Can a newspaper and website aimed at younger readers help transform an unknown rap artist into a bona fide star?
Ernest Wilkins’ cover story earlier this week about Saint Millie was only the beginning of RedEye Chicago’s extraordinary efforts to raise the profile of the 22-year-old Oak Park musician (born Milton McKinney) and chronicle his “Road to Glory” journey.
Marking a new storytelling platform for the free daily tabloid published by the Chicago Tribune, RedEye has produced a 45-minute documentary about the determined and charismatic young man. It’s been posted in five parts on YouTube and RedEye’s website.
Filmed, directed and edited by RedEye’s Wilkins, Sean Ely and Lenny Gilmore, “Road to Glory: The Documentary” followed Saint Millie around the country for two months from the streets of Chicago to the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. (“Road to Glory” also is the title of his mixtape, which he released for free in February.)
His life story makes a compelling narrative: Writing music since he was 8, Saint Millie credits a tough life on the West Side with shaping him as an artist. His mother went to prison on a drug conviction when he was 12, and he spent most of his teens living with other relatives in various places. “He calls himself Saint Millie because when he started rapping at 18, he says, he was ‘living in hell.’ ” Wilkins reports. “'[After moving to the West Side] I was surrounded by the negativity in that neighborhood, so Saint Millie felt right. I felt like I had to be the good in the situation I was living in.’ ”
The documentary also provides a fascinating look inside the burgeoning rap music business and how Chicago figures prominently on the world stage. “I’m in this whole realm of the resurgence of Chicago — the Chicago renaissance,” Saint Millie says. “If you can make it here in Chicago, you can really make it.”
The official launch party for “Road to Glory: The Documentary,” including a live performance by Saint Millie, will be at 8 p.m. Monday at Schubas Tavern, 3159 North Southport Avenue.
Here is the first episode of the documentary series: