One recent Saturday afternoon, on the edge of Logan Square, Chicago producer Bento improvised beats that everyone in the basement bopped their head to. It is a typical routine for local trio Sex No Babies, made up of Ben “Bento” Moroney, rapper Rahim Salaam and Matt Gladly.
The experimental hip-hop and electronic trio would not be possible without the neighborhood’s first hostel, Hostel Earphoria. The members have lived in and out of the space and meet there about five days a week to create music with each other, residents and visitors. Salaam lived there for two years, and the others for a collective total of a few months; Moroney, however, has contributed to the space ever since it began in January 2012. According to Gladly, this space allows the band to exist.
Sex No Babies has started a local movement since its start on New Year’s Eve in 2014: “Praise Art.” Early 2020, they will release two scenes and two music videos to accompany “scene one”, the first of its three-part vignette release.
With years of experience in do-it-yourself shows under their belt before the band, they are well known within Chicago’s DIY scene and walk the talk of praising art. DIY in the music world it refers to shows put on by the artist(s) performing underground—not mainstream—music.
“Rahim came up with ‘Praise Art’ as a way to codify the way our artistic processes manifest themselves in our lives — the ritual to it, the recording, practicing,” Gladly said.
According to them, Rahim came up with Praise Art to manifest the band’s ritualistic, artistic process into words.
“I think the reason why the ‘Praise Art’ thing stuck around so heavily is that we consider ourselves doing just that. We take the walk to see different kinds of art all the time. It’s seeing art in nature, community and humanity. As pessimistic and negative as we can sometimes be, we find beauty in the world through art,” Moroney said.
Just like Praise Art, their band name has a plethora of interpretations. Sex No Babies as a term is a testament for safe sex, enjoying youth, environmentalism and queer love.
The same themes carry through in their lyrics. Sex No Babies speaks to the heart of intersection in Chicago with lyrics about systematic racism, queerness, modern-day masculinity, capitalism, religion and other topics. Since the band is based so strongly in Hostel Earphoria, the constant diverse flow of people there opens their eyes to different experiences around the globe, according to Moroney.
“Rahim incorporates these lines about queerness into the lyrics and everything,” Gladly said. “I’m queer, so I can get behind it. I love it.”
The trio also calls themselves ‘art evangelists,’ going along with the Praise Art theme. Rahim’s fascination with religion influences his lyrics often—though he was not raised religious and does not currently identify as religious.
“I personally interjected [religious symbolism in lyrics] as my way of coping with all—what I look to be—evil religious influences coming at me. Art is my shield and my protection,” Rahim said.
He added that he respects those who practice any religion as long as it does not harm others.
“Growing up, the phobias of different anything was barbaric—the thoughts and open hatred you’d hear people say! I always feel it necessary to keep that conversation open. As much progress as we make, there’s still a lot of bad feelings towards folks being themselves. These guys [Moroney and Gladly] have a lot of experience with that too,” Rahim said.
As a group, they want to send a message of positivity and change.
“Hip hop is homophobic. Phobic of almost anything—phobic of themselves!” Rahim said. “Having said that, I still [listen to] it. It’s a weird paradox… It’s still someone’s representation of their reality, which is why is still has value.”
“It’s the paradox of art that makes it so powerful,” Moroney added.
Salaam considers himself a poet and uses poetry to speak to the crowd with an energy that differs from rap or vocals. Cohesively combining Salaam’s classic spoken word with Moroney and Gladly’s modern, abstract beats and synth seems like a difficult task at hand. However, being accepting and open of each other’s ideas makes any sound a new one, Salaam said.
Where Sex No Babies shines most is on the stage. Salaam walks into the crowd and engages with relatable, intimate lyrics. Gladly seems to go into their own trance. Moroney creates beats and sings without a microphone. Their different aesthetics and lives come together seamlessly when they walk on stage.
Moroney explains his not using a microphone—other than lack of working equipment at times—as a way to break out of his shell and also fit whatever space they play in. “The people can hear me, and if they can’t, they can feel me,” he said.
The trio ended its latest 2,300-mile tour in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Nov. 10.
“We saw a lot of different kinds of music like turn-up rap, noise, rock ‘n’ roll, experimental electronic and theatrical poetry stuff,” said Moroney. On the road, they constantly swapped and shared music to play.
“Scene two” and “scene three” of Sex No Babies’ vignette-in-progress will be released early 2020. Each has main themes, like ego, queerness and masculinity. After the vignette is fully released, the trio plans on another tour later in the year.