HIP-HOP SUC­CESS A TEAM EF­FORT FOR LIL ROMO

YouTube pop­u­lar­ity of rap­per, whose de­but al­bum dropped last week, lifts up pro­duc­ers, videog­ra­phers he trusts

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - BY EVAN F. MOORE, STAFF REPORTER emoore@sun­times.com | @evanF­moore

En­gle­wood hip-hop artist Lil Romo wants the mu­sic in­dus­try to get to know him, and his mu­sic.

His 13-track project “King With­out a Crown” show­cases sub­ject mat­ter that’s in lock­step with the times: vi­o­lence, po­lice bru­tal­ity and so­cial unrest, along with the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of a young mu­si­cian hav­ing to change his en­vi­ron­ment based on his suc­cess.

In the track “Long Time,” he raps, “Wish­ing s--- was dif­fer­ent, nowa­days we can’t have any fun,” and an­other track named “War Is Won” has a sim­i­lar mantra.

“When I heard the beat, I felt like ‘let the kids go out­side,’ ” said Lil Romo, who is signed to The Pro­gramm/EM­PIRE records. “Back in the day, we were able to go to the park and have fun and stuff, but nowa­days you can’t.

“I have songs you could prob­a­bly dance to, but then I have songs you want to cry to if you felt it in that way.”

The im­pe­tus be­hind the project’s name has to do with where Lil Romo views his place in Chicago’s hip-hop scene.

“I’m one of the youngest in the game; I’m crazy un­der­rated and a lot of peo­ple don’t hear me be­cause of that,” said Lil Romo. “Ev­ery­one is a king in their own way, for sure.”

Lil Romo, 19, is sur­rounded by a team of pro­duc­ers and videog­ra­phers who care­fully cu­rate his con­tent.

Pro­duc­ers “OG Mic Will” Micah Williams, Kid Won­der and All Day were the beat­mak­ers for the project, while Milky Made It is the video pro­duc­tion team con­sist­ing of Mark Cukier and Bran­don De­mas.

One of Lil Romo’s videos, “223,” which was re­leased on July 10, has more than 200,000 YouTube views, while “When I Was Down” has 505,557 views since drop­ping in April.

Af­ter a lack of con­sis­tency from videog­ra­phers he worked with in 2019, Lil Romo found Cukier and De­mas on In­sta­gram and reached out.

Their work­ing re­la­tion­ship can be best de­scribed as ran­dom. In one in­stance, the duo was called to film a video dur­ing a house party.

“They called me at 10 p.m. and I’m sit­ting at home like: ‘Damn, I re­ally don’t want to go . ... F---, I’m just gonna go,’ ” said Cukier, who lives in the western sub­urbs.

Due to the suc­cess of Lil Romo’s videos, Milky Made It and Williams now find them­selves in high de­mand from a num­ber of Chicago mu­si­cians who want to col­lab­o­rate.

“For me as an en­gi­neer, since I started work­ing with them, my prices dou­bled,” said Williams. “He’s able to sell more mu­sic [Lil Romo], they’re [Milky Made It] able to record more videos. I’m able to sell more beats and get more en­gi­neer­ing time.”

But Lil Romo’s mu­sic con­tin­ues to be a top pri­or­ity for the Milky Made It duo.

“We’re busy a lot, but we drop what we have to do so we can make it work with him,” said De­mas, who says the shoot­ing sched­ule has Milky Made It booked into late Sep­tem­ber.

“My fa­vorite part about work­ing with him is that it doesn’t re­ally feel like we’re work­ing with him.”

That suc­cess has Lil Romo tak­ing into ac­count how he en­coun­ters fans, his so­cial me­dia pres­ence (25,900 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers), his so­cial life, and the per­cep­tion of the sub­ject mat­ter of his mu­sic.

“I don’t go to house par­ties — none of that stuff,” said Lil Romo. “It’s re­ally about what you put into it. Some peo­ple put those vibes [vi­o­lent lyrics] out there; you get back what you put out.

“For ex­am­ple, I post a lot of views so it’s peo­ple [fans] that know me that I’ve never met. … If some­one is star­ing too hard, they just want a pic­ture. I was at the gun range when a fan saw me, posted a pic on [In­sta­gram], and tagged me.”

While Lil Romo con­tin­ues to main­tain a mat­ter-of-fact mind­set when it comes to his suc­cess, he sees the team work­ing to­gether and mak­ing money for as long as they can.

“That’s the type of s--- I need: to be around peo­ple that want to see me win,” he said.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS

Lil Romo poses for a por­trait out­side his stu­dio in the McKin­ley Park neigh­bor­hood.

The team work­ing with Lil Romo in­cludes pro­ducer “OG Mic Will” Micah Williams (in UIC shirt) and videog­ra­phers Bran­don De­mas (left) and Mark Cukier (right).

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