Femdot Is Chicago’s Newest Rap Sensation

Photo by @helloimbiancaa

“I want to be able to translate information in a language that other people can understand”

Chicago’s latest generation of rappers has never had much time for demure Midwestern manners. Artists like Noname, Chance the Rapper, and Saba don’t shy away from articulating their thoughts on difficult topics, writing incisive bars about insecurity, systemic oppression, and mental health with fierce intelligence and deftness. Now, a new name appears poised to join the ranks of the city’s unflinching lyrical thought leaders, as 23-year-old Femdot (born Femi Adigun) prepares to drop Delacreme 2, a sweeping project that tackles everything from student loans to cigarettes to school shooters across its 13 tracks.

Born in nearby Evanston but raised all over Chicago, Femdot has been a local mainstay in Windy City rap. With a raspy delivery that sinks into his production like boots on a snowy sidewalk, Fem is capable of rapping over chest-thumping drill production and headier backpack beats. The first-generation son of Nigerian immigrants, he’s been blessed with an unflagging work ethic and diligence that allowed him to excel both artistically and academically, and his dual passions for music and science placed him at a crossroads early in his career. The rapper headed to Penn State in 2013, spending a year studying immunology and infectious diseases in State College, Pennsylvania, while his hometown became the focal point of the hip-hop universe in the wake of Chance’s Acid Rap. Suddenly, Fem saw friends and collaborators he’d been working with for years rocketing to prominence while he was 500 miles away, a reality he found troubling.

“I was kind of discouraged at first while I was at Penn State. I was like, Damn, am I missing my moment? Maybe I could have been in this wave,” he remembers. “But coming back home, that ended up being my motivation, and it still is. I would never miss my moment... I’m never going to miss my moment again.”

He eventually transferred to DePaul University downtown, and since returning to the city, Femdot has been on a tear, releasing a slew of music, including the standout 20/20 Hour, while earning an audience for his blend of punchline rap panache and poetic eye for detail. Delacreme 2, his first project for local powerhouse Closed Sessions, is his most fully realized work yet. Both autobiographical and socially-minded, Fem tackles thorny subjects, never committing the cardinal sin of pointing a finger without realizing there are three pointing back his way. College life has often been reduced to frat boy platitudes, but on “No Scholarships,” the unrelenting stress of academia takes on a creeping, slow-moving menace akin to Kendrick Lamar’s shadowy “Sherane,” and Fem certainly isn’t above a night of binge drinking to blow off steam or strategically sitting next to an overachiever during an exam.

“People talk a lot about school, but they don’t talk about what else goes into school, like bursar offices and financial aid, or even teachers that don’t really care and get paid anyway, or skipping classes, or going out and drinking,” he says. “It’s a lot more to a lot of these situations that I feel like because of the experiences I’ve been through, I can press light on.”

Throughout Delacreme 2, Femdot’s empathetic pen forms a kind of double helix with his more analytical, scientific way of thinking. To Fem, nothing simply happens in isolation. On “Red Marlboros,” a friend’s smoking habit is the product of years of trauma and the deep nihilism that comes from living in Chicago’s dangerous neighborhoods. On the single “Alright,” Fem is equally fatalistic and determined, detailing his rise from open mic outcast to fearsome rhymer while interspersing harrowing scenes of staring down gun barrels and sagging beneath the weight of those who depend on him. It’s an arresting and vivid self-portrait, the kind that most young rappers rarely offer, but that his Chicago peers have made into an inimitable local export.

“There are a lot of reasons why people do certain things, and that’s another thing where [I look] at stuff from a scientific standpoint. Being in school for science, you have to see if there are any confounding factors, any outside factors that may cause this exact outcome,” he explains. “That’s the whole point of research. You specify A to B, but you have to make sure you account for C, D, and E, just in case that those also equal B. So, when I look into things that go on in terms of chainsmoking or certain societal issues or things of that sort, everyone wants to always jump to that: Oh, this happened because of this, and they ignore everything else that is occurring.”

In addition to his scientific proclivities, Fem says he’s always been a writer, one with a passion for the medium’s most evocative uses (poetry, screenwriting) and its more technical ones (grant proposals). As a reader, he particularly admires authors like Dorothy Roberts, Jonah Berger, and Robert Sapolsky who can distill complex scientific phenomena into language that is inviting and graspable for a casual reader. It’s a skill he continually emphasizes in his music, one that shines on songs like the searing “Empty Bottle,” which focuses on the differences in how black and white perpetrators of gun violence are portrayed in the media, as well as the racial biases of the prison industrial complex. But it’s also apparent on more intimate moments, like the tender “Listen and Stay,” where Fem spends the first two verses attempting to impress a girl only to realize how oblivious he’d been to her feelings on the song’s coda.

“I can teach you about confounding variables and confounding factors by explaining why a girl can’t get into the club. That’s my linear connection, so if someone else can do that in another subject, I feel like that’s really dope,” Femdot says. “Because that’s what I want to do with a lot of the stuff that I’m doing. I want to be able to translate information into a language that other people can understand.”

Delacreme 2’s contemplative closer, “Found,” sees Fem reflecting on what it was like to grow up around extreme wealth while his family struggled with their financial footing. “Motivations changed at 13 years old/ In high school with kids whose vacations could pay off my loans/ Imagine your friend being in a million dollar home/ And you come back to yours being heated by the stove,” he raps.

“Everyone doesn’t have the same resources, so what that did for me was always allow me to take advantage of everything. In high school, I was involved in everything. I was in every club you could think of. I played sports, I was class president. I did everything,” he says. “I was like, I’ve got to take full advantage of this because there are some people who I know who have way more money than me or people who are born with way more opportunity than I was, but obviously aren’t [aware of] what other people face. And I’m like, Okay, let me take advantage to that.”

Fem’s blend of intelligence, ambition, and honesty has made him one of Chicago’s most captivating secret weapons, and with the release of Delacreme 2, his problem may soon go from making sure he doesn’t let opportunities slip by to being flooded with them.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds



Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.