Andreus--a.k.a. Deandrias Abdullah, a native of the South Side ghetto--has
already gained European acclaim for his hip-hop-soul symphony, "Street
Troubadour" (Dialogue Group). It was released overseas as essentially a home
demo in 2002, then domestically re-released a few months ago with a handful
of new tracks and spiffier production. It merges inner-city blues laments about
drugs, gangs and wayward youth with wah-wah guitars, keyboard funk and
shimmering string orchestrations.
It's consciousness-raising art in many respects: musically, lyrically,
spiritually. And it took Andreus most of his 33 years to get there. "Where
would I be if I hadn't discovered music? I wouldn't be talking to you right now,
that's for sure," Andreus says in an interview. "I was on the streets doing
wrong. My mother was supportive, but she had to work and raise my two
younger sisters, and she didn't have time to watch me every second of the day. I
wouldn't be living now if it weren't for music. I ran with gangs, I got
locked up a couple of times, I had a lot of stumbling blocks along the way. If the
music hadn't gone over, I'd be a statistic."
Andreus' first musical love was hip-hop. "At age 7, hearing the first rap
tunes coming out of the East, it took over the 'hood--it was like an A-Bomb that
blew up our culture," says Andreus, who performs Jan. 24 at Nevin's Live. "I
started writing lyrics and battle-rhyming on the street corners. We were children of
Vietnam veterans looking for some music to call our own, and this was it."
While devising rap lyrics, Andreus taught himself to write about the gritty
reality around him. But he didn't see music as a way out of his wayward
lifestyle until his mother remarried and moved the family to Evanston.
There, he got into more trouble and was awaiting a bond hearing at a Cook County
lockup when he began singing. A couple of his cellmates took notice.
"These two older white guys were in there, real Charles Manson-type dudes
with tattoos, and they were like, `What are you doing here, young blood? You've
got a gift. With a voice like that you should be out there becoming the next
Michael Jackson,'" Andreus recalls. "That really stuck with me. Be the next Michael
Jackson? That was the real turning point. Nobody had told me anything like
The young singer ended up in a recording studio before his 18th birthday,
recording vocals on a local house record. The record didn't do much, but the
experience dazzled him. Bit by bit Andreus began assembling his own home
recording studio and taught himself to play various instruments--guitar,
bass,keyboards. He struggled through most of the '90s, fatally obsessed with finding the
correctformula for "making it." "I was watching videos, trying to emulate what was hot, obsessed with getting a deal," he says. "I did demo tapes, but I was struggling. It wasn't until about two years ago that I decided I am not going to keep trying to do what
everyone else is doing. The music began to change, and the soul came back. I let me
Many of the songs on "Street Troubadour" were improvised in front of the
microphone, Andreus pouring out a lifetime of observations about street
hustlers, prostitutes, gang bangers and drug dealers. His songs were
underpinned by subtle moralizing, a sense of having lived and learned about what young
underprivileged ghetto denizens will do "For the Love of Money," as one song
"I'm not doing anything new," Andreus says. "I'm picking up where Curtis
Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and people like that left off. This music was always
there in my life, because my mother was a record connoisseur. I realized that this
is music that could make a difference, because it made a difference in my
Though a social consciousness has never left popular music, it's taken a
backseat lately to bling-bling odes about acquisition, wealth and sexual
conquest. "Music is a cultural weapon," Andreus says. "It's about feelings and
emotions, and politics and life. It's about what's going on. But I haven't listened to
the radio in 15 years, because music isn't saying anything. Even hip-hop has
been transformed into this pop illusion. But bling-bling is not what life is
about. Not for the people I speak to and for--blacks, Latinos, Asians,
underprivileged whites. I wanted to make a record that said, `This is what we're thinking.
Listen to us.' The stories on this album aren't just my stories, but the
stories of everyone who has ever lived in a ghetto."