Grant Crusor wants to make vinyl more accessible to South Side enthusiasts
They say the best business ideas come from finding a need and filling it. For then Hyde-Park resident Grant Crusor, he didn’t need to look very far.
When R&B artist Solange dropped her 2016 vinyl release for A Seat at the Table, the avid music fan excitedly ventured out to grab his copy. With its massive popularity, he thought he would easily find the hit album in his neighborhood. He was wrong. After making calls to several record stores proved unsuccessful, Crusor found himself on a trek to the city’s North side. Three hours and a rainy car ride later, he knew there was a better way.
“I thought, it shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t have to leave my neighborhood to find music I like, specifically music from Black people… I remember growing up on the South side and there were a ton of record stores,” recalls Crusor. Perturbed, yet motivated, Crusor decided he would help fill the gap for vinyl buyers like himself. He would open his own record store.
Wasting no time, Crusor got busy diving into research on his plans of opening a storefront location, however, he quickly learned that record sales alone might not be enough to be profitable. A coffee shop that offers vinyl could be a better option. He spent the next year learning about the coffee and tea industry from local roasters and shop owners, and decided a coffee shop/record store is definitely in his plans- but not just yet. He would start by building his business online. In March 2018, South Rhodes Records was officially launched.
We talk to the busy entrepreneur about his unplanned foray into entrepreneurship, why you should consider vinyl, and his must-have records.
It seems you went from 0 to 100 in starting your business. Had you thought about being an entrepreneur prior to the Solange incident?
I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial but I never quite knew what. My degree is from Howard (University) in Business Management. It was hard for me see how to start and run a business without being so capitalistically focused because I’m very civic engagement minded and care about people. Just caring about money wasn’t going to work for me. I hadn’t yet found anything I was super passionate about where I felt that I could help people and also make into a business. It wasn’t until I had that problem finding the Solange record that I felt that I had found something that I was passionate about that could also help other people. Because I can’t be the only person on the South side with this problem. And even beyond the South side, but other sections of the city that don’t get that same love.
How did you get into vinyl?
I’ve been collecting music since I was in high school. I’ve always loved music and am a collector by nature. When I started out, I was going through my parent’s old records, buying tapes and CDs and collecting MP3s. In high school, I had a radio show and I would make my own mixes and sell them in the hallways. I tested out different mixes to see what worked. I realized I had a knack for knowing what people liked. In college, I didn’t do any DJing. I just collected music, mostly digital since IPods were big at that time. When I came home for holiday breaks, I would buy a few records from George’s here and there. But once I got to grad school and was more stable, I really started to buy more records. After grad school, I was traveling a lot for work and I would go to different record stores all over the country. So the business seems like it came out of nowhere, but the love for what it represents was always there.
What sets South Rhodes Records apart?
I’m about helping people build their collections. And part of that is trusting whom you’re getting records from. Over time, I hope people recognize that they can buy records anywhere, but I want them to know they have a source they can come to that’s done the work of weeding things out for them. So, if I ask you to spend $40 on a record, you’re not wasting your money or your time. I’m never gonna be the guy who has 1000 records. I specialize and give you the fifty I know absolutely you need in your collections. I don’t just give you the stuff that’s popular now, but in two years you’re not going to like the fact that you spent $40. It’s quality over quantity.
How do you curate your collections?
I start by staying in my lane. My lane is jazz, hip hop and R&B with a little bit of salsa sometimes, and a little bit of Brazilian thrown in occasionally. I might even do a little bit of House, but I don’t really touch it too much because I respect it. When you go down that lane, you’ve got to do it right. As a Chicagoan, I want to do it the best… not just right… the best.
As a music curator, what has been your best find?
That’s tough. The one that I’m excited I got to stock and sell is from a producer from Australia named Ta-Ku. He’s put out of series of albums-Songs to Break Up to, Songs to Make Up to– and he put together a bundle- a vinyl package of both albums along with a 7”. He posted it on Instagram and it sold out in minutes. Fortunately, I was able to get a copy for me and the store…and it was expensive. Afterwards, I was at the Pitchfork fest, and a customer came to my table and was flipping through (the albums). He saw it and there was delight on his face. He grabbed it, but he put it back when he looked at the price. About 20 seconds later he came back and said he would shoot himself if he left without getting that album. You can’t get that album now. I may never be able to restock it.
And your best seller?
That’s easy. Lauren Hill. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I always sell out every single time. I can’t keep it in stock. Twenty-one years old and it’s still flying. That’s why you’ll never see another Lauren Hill album. Another is Nipsey Hussle. I sell those as soon as I get them. And Solange. I decided to just always keep A Seat at the Tablein stock because of the way this company started.
What’s on your must-have list?
There’s a guy who I think is single-handedly saving R&B: Devin Morrison. His album is called Bussin’. It’s funny and creative. It gets to the point. It’s not exhausting. It’s another album I can’t keep in stock. He’s one I can’t shut up about. I would also say there’s a tie between Victory Lap by Nipsey Hussle . It was one of the best albums of 2018. And Saba, a Chicago artist. His album Care for Me was like a hood dissertation of grief and how to deal with. He talks about all of the things we don’t teach young men, particularly young Black men about how to express themselves, how to deal with grief and process it…. It’s a masterpiece. These are the albums I think you need and can actually get.
We all know vinyl is a bit more of a financial investment, particularly in this era of streaming. Why choose vinyl?
When it comes to vinyl and digital, I always tell people ‘treat this like you’re going to get a painting from Hebru Brantley. There may be 1000 copies, there may be 20 copies of this record, but one day you won’t be able to find this record. And one day, that digital file in your hard drive is going to get corrupted. Having media that you know can play is one part of the equation. You’re also investing in a collection of art work. It’s the cover, the packaging, the inserts, the color of the vinyl sometimes, and of course, the music. See it as an investment in a piece of art. Nobody’s valuing an MP3 download in the same way.
You can find South Rhodes records online at www.southrhodesrecords.com, popping up at Build Coffee in Woodlawn and THIS WEEKEND at the Silver Room Block Party. Check them out!