cabey is currently working on a documentary to encompass the store’s local impact on urban culture and keep it in business.

When it comes to giving to his community, Cabey said that he’s never seen Bennett turn anyone away.  Bennett says he just loves to see the smiles, but the work he and Chance have done for Chicago’s youth have made a recognizable impact.  Every Monday or Tuesday, Bennett lends a hand at his brother’s Open Mic events. Chance hosts Open Mic to give youth voices around the city an opportunity to be heard.

“Kids come out from all corners of the city. I see kids with money there, kids without money there, kids who play sports, kids who make music—they all come just to hear what their peers are saying,” Bennett said. “It’s important that at a young age, you have your voice heard so when you’re an adult, you’re not stuck screaming and shouting it.”

Bennett also spent time working with Kids Off The Block (KOB), a nonprofit organization in the Roseland community where his grandmother lived.  Their mission is “To provide at-risk, low-income youth positive alternatives to gangs, drugs, truancy, violence and the juvenile justice system,” which reverberates with Bennett on a personal level. When KOB was defunded and displaced from their facility, Bennett saw a call to action. He raised enough money to put them back in business for three months.

“That’s my neighborhood, too,” Bennett said. “It’s a deep community in a deep area.  There are lot of dreams and potential in those kids. Some of them are even better than me, they just don’t have the voice or platform to get it out there.”

Similarly to Chance’s Open Mike, Bennett wanted to give them an opportunity to have their voices heard. He invited the KOB kids to his South Side studio to be featured on his tracks, which were later picked up by numerous urban music blogs.

“That’s where talent comes from—hard areas and tough living. That’s where the best writing is,” Bennett said. “To see somebody so young and know they came from the same struggles that you and people who look like you have faced, is amazing.”