Photo by Troy Gueno, courtesy of Sterling Hayes
If it seems like you’re constantly hearing from Chicago’s SaveMoney camp, it’s by design. “We’re going for every member to strategically drop a mixtape in 2016, so we can control whole seasons,” says Sterling Hayes, who has been waiting patiently at bat to debut his first album Antidepressant, premiering today on Noisey. He admits he’s a bit reticent about releasing his first major project too close to a new album from the group’s star player Chance The Rapper, who publicly announced the imminent Chance 3 over the weekend (Hayes confirms it’s coming this month). But Antidepressant is a world all of its own.
The title stems from Hayes’s own struggles with depression, as well as those of his mom, who he says has been on and off antidepressants for years. “It’s hereditary” he says, “My mom, my aunt, cousins… like 20 percent of my family takes them.” Hayes himself was put on antidepressants as a seventh grader: “The actual prescription is on the cover of the album. I just remember that being strong. Being in middle school, taking strong-ass pills. Kids shouldn’t be taking that, it’s for adults.”
The album starts with a rant about antidepressant medication that Sterling stumbled upon in the midst of a YouTube rabbit hole. SaveMoney’s in-house producer Spanish Diego set the speech to sinister keys, and the resulting longwinded diatribe creates a suffocating atmosphere. By the time Hayes raps his first words of the record saying “I be feeling fantastic,” you find it pretty hard to believe. That back-and-forth tension plays out across the album, as dark themes mixing with positivity.
“We made that shit just beating on the table,” Hayes says of the track. “I just free-styled and we recorded in on the phone.” There are upbeat moments elsewhere, too. “I also have dance music and shit.” He turns to Diego who’s with him at the SaveMoney headquarters in Wicker Park. “Yo, Diego, what’s the most Chicago track we got? I think ‘Fuck It.’” He turns back to the phone: “The self-loving tracks were just me and my man Diego having fun with life. Just doing drugs. Did some Xans. got drunk, made some trap shit, mainstream shit. Just so I can let my fans know when they hear my music that I’m from Chicago.”
Hayes may not be on meds anymore, but he’s still medicating. The track “Fuck U Mean” is a love letter to a pretty tempting cocktail of ketamine, coke, and pills. It’s a different approach from fellow anti-sobriety Chicagoan, but the message is basically the same.
“There’s a Xanax and Promethazine and Codeine epidemic in Chicago right now,” Hayes says. “Lean is going crazy in the city. Putting lean in the lemonade is a Chicago thing. They fucking banned Activis in Illinois. So, we just got Qualitest and Hi-Tech. We’re in a sad, depressed time right now.”
Hayes grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the city's South Side, which has become Chicago's frontline of gentrification. It’s the birthplace of SaveMoney. He met Vic Mensa when he was only three or four years old and cliqued up with other members like Joey Purp in high school. “I wasn’t social,” he remembers, “I didn’t start being social until high school. That’s really how Save Money stayed together so long. ‘Cause we didn’t really have the desire to make new friends.” It’s also how he’s tackling depression: “It took music. That’s how I found self-worth.”
Check out Antidepressant below, and catch Sterling and the rest of SaveMoney in Noisey Chicago, available for free preview on Viceland.com.
Update: A previous version of this article described the Hyde Park neighborhood as adjacent to the South Side rather than on the South Side.
Zach Goldbaum is the host of Noisey on VICELAND. Follow him on Twitter.