20 People to Watch - Suli Chillis: The Gen Y creative
A slice of Atlanta’s creative class is finding its voice, one house party at a time
When DJ Genesis threw his Four Twenty Day cookout at CRUx House last April, the highlight from the recap video, which featured plenty of red-cup sipping, backyard trampoline jumping, poolside grilling and politicking, came when a somewhat frantic Suliman “Suli” Chillis appeared on camera hastening revelers off-site as police arrived to crash the party.
The split-second footage offered a glimpse into the life of the self-styled visionary who, at 23, has already mastered the art of winning friends and influencing people. His hustle game isn’t far behind. He’s recently been keeping late hours studying the laws surrounding nonprofit formation and corporate sponsorship.
It’s all part of his plan to turn Creative Revolution Union (CRUx for short) into an empowered constituency of Gen Y creatives, one house party at a time.
“The whole premise of CRUx is that the creative realms of art, fashion, music, and entertainment are what most influence our generation,” he says. “We want to get those people to come together and be that voice.”
Chillis’ deep baritone rumbles at a clipped speed when he talks. It’s one of the characteristics that’s remained intact since he moved from New York state. His own entry into the creative world came by happenstance. Originally intent on becoming a sports agent, he fell into party promotions while attending Morehouse College. The more connections he began to make within the scene, the more he envisioned creating a brand that could unify his friends’ solo pursuits.
His mother unexpectedly passed away in 2011, leaving him with enough money to turn his CRUx dreams into reality. Following his mother’s death, he traded school for CRUx and began adopting more like minds into the fold.
“It’s actually a family but instead of having a mom and dad, we just have a whole bunch of brothers and sisters, almost like the Lost Boys in Neverland,” Chillis says.
At its root, CRUx is a well-organized offshoot of the organic collective of young creatives Atlanta’s fertile underground has been recycling for several years. The latest version of the budding subculture encompasses producers and rappers, designers and singer-songwriters, DJs and visual artists, all relying on complementary aesthetics and a communal spirit contrary to the prevailing stereotype of millennials as entitled narcissists.
Following in the footsteps of such scene promoters as Caleb Gauge, Fadia Kader, and Kei Henderson, Chillis has spent the last two years organizing local UNITE artist showcases and co-hosting CRUx stages at A3C and SXSW. In 2014, he plans to expand by establishing Creative Revolution Union as a 501c3 nonprofit in order to engage brands like PBR for corporate sponsorship.
“I want to be that guy who partners brands with our generation for the long haul,” says Chillis, who is also using CRUx as a base to create Web content for such outlets as Russell Simmons’ new All Def Digital network.
He ultimately envisions CRUx as “a labor union for creatives,” and so far the split-level crib he shares in southwest Atlanta’s Cascade neighborhood with four other houseguests — including Greedmont Park writer/artist manager Steven “Steve-O” Dingle, Bravo TV’s “New Atlanta” reality star Alexandra Dilworth, painter Lauren Wilson, and resident A&R man NoahxZark — has provided the perfect incubator for the scene’s wide-ranging interests.
For any given event, from video shoots to listening parties, the guest list reads like a who’s who among the scene’s vanguard. “All our friends happen to be, for lack of a better term, the cool kids that people look at for direction,” he says.
A year ago, they made a digital bum-rush for the Web with the short-lived New Atlanta hashtag. Largely misunderstood as a term created to piggyback on the overnight success of affiliated artist Trinidad James, it started after SXSW 2012 as an attempt by Chillis, Dingle, and Grammy-nominated producer Jeron Ward to underscore the wealth of unheralded talent bubbling below Atlanta’s mainstream.
But as more artists misused the descriptor, the originators put it to rest after throwing a final New Atlanta showcase at last year’s SXSW.
This year, Chillis hopes to build enough momentum to expand CRUx House to New York, Los Angeles, and the Web via a social network specifically designed for Gen Y creatives.
Despite the connotation implied by his last name, chill time is not on Chillis’ agenda. “I love being alone,” he says, “but I guess you can’t do that and want to unite a generation.”