There’s something floating around the air of Chicago right now. It’s a vibrational sensation, something that feels tangible but really isn’t. It’s good juju, it’s magic powers, it’s the Universe thanking the citizens of this city for their nonstop rise and grind.
That something in the air is especially targeting Chicago’s creatives. The ones who think outside of the lines instead of in between them, the ones that physically bring the things in their head to life, the ones in charge of keeping any and every form of art alive.
There’s something floating around the air of Chicago right now, and that something is absolutely obsessed with Emma McKee.
Emma McKee was kicked out of Canada five years ago. She was met at the border with an
angry patrol officer, and was informed to pack her life up and find somewhere to live in America within the month. Turns out she was unknowingly involved in some crazy work/relationship drama that she most certainly had no time for. But that’s not what holds importance in this story. Emma is.
Emma did as she was told, got her clothes and her cat, and caught the next flight into Chicago. She knew absolutely no one, but she was determined to make this move work for her. Through connections from back home, Emma was able to land a job writing for an online music platform. She maneuvered her way around the city, heading from show to show and from poetry reading to poetry reading, steadily increasing her knowledge of the then-underground Chicago hip-hop scene.
It was at one of these events that Emma caught herself talking to Chance the Rapper’s father. Chance is a household name across the country now – but then, he was still in high school, hitting up spots in Pilsen to share his premiere mixtape with his city.
That was five years ago. Today, Emma and Chance are acquaintances – friends, if you will. She custom made the jackets he wears to almost every concert – including Magical Coloring Day, his first-ever music festival at U.S. Cellular Stadium – and for not one, but two different covers of Billboard magazine.
Emma McKee has only been cross-stitching for a few years. She started in an attempt to make amends with her mother, whom she was in a semi-strained relationship with at the time. Her first cross-stitch design was of a Russian Christmas scene, and was given to her mom as a gift. From that point on, she did it in her spare time – never really that serious, and always hidden from the public eye.
It wasn’t until a few months later when her friends started noticing what she was doing that Emma began to take cross-stitching seriously. Now, she custom makes clothes for the majority of Chicago’s thriving hip-hop scene.
“The teenagers call me ‘The Stitch Gawd,’” Emma jokes, sipping on her curry-infused iced latte. Even the coffee she drinks oozes creative coolness. “It’s ridiculous. I’m basically just a super fan.”
Emma isn’t kidding – she is the world’s biggest super fan. She genuinely loves hip-hop, loves cross-stitching, and loves doing whatever the hell it is she wants to do. Passion is what makes things happen, and passion is something Emma McKee is overflowing with.
“[I got my in] by going and observing and listening to shit,” McKee said. “I wasn’t at these shows T’ing up, I was just going because I fucking love rap music.”
After a few years of bouncing around shows, Emma got noticed. How could she not? She’s dope, she’s genuine, and she’s absolutely hilarious. So much so, she made Kanye West laugh. Kanye West, the most serious man on the planet. She made him laugh.
That’s another crazy story that just makes Emma even more Emma. After his show at the United Center this year, Kanye and his squad headed over to Soho House, where Emma and her squad were sipping on drinks and causing their usual mayhem. Kanye and Emma made their way to the same elevator at the same time, and she greeted him with a “Whassup, Mr. West,” and he greeted her with that giant, shit-eating grin that so few can put on his face.
This is just another page in Emma’s book, just another joke for her to tell me in a dimly lit coffee shop.
One of the coolest things about Ms. McKee is the way she goes about distributing her work. Emma doesn’t sell anything – she trades. There’s reasoning behind this logic, and it’s reasoning that further proves her authenticity.
“What one person can do in an hour versus another person is crazy,” Emma begins. “The real economy we live in is time. The only meaningful thing we have to give is time. So if someone I fuck with considers me to be worth their time, I take pride in making them apart of mine.”
That’s another thing about Emma – she knows who is and isn’t worth her time, and she isn’t afraid to say it.
Life is short. It’s so ridiculously short. So why do so many of us waste our value – our time – on things we aren’t passionate about? There are things in life that we should say no to, but we are taught from the get-go not to say no. Emma thinks that’s total BS.
“You can say no,” said Emma. “You should never starve for your art. You should work for it – there’s a difference.”
This mantra has been the reason for Emma’s rapid and well-deserved success. She understands that she isn’t here to please everyone. She’s here to please herself and those she admires, truly and fully. She’s here for the people who aren’t afraid of doing whatever it takes to be their most authentic selves, and she is right there with them. Emma McKee isn’t afraid to say no, and for that reason, so many people keep telling her yes.