By Marlena Wadley
The vibration of drums thump against the walls, the bass bellows, and the sweet hymn of a piano slithers between your ears as the Chicago singer Poodle—née Sloane Crawford—gracefully struts down Chicago venue Subterranean’s spiral staircase, to start her Tuesday night set. Every step captures the beat of the music; the disco jerk in her body makes you want to dance, and the rasp and richness of her voice leaves you captivated.
Chicago has birthed big names in rap like Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Common, and now, many artists are moving to Chicago just to get a taste of the city’s success. A funk band emerging at a time where hip-hop is dominant in Chicago, Crawford’s band, The Ear Hustler’s Collective is the next iteration of the city’s music scene: A rebirth of funk, disco, and soul. Intuiting a groove à la musical composer Roy Ayers, and rhythms that make you want to dance just like P-funk, The Ear Hustler’s is the perfect example of 70s influence.
Crawford moved to Chicago from her hometown of Sacramento, California to study music at Columbia College. She majors in jazz, but the songstress also sings R&B, funk, and musical theater. “Music was just something that I connected with [at a] really young age—I never questioned it. It was always something I wanted to do." Sloane discovered her talent in her youth, crediting her middle school, which birthed her inclination for her numerous singing styles. She realized it was the vibrations and frequencies in her voice that sparked her interest.
Now, Crawford has brought her talents to The Ear Hustler’s Collective where you can hear a range of influences, like Joey Bada$$, Sarah Vaughn, Jill Scott, and even Bootsy Collins. The band includes Virgil Shepp on keys, Ben Longson on guitar, and Jakob Allen on bass—and of course Crawford, or Poodle, the lead singer.
A color block of hair and clothes, you can find her doing a shoulder shimmy and bouncing to Allen’s bass in a pink, purple, or orange wig, and various color-printed pants and kimonos. “Poodles are dope, their hair’s eccentric, they’re smart, and they’re elegant. If you really think about it, [I was either] going to go by a great dane or a poodle,” she explains when asked about where her nickname came from.
Typically, we relate freestyling to rappers, but Crawford tends to dabble in something similar, employing her own form of spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness lyricism when songwriting. During the weeks leading up to a show, the band gets together, Crawford brings her notebook filled with songs, and they all just jam. What her fans don’t know is that each song changes during the group’s live shows: While the melody and musical composition remain the same, the words are newly composed each time she performs, based on Crawford’s momentary feeling.
A few head nods, a couple claps, and some hips swings fill the Subterranean as Crawford ends her set with an upbeat yet soulful song. The crowd—including her friends—are all in awe. “Sloane connects with the audience. Her music is very relatable, it tells a story, and is easy to remember. The melodies are unique to her,” says her friend, Sovren Gray.
After Crawford changes clothes, she joins everyone in the crowd. Her friends envelop her with hugs, and audience members crowd her with compliments. “I just hope I can take my craft as far as God will let me go. I dream that I can touch some people.”