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When Maurice Robinson, a graduate of Proviso West High School in west suburban Hillside, attended his 10-year class reunion a few years ago, he said he was approached by classmates who still remember a blowout fashion show he put on as an 18-year-old entrepreneur and jack-of-all trades. The show was something of a prelude to the Austin native's latest act as the host of his own radio show and aspiring media mogul.
"I had like four or five limos, it was one of the biggest fashion shows ever at Proviso West and I made a ton of money for an 18-year-old kid," Robinson said during an interview earlier this month inside of the Uptown studio where he records his new show.
"I enjoyed the people I put into the show. I was popular among the unpopular and never really fit into a mold, so I brought art students into the mix, I had plus-size girls, fly girls, everybody was in the show," Robinson said. "It was a community."
In 2014, when Robinson campaigned to become an alderman in the Chicago ward where he grew up, the 31-year-old former rapper and producer imagined that he'd expand that diverse community through a seat on the City Council.
Three years and one hard-earned political education later, Robinson said the radio show is in the inclusive spirit of that high school fashion, but it also features elements of his political activism.
The weekly show, called Alternative Thought — which airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. each Thursday on Que 4 Radio 1680 AM — is an amalgamation of all of Robinson's interests. One week will feature a 2-hour conversation on gentrification while another week will feature an interview with African American beauty queens.
The point, Robinson said, is to expose the issues, people and events, particularly within the African American community, that mainstream media often overlooks.
"I felt like black stories weren't being told ad nauseum in the way that we talk about the violence," said Robinson, explaining his decision to launch the show in December. "Even so-called black progressives would highlight the negative aspects of our community. That's not the full story, though. That's not who we are."
In addition to his own show, Robinson produces a slate of other radio shows, including a gossip show with a growing following among the LGBT community called Mikey Everything. He also has a sports radio show that's in the works. The shows all fall under Robinson's budding media content company, Loaded Ear Drum — an entity that he envisions to be as fungible as his personality.
Next year, Robinson said, he plans on turning the Loaded Ear Drum brand into an app that will allow users to livestream all of the shows, a podcast, a YouTube channel, even apparel and goods. Eventually, he said, users will be able to purchase bundled subscriptions that will include offers for merchandise from businesses that sponsor the shows.
Robinson's own show, he said, is the highest rated one in his Loaded Ear Drum lineup and has a budding national audience, with people all over the country tuning into his show's Facebook page to watch it streaming live or listening either on Que 4's website or on the radio. Robinson records his show in a studio space that's owned by a nonprofit in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood.
For the nephew of former 29th Ward Alderman Sam Burrell, this latest act is simply the furthest along a continuum of reinventions — from actor to rapper to political candidate to, if he has his way, the Russell Simmons of alternative, conscious media. That could be going a bit too far, though. Robinson is rather satisfied with just being himself.
"I'm addicted to the human condition," Robinson said. "I love watching people react and hunger for knowledge. That's an addiction for me. When people call in, I enjoy listening to them."
His plans for Loaded Ear drum are for the company to become "the fastest growing media company, period."
As for his dabble in politics in 2014, a moment that seemed to be the culmination of his lifetime of volunteering on a range of West Side campaigns.
"I don't foresee myself being an elected official," he said. "I see myself being the next Willie Wilson. I'd rather fund a campaign. I don't want be elected, as of right now. I don't know what the future holds, though. If I'm 50 and that political bug bites me, then cool. Until then, I'm trying to build an empire."
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