VirgoTwins: South Side rapper, California beatmaker unite as musical duo

Boricua Sandy is a rarity in the hip-hop realm: a rap producer who happens to be female. She’s one half of the striking new West Coast-based duo VirgoTwins, sculpting the multihued sonic mosaics that MC Gilead7 entwines with torrents of his multidimensional poetry.

Having dropped debut album “Art/Space” in digital and cassette formats last week, VirgoTwins perform their release show Apr. 28 at the Golden Dagger in Lincoln Park. This performance will, in fact, be G7 and Sandy’s first live appearance together as VirgoTwins — staged in a city that shaped them both.

“Art/Space” is a stunner, as lavish conceptually as it is musically; the album rewards close — and repeated — listening. Gilead7’s precise, heady lyrical flow enlightens and compels, whether he is exhuming influential ghosts (“Unspoken”) or exploring arcane racial history (“Othello’s Children in the ‘New World’ ”), all the while soul-melding with the essence of creativity: the Art/Space itself.

Of special note is the disarming track “Empath,” a fantasized dialog between G7 and an insect, a real-life water bug he observed surveilling him at home. Interspersed with a touching hook, sung by co-composer Seven Santana (another Chicago native), the rapper declares himself loath to kill a living entity. So, as he paraphrased during a recent interview, “I’m gonna try to escort it out. But what gives me the right to kick the entity out of my house?” 

On an afternoon in early April, a group Zoom session found Gilead7 (born Jon Ivan Gill) driving around Chicago with his father, Eustace, while Boricua Sandy (aka Sandra Cotto) took part from her San Diego home. Gill père spoke of raising Gill fils in their house on the city’s Far South Side, at 100th and Logan; he was ever supportive of his son’s musical aspirations and ever watchful for Jon’s safety.

“When I was deejaying at [University of Chicago’s trailblazing hip-hop FM radio station] WHPK, my dad would drop me off there at 3 in the morning,” Gilead reminisced. “Remember that, Dad?” 

“I wanted to check the place, see who’s there,” Eustace confirmed, in the lilting Caribbean cadences of his home country, Belize. “I was always concerned.” 

Gilead7 — who at the moment was on spring break from his other job, as associate professor of philosophy at Gustavus Augustus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota — recounted how he and Sandy, a California native whose peripatetic upbringing included formative sojourns in Chicago, came to make music together.

The rapper himself is a veteran component of Chicago’s underground hip-hop scene, most notably as a member of the futuristic art-rap collective Tomorrow Kings, and he continues to release assorted solo projects and mixtapes. Gilead relocated to the West Coast “about 13 years ago,” and now makes his home in Tijuana, Mexico — just 22.7 miles south of San Diego, where he and Sandy formally met at a hip-hop concert.

“But we’d seen each other at shows there and in L.A.,” Sandy said.

Her personal road to rap-beats production had begun literally at birth, thanks to elder siblings with exemplary musical taste. “I’ve been exposed to hip-hop since I was a baby, from my older half-sisters and brother,” Sandy said. . 

“I was in love with the beats as well. Once I was old enough to go to hip-hop shows in San Diego, I became known as a supporter [of that scene] … and even started promoting shows during my 20s.”

Then, in 2015, “I was hit by two trucks while at a red light, and my life turned upside down. … I needed an outlet to release my pain.”

Enter GarageBand, Apple’s vaunted “digital audio workstation.” In dire need of creation-as-healing, she steered the app to her phone — and never looked back. “I’d just wanted a way to release my emotions,” Sandy reflected. “I didn’t think it would take me this far.” 

When Gilead7 learned that Boricua Sandy was, in fact, an accomplished hip-hop producer, Sandy set up listening sessions between the two at Sunset Cliffs, overlooking the Pacific. “It’s just more organic if someone’s sitting next to me, and they can go through the beats with me, and choose what resonates with them.

“And so the second time we met up, I did a prayer: ‘Please let me play him all the right beats.’ I manifested that — and pretty much every beat that I was playing, he chose. And that’s how this album, ‘Art/Space,’ came about.”

Added Gilead7, “The beats that Sandy’s given for this project just bring something outta me. I gotta give her props for, like, a lot of that.” A pause. “If not all of it.”

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