Bekoe at Vocalo Radio | Photo by RawRuler

If you’re tuned into Chicago’s bustling underground hip-hop and R&B scenes, Bekoe is a name you’ve probably heard before. Back in 2014, his C-Sick-produced single “Aw Yeah” caught the attention of DJ AllStyle from Power 92, who played the track during his nighttime weekend club mix. 

Since then, the rapper has been making some behind-the-scenes power plays to cultivate a more fruitful scene for other independent artists like himself. In 2016, Bekoe turned his iLLANOiZE clothing brand into a media company. He started churning out artist interviews, articles about new music releases and a weekly podcast called iLLANOiZE Radio with co-hosts Pretty Riot and Illinois Jones.

Now Bekoe, 30, is putting on for independent artists in a new way. On Jan. 13, the West Side native became the new host of Vocalo Radio’s midday show. 

Anybody that meets Bekoe can attest to his charisma, passion for Chicago, and support for the local music community — all key factors in choosing him as our new midday host for Vocalo Radio,” said Silvia Rivera, the managing director of Vocalo. “We know our audience is going to love him and we couldn’t be more pleased that he’ll get a chance to build off of his reputation with Illanoize. This is a win for Chicago radio.”

We spoke to Bekoe this week to hear more about his new Vocalo show. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How's everything going?

Bekoe: I’ve been at Vocalo since December. Things have been going great. Like, the staff is open arms. It’s been amazing. The team has been amazing. And that’s just the Vocalo staff. I’m not even talking about the WBEZ staff. They’ve been amazing as well. Because, you know, we are the sister station to WBEZ. So far I’ve experienced nothing but positive vibes.

How has the transition been from iLLANOiZE Radio to Vocalo?

Bekoe: The transition, it hasn’t been rocky, which I want to say shocks me. That was one thing I was a little nervous about when I received the opportunity. That was one thing that I kind of thought in the back of my mind — will I be able to transition from what we do at iLLANOiZE Radio to an actual format? So, honestly, what I did was, I just took what I learned from iLLANOiZE Radio and just brought it to Vocalo, and I just — what they call that? I just perfected my craft more at Vocalo, on a more professional scale.

And what were some of those things that you learned at iLLANOiZE Radio that you're using during your transition to Vocalo? What were some of the challenges that you may have overcome at iLLANOiZE that helped you have a smoother ride at Vocalo?

Bekoe: It was definitely me not ever getting comfortable [and] already understanding the process of what was needed for Vocalo. So I want to say those were the two main things. I already knew radio. I’m not gonna say I know everything, but I’ve been doing radio, learning on my own, and taking what I’ve learned and just putting it to use at Vocalo. At the end of the day, I would definitely like to tell people never get comfortable. Keep yourself uncomfortable, because it keeps you ready for what’s to come. 

How does it feel to see your growth and the evolution over time?

Bekoe: It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy and [being] proud of myself. I would say mostly I’m happy to see that hard work does pay off. That’s something that excited me. All this hard work [that] I’ve been putting in and working for actually paid off. A great platform was interested in picking me up and bringing me on board. It meant a lot. It also showed not just me but also others that I motivate or that are around me or that support me or that are fans of my craft, it’s a statement for them as well. Man, if you work hard for something that you really want, it can come to you with patience. That pretty much sums it up. 

We don't talk enough about the evolution of media makers and radio personalities in the industry. We just watched journalist Dometi Pongo’s rise to MTV. What does it mean for you to go to a station like Vocalo and take your platform to a larger audience and to create an authentic hip hop segment on a station like Vocalo?

Bekoe: It means a lot because I feel like this is needed, especially with their programming [being] out there in Chicago urban alternative [music]. I feel like I’m that added spark that can help. It also helps me find a balance and a medium between what I’ve been doing and then doing it on a major scale. It just shows me what I’m capable of as well as it shows me how, when you’re tied to an additional brand or an additional platform with resources and benefits, it puts you in the mindset of, OK. I made this. How can I make this work now? How can I make it beneficial for everybody? I want to say that’s what my mindset turned into. How can this be beneficial to everybody and what other opportunities can be presented from this.

What are you bringing to the table that may not have already been there at Vocalo?

Bekoe: I like that. I like that question. I feel like what I’ve been bringing is more Chicago spotlight on more Chicago artists, of course. A lot of our big stations, they spotlight certain artists but this is Chicago. We should always spotlight our artists. You go to Atlanta, you mainly hear Atlanta on the radio. They don’t really play Chicago on their radio. So that’s something I’ve been bringing to Vocalo, just keeping the spotlight on our creatives and pretty much finding good records and playing them, like the good old days. You like a record? Play it. It shouldn’t be no ands, ifs or buts or politics behind it. 

I’ve been true to my roots pretty much with the music. Nothing’s changed and all I’m doing is converting them to a bigger platform and giving them more opportunities. So that’s something that I’ve been bringing to Vocalo, like I’ve brought Bianca Shaw through. Interviewed her. I just interviewed Joel Q. I got an interview with Dometi coming soon. My thing is continuing to do what I’ve been doing and just do it on a bigger scale.

Who and what is in your rotation at Vocalo that we might not hear on WGCI or Power 92?

Bekoe: So I’ve been playing, of course, Bianca Shaw. Actually I premiered a record from Ausar. Ausar was recently on [Netflix’s] “Rhythm and Flow.” I’ve been playing some Brittney Carter. Put her in rotation. Some Add-2. Keeping him in rotation. I’ve been playing a lot of records. Jean Deaux. I’ve been playing a lot of Smino. Some Ravyn Lenae. Who else? Some OG Stevo. He recently graduated [from] NIU. He got a bachelors in health science. He made a song called “OG Graduation.” You don’t really hear it on [the] radio. It’s a celebration. That’s Black excellence. He’s received a diploma, made a song about making music while staying in school and getting his degree. To me, that’s a big record because it’s motivational.

Joel Q and Kid Breeze actually created my intro for the radio show. So man. I’ve been putting so many artists within the mix. I would have to sit down and write them on a piece of paper cause that’s what I do. If I like it, I play it.

You’ve been an independent artist and you’ve had songs get radio spins. Coming from that side of the industry to now being the person making decisions on who and what gets played, what does that feel like?

Bekoe: I’m not gon lie to you. That’s the best feeling ever. I was actually looking at a past article you did on me for The Reader. And that was in 2016. I was looking at that, like, man, look at how much has changed since 2016. I mean, [from] me wanting my records on radio to me actually being behind the board playing records on the radio. It’s a very, very, very good feeling. 

I’m happy that I worked for this position because when I was an artist, which I still am at heart, I always wanted to change and shift the way things [were] not only within radio but within our music industry. I’m not talking about Atlanta. I’m not talking about New York. I’m just talking about our Chicago culture. I felt like, when I was an artist, trying to get my music played here and there, people didn’t want to listen to me because I didn’t have the so-called influence or numbers that they wanted to see. I didn’t have that buzz yet. So they wasn’t really trying to hear me. And my goal was, if I’m seeing unfairness now, how can I change it? That’s why I stepped into the shoes I stepped in and continued to work hard for what I want and I feel like I’m making that change slowly but surely. 

So it’s a great feeling to go from sending my records out to DJs to now be accepting records and playing them. Actually giving it an ear. Listening to it. And that’s what we do at Vocalo. We listen to all the music that is submitted. That is no lie. Every artist that submits their music through our submissions, we have a meeting and we listen to every single song. If an artist don’t get their music played, try again. We did listen and we’ll actually leave some feedback as well. We’ll leave some feedback depending on how busy we are. But, yeah. We not charging you to submit to us. And if we play your music, you get paid. 

Y’all paying people?

Bekoe: So artists collect royalties off of their radio spins. We’re a syndicated radio station. Like WGCI, they’re syndicated. And Power, they’re syndicated. When we play an artist record, and all their paperwork is in order, they receive royalties. 

And I know you've seen that some of Chicago’s local radio personalities have been laid off recently. Just looking at the changing urban radio landscape in Chicago, what are your goals at Vocalo and iLLANOiZE to keep that authentic Chicago vibe on the radio?

Bekoe: You want to know what it really is? Just staying connected with the community. You have to stay connected with our community. If there’s no connection, then it becomes a disconnection, if you understand what I’m saying. 

I reach out to artists daily. I reach out, say, ‘Hello. How you doing?’ Not on no BS. Just genuinely reach out to check on people. That’s how you stay connected. Actually build relationships with these artists or these creatives that’s pushing for a career, that’s pushing to better themselves, that’s pushing and passionate about what they do. You have to build relationships with these people. That’s my goal, to continue to stay connected. That’s what iLLANOiZE blog is for. We post a variety of artists on there. With iLLANOiZE Radio, we interview a variety of people. We’re not touching bases with the same people all the time. If you notice, with our events, it’s always fresh faces. We’re always giving opportunities to fresh artists. We’re always presenting opportunities. So that’s how you stay connected. That’ll help you have longevity.

What’s happening with iLLANOiZE Radio these days? Are y’all still producing content even with your move to Vocalo middays?

Bekoe: Of course. That’s my baby. That’s what helped me get to Vocalo. I didn’t build iLLANOiZE to then just leave it. I built iLLANOiZE because it’s a source. It’s become a beneficial platform. iLLANOiZE is still the same. iLLANOiZE Radio takes place every Saturday. We just interviewed KiltKarter, who is the brother of Valee. We also interviewed OG Stevo, talked about him graduating. And this was just this past Saturday. iLLANOiZE Radio still continues. iLLANOiZE is still going strong.

If you could talk to somebody in the community who has been rocking with you since the beginning, what would you say to them about this move to Vocalo? How are you going to use this new platform to put on for the indie artists out there?

Bekoe: I feel like a lot of people say, ‘Work hard, blah, blah, blah. It’ll come to you.’ I mean, that’s a given. But I would say don’t block your blessings. And that’s something that I almost did. I almost blocked my blessing with Vocalo. And I’m happy that I sat back on it and thought about it. 

Before I received the position, I actually turned down the offer to apply for the position. I had my team on my mind like, man, we built all this up. If I joined this platform, how would it change things? Shout out to Illinois Jones, DJ Freddy B, my mom [and] my girl, but they pretty much all said the same thing. ‘What’s yours is yours. Everybody can’t walk through that door with you. Everybody [has] their own doors to walk through. And this is your door for you to walk through. But by you walking through this door, you can help open other doors.’ And that’s what I learned.

When opportunities come to you, don’t fight yourself. Sometimes you got to take that leap of faith and go for it. I’m extremely happy. I feel really, really, really good things coming in the near future and in the future. I see some good things, some good changes coming to Vocalo as far as with me being on the platform and having an in-depth background within the Chicago music scene. I can help in a lot of ways that can be useful.

How we can listen to you? When should we tune in?

Bekoe: So I’m on air Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can listen on 91.1 FM, or you can download the Vocalo app, which is available on Apple [and at] the Google Playstore. You can download the app and take us everywhere you go. You can also visit and you can tune in there. Artists can also submit their music there as well, read articles, check out our playlists, stream podcasts. It’s a lot that you can do on Vocalo’s site. Those are the places you can check me out at.

Where can we check out iLLANOiZE Radio?

Bekoe: iLLANOiZE Radio is under can check out our interviews on YouTube. Search iLLANOiZE or iLLANOiZE Radio. We’ll pop up. You can also stream our podcast. Head over to your favorite podcast platform and search iLLANOiZE Radio and we’ll pop straight up. iLLANOiZE Radio airs every Saturday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and it’s powered by Logic Radio.