New hip-hop star Young Blu still shows Champaign the love
Dijon "Young Blu" Silva's music is nearly indistinguishable from much of the hip-hop music on the radio. In fact, as listeners lose themselves in his original beats and lyrical words, they might not realize that Silva is a local celebrity rather than a seasoned patron of Hollywood.
But if they listen long enough, they'll hear Silva reference Champaign in almost all of his songs. The young artist was born in raised in Champaign, the very same city that gave rise to the artists that first inspired him.
"My older brothers used to make music," Silva said. "They had a group called Ill Noise when I was younger, and they really inspired me to make music. They made a lot of music about Champaign and did a lot of shows in Champaign."
It was not long before Silva was on his own path to a musical future.
"I used to play around them with them when I was younger, and then in middle school I started to take it seriously," Silva said.
Though Silva can pinpoint exactly where his love for music began, how the artist got his "Young Blu" nickname is less clear.
"Everyone asks me if (blue is) my favorite color. But it's just a nickname," he said "I can't even tell you who first started calling me that. My family members have been calling me that for as long as I can remember."
Silva said he didn't have to go far for inspiration for his lyrical and musical themes. Silva's childhood was not one without challenges, but it has given him a great foundation to draw from in his music.
"I lived in one of the only housing projects in Champaign, Joann Dorsey, and that had a lot of influence on me in life in general," Silva said, "so it has influenced my music 100 percent."
Silva's lyrics run the gamut of the positive and negative of his time growing up here, and his local fan base can identify with both — and is stronger than ever.
"Everybody in Champaign has been supporting me," he said. "When I'm anywhere else, no one tries to get Champaign recognized, so when I'm somewhere else, when I'm doing my music in New York or Atlanta, I tell everyone it's not my art, it's our art, I'm doing this for Champaign."
Silva is certainly putting Champaign on the map as he rises up the ranks of hip-hop music. At the outset of his career, Silva did not find much support in local radio stations and had much wider success after performing for several open mics in Chicago.
Eventually a Chicago radio host took notice of Silva and began playing his song, "We Livin" on his show. From there his song spread to radio stations in Philadelphia, Florida and Atlanta. The Chicago radio stations have also helped Silva plan shows in their cities, and Silva released his first album, "Townie," on Nov. 30.
Silva hopes his recent interview with hip-hop magazine The Source will have a positive impact, too.
"The whole article is about being able to make it mainstream from the small time," he said. "Really there aren't a lot of avenues for people to do their music and to get it to another platform from Champaign. That's really what the article is all about."
But even with his growing national popularity, Silva refuses to forget where he came from. Near the end of the month, he will return to Champaign for a special showcase concert with Jay Moses, another Champaign musician, to thank his fans for their support. Details haven't been finalized.
And though Silva's music fits in with the best, his ambitions won't drive him away from his priorities.
"I'm not really looking for a record deal. That's not what I'm in this for," he said. "I really just want to get to a point where I'm able to have stability from music. If I can get to a point where I'm paying my rent with my music, then I'm fine with that."
The next time you hear a hip-hop song that mentions Champaign on the radio, turn it up. You just might be helping a neighbor's dreams come true.