Back in June of last year, Chicago-native MC Ausar Bradley dropped an EP titled Growth.
Then, the project was a milestone for the multifaceted University of Illinois student. The four-song, fourteen-minute run time was short, but Bradley hit listeners with a barrage of calculated, thought-provoking bars.
He called it Growth because, well, he’d grown.
On the title track, he spits, “Narrative nurtured by never-say-never’s, nipped in the buds turned to blossoming lilies, lenient in spirit coherent has never been the leading argument, augmented approach, I call audibles when it’s fourth and inches.”
A year removed, Bradley feels he’s eclipsed that.
Progression isn’t just about body of work or streams. Bradley’s been on the move, taking on an unenviable balancing act of finishing up his degree at Illinois and pursuing the career he’s passionate about.
He’s crossed the country, going coast-to-coast for shows this year, a rare feat for someone who still has to study for midterms and show up to class on the weekdays.
Bradley has become something of a favorite at So Far Sounds, an organization that puts on intimate shows, performing at the organization’s headquarters in New York, and in Los Angeles, Seattle, and St. Louis (late last year).
And of course, he’s done a bunch of shows in Chicago, varying from The Tonic Room and Emporium, amongst others, to The Wire in nearby Berwyn.
In late September, he played at PYGMALION’s outdoor stage, in front of hundreds. One of the largest crowds of his career — if not the largest — was mostly made up of people he knew.
The front area near the stage was lined with his friends and peers, some of which recited his tracks bar-for-bar.
It wasn’t surprising to Bradley to see lots of his friends in attendance, but he was a bit stunned by the scope of the show nonetheless.
Champaign is where Bradley got his start in music — it’s supported him, nurtured him, and drawn out the best in him.
“(Champaign) is like my second home, G,” Bradley said. “Though I'm from the city, I didn't start music in the city. I started music out here and then transitioned to the city. Champaign is directly responsible for building that buzz for me. We were here, got it moving, mugs went home and were like, 'Hey have you heard of (Ausar)?' Got back to the city and it was like a buzz was generated before I even started there.”
In August, it was announced that Bradley was to be featured on hip-hop legend Wyclef Jean’s project, “Wyclef Goes Back to School”.
It was a watershed moment for someone who can appreciate the oldheads in the game.
He’s a noted, hardcore fan of Chingy, a similarly versatile St. Louis rapper/singer/producer, who signed to Champaign-native Ludacris’s label back in 2003.
It’s no wonder Bradley knows the value of being able to do a variety of things in music. While he’s taken some time off from feeding the people succulent arrangements of speech, he’s been learning how to best interact with a steadily growing pool of supporters and keep up his studies without giving away too much of himself.
It can be a lot to manage, especially when holding oneself to a high standard of work.
“(You can) see the strides we've been able to make with no music out, the support that we've garnered, and the amount of people, who in the opportunities I have are right there with me, pushing me,” Bradley said. “Any content that's out, they're pushing it. It drives me to want to make sure that I'm taking my time with all of this, that the music that they get matches up to the hype that they're putting behind me.”
The detail-oriented Bradley noted that, despite his lack of releases, his presence on social media (Twitter especially) has grown a lot. He hit 2,000 followers on Twitter at the beginning of the year, where most of his listeners are condensed and interact with him, and has amassed over 700 more since.
“We make sure to stay in people's faces,” Bradley said. “Even if I'm not dropping music, I'm engaged. I don't take people's support for granted, so I make sure to stay engaged with everybody who decides to support me. I want to maintain that way forever.”
“I don't want to be behind the curtain,” Bradley said. “I want to be up close, personal and talk to you, see what's going on.”
Also in that time though, Bradley’s ventured into new sound territories — specifically, R&B.
He’s got a smooth voice that has always fit well on his hooks, dispersed between layers of rhymes. But it’s evident on his single, “Familiar”, that he intends to use that voice as an attraction too, rather than as a side dish.
“There's been a lot of growth in that area,” Bradley said. “Even with the sound, I've tried different things. Even the song that we just dropped, if you listen to any of my other music, a person coming in listening to this song and listening to my old music, you're like, 'Wait, what?’”
Though he’s remaining tight-lipped about what exactly is in store for the future, the South Sider has teased that he’s got a full length project in the works. Ahead of that though, he’s set to release a sequence of EP’s, coined Me and My Friends.
Photo by Gavin Good
With the first of them — an effort between Bradley and frequent collaborator Josi Green — likely coming out before the end of the year, Bradley already has his sights set on getting his project just right.
“I think my goal with this next project is to make it cohesive, but show everything I can do,” Bradley said. “On the grand scheme of things, it will have a distinct sound to it, but I want it to be multifaceted. I want it to be very dynamic, I want it to showcase a lot.”
Honing the range of his voice and sound, while continuing to generate meaningful, resounding messages isn’t something Bradley takes lightly. The onus isn’t on releasing music consistently, it’s on ensuring quality.
He knows people will listen if it’s good music. And he knows that, ultimately, that’s what will take him far.
“I feel like the last year has been very uncomfortable for me, in a good way though,” Bradley said. “I've been places where, when I started all of this, I didn't see myself being.”
Top photo by Veronica Mullen