Thinktank, DePaul’s self-made Jewish rapper

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As Thinktank, Caleb Bromberg has created a grand total of five albums that encompass folk and rap music in which he, a self-described white suburban Jew, writes and raps or sings the entirety of them.

Folk songs, poetry or rap can escape the mouth of the pale, redheaded DePaul student, and the result often leaves the audience speechless.

“There have been a couple of times recently where I try out my rap stuff… and I get on, and it’s this silly looking ginger white dude rapping,” Bromberg said. “And, I do it really well, but the shock hasn’t worn off enough for them to actually listen to me. People are just like, ‘What are you doing?’”

Bromberg is from Newton, Mass. — a suburb of Boston. All throughout high school, Caleb involved himself in the student-led theater program at his school. On stage, he played lead roles in productions such as  “Tartuffe,” a 17th century French play.

Missing the adrenaline rush of a spectacular performance drove Bromberg to bars like The Elbo Room in Lakeview, where he takes the small stage upstairs in front of between seven to 20 people.

Recently, Bromberg played at the Gingerman Tavern. The lightly snow-dusted concrete lit dimly by overhead streetlights looked eerily empty, void of pedestrians and cars save for the couple of parked ones in front of the McDonalds.

Thinktank wasn’t scheduled to perform that night. After joining a fraternity brother on stage to accompany him vocally, Bromberg took the stage alone. He sat on a bench, the red light illuminating his red hair and flushed face. Instead of rapping, he tried out some folkier, slower songs in whichhe played guitar.

Two reasons keep Bromberg coming back to open mic nights: first, it’s for fun, he says. Second, it’s for practice.

“(Open mic nights) are such good practice for performing live,” Bromberg said. “And if you’re developing a song and you don’t know how it sounds live yet, it’s a good opportunity to figure it out.”

Downstairs at the Elbo Room, there is a larger stage — one that Bromberg hopes to perform on soon. While he has yet to book a gig, creating and producing music have been a pivotal part of Bromberg’s life since his freshman year of high school when he wrote raps — awful, he describes them — about bananas and undersea creatures, such as in one he titled “It’s Aquatic.”

After spending three years fine-tuning his writing and rhyming abilities, Bromberg produced “Something Rotten” his senior year of high school, which focused entirely around a central theme: “Hamlet.” The very next year, “Neptune” came out, which reflects the philosophical changes Bromberg experienced during his first year at DePaul. Sophomore year brought “Earth Rise.”

“I’m really proud of that one,” he says about the folky album that his friend Kate Ziebart, a DePaul student, collaborated on.

Ziebart and Bromberg met at in the dorms at DePaul, but after moving into their own separate apartments, they realized a common appreciation of playing folk music.

“We jammed really well together because he played guitar and wrote songs, and I loved to sing,” Ziebart said.

The two sang a classic Appalachian folk song that appears throughout the album.

“All iamb” sparked the beginning of Bromberg’s collaboration with another friend, Nicky Taylor.

Taylor goes by Sun! when he’s on stage, which is short for Swagger Jackson of the Sun! He started producing music with Caleb in Newton, Mass. during their junior year in high school. While creating a song called “Dolorian” together during their sophomore years of college is when they began working together more seriously, Nicky said. Then came “All iamb.”

Interludes with Shakespeare, snippets of “Richard II” and “Henry IV” appear in “All iamb” — a playful adaption of ‘all I am’ and a reference to iambic meter. Bromberg describes the album he created last year as having a high and mighty philosophical approach as well as capturing sadness.

Most recently, Bromberg and Taylor produced “One Time EP,” which marks a definite shift in his attitude. Caleb says he was trying to be more uplifting and encouraging. He wanted to talk about the bad and the pathways to the good.

Being a white rapper, Bromberg faces the challenge of unjustly appropriating black culture.

“I’m already a step behind,” Bromberg said. “By rapping, I’m already appropriating a culture that created the music. And I’m not a part of that culture. I’m not black.”

To stay clear from what he views as potentially problematic, Bromberg said that he “talks exclusively about myself and my own experiences.” He doesn’t try to play a role or character.

“Folk represents the music of the people,” Nicky said when asked about his opinions on Bromberg’s passion for folk as well as rap. “Urban represents that too.” It’s true that there is no orchestra, huge band or technical affect behind what Caleb produces. The people and the music override all else.