Meet vibraphonist, rapper, music producer and journalist, Thaddeus Tukes!
Hometown? Chicago born and bred.
Major? Jazz Studies (Piano and Vibraphone Performance).
What sparked you to pursue the Medill/Bienen dual degree program? Has it been difficult to complete the dual degree? I wanted to study two areas of interest in college. Music was a given, but I wanted something to balance that. I have always been a writer, so journalism seemed like the best fit. Northwestern was the only place that offered music and journalism, so they won the bid with their Dual Degree Music and Journalism Program. I think there was one student in the history of the university who actually graduated the program… It has been extremely difficult to complete the program, but luckily the administration was willing to work with me and make adjustments so that I could graduate in 5 years with credentials from both Bienen and Medill.
At what age did you start the vibes and why did you choose that instrument? I started playing percussion at the age of 9 with the Percussion Scholarship Group sponsored by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra… My first real interest in jazz vibes was sparked by a Lionel Hampton recording of “Flying Home” that I found at my great grandmother’s house. I’ve been in love with the music and the instrument ever since.
Which musicians do you get your musical inspiration from? That’s a question I can never answer succinctly. However, I will say that I always listen to the instrumental before the lyrics of a song. The lyrics tell me what to think, whereas the instrumental lets me interpret the intention for myself. Drawing on research and fieldwork as a musician, I try to find the composer/producer’s musical/historic reference points for creating the song and see if their intent matches the lyrics that have been juxtaposed on the instrumental. It allows me to analyze the music in a different way, so if I were to do a cover or arrangement, I would be well equipped to do it justice.
Did you start The Syndicate and why? I had a version of The Syndicate in high school with a few friends (including Julius Tucker, who’s a current [NU student] and member of The Syndicate). I went to a high school where I played multiple instruments, booked concerts, and was executive producer of a festival, so I was very accustomed to having various musical outlets. My friends also included members of Kids These Days and the Social Experiment, so I’ve always had a live band sound at the center of my musical journey. One day in jazz small ensemble at Northwestern, I suggested that we form a group outside of class where we can play whatever music we wanted… People in that group were interested, and we brought a few additional musicians in, and Syndicate 119 was born.
Why the name change from Acid Trap to The Syndicate? We’ve changed names many times. I’ve always liked the idea of ‘syndicate’ in the title, because I feel the band functions as a musical syndicate… Since it’s based in jazz and the ideologies therein, I feel we are moving towards an “American” music where people aren’t divided by genres (which [has] huge political implications). So we started with Syndicate 119, but it sounded a little too high-school-garage-band. Then we tried Acid Trap (because all of us loved Acid Rap by Chance the Rapper), but that just felt like stealing someone’s brand. We eventually agreed on The Syndicate. Who knows, it might change again. But that’s what we’re going with for now.
When did you start rapping? Was it just for The Syndicate songs or was it something you did before? I started rapping in high school because I thought it was cool and it was a different way for me to express myself. I was also in classes with people like Vic Mensa, so the standard was set pretty high from jump. I’ve never really considered myself a rapper though because that isn’t my goal. I’m a musician, and one way of expressing that is through rap. I think I have a unique perspective, because I’m one of few rappers who is also proficient at an instrument. I’m also a percussionist, so my raps are very rhythmic and percussive. I have two mixtapes, September 9 and BlackJack. I’m also working on two albums that will be released this summer. The coolest thing about rap for me is that I’m also a journalist, so I can use story formats and content in verses. While I’m still in the early stages of figuring out how to infuse all of my loves, I think I’ve made some headway. I’m really excited for these projects.
How did you get involved in the album ‘Surf’? (Thaddeus is featured in the song, Pass The Vibes) Donnie Trumpet is a good friend of mine. I essentially started playing jazz with him and a few other people in the Social Experiment. Chance the Rapper and I also go way back, and he actually performed with my band at a carnival at Whitney Young. They’ve always challenged me and pushed me to be a better musician and person, and while in high school it was sometimes extremely frustrating, I really appreciate it now… Donnie hit me up last year saying that he had a song he wanted me to play on. I didn’t know at the time it was for Surf, but it was right around the time that Sunday Candy was released, so I figured he was working on a project. He sent me the basic instrumental, and I added stuff and sent it back, never knowing what it was for. Then Surf came out. Needless to say, it was a very pleasant surprise. It's also one of the most listened to songs on the album, which is such an honor.
What are you doing after graduation? Well, this summer I’ll be in the MSJ program at Medill in their new specialization Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship. After that...I definitely want to play music. Will I only play music? Who knows. I have visions for the future, so you’ll see me in many places you’d never expect.
Is The Syndicate going to continue to be a band after you graduate? The Syndicate is definitely going to be a band after I graduate. We are restructuring it so that it can be sustainable even if every member isn’t in the same city, and we are also planning to release a project soon. But The Syndicate is like my baby. I can’t let it go just yet, it has too much potential and we’ve seen glimpses of that already. Not to mention the musicians in the band are some of the most gifted in the country. Hands down. Not only as players, but composers, arrangers, and all around good people.
Any opportunities NU students can catch The Syndicate playing on campus this spring? The Syndicate will be performing the second half of my senior recital in Dittmar Gallery in Norris Center on June 5 at 6pm. I’m writing a bunch of new music for it, so it will definitely be one to remember. Each member will be showcased, moving more toward an actual syndicate versus a band. And this is only the beginning.
Pictures taken from Facebook