THE LOOP — The most important person at City Hall is an opera-singing rapper — and, thank goodness, it’s not Mayor Emanuel.
Chicago’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer Lisa Laws, a “structural engineering nerd” by trade, is generally responsible for making sure our city — its streets and bridges, water systems, city vehicles and buildings — doesn’t crumble beneath our feet.
It’s also her job to make sure that our garbage gets picked up, alley rats get poisoned to death, trees get trimmed, graffiti gets removed, sewers get cleaned out and streetlights get turned on.
Every person who has ever called 311 is probably thinking what I’m thinking — what’s her cell number?
“Yeah, I’m sure everybody wants my number, but no one is going to get it,” Laws said, laughing.
“I already get lots of calls from residents who want their sewers cleaned, trees trimmed and want to know when their street is getting paved and how long it will take.”
Despite her massive responsibilities for pretty much everything that Chicagoans complain about on a daily basis, Laws, 32, refuses to be defined by her day job.
“I like to think I’m the best lyricist in the world,” Laws said, giggling. “I’m a Hyde Parker. We’re more connected to the whole hip-hop era when I grew up.”
Laws, who recently moved to the South Loop, has performed exactly one concert — if you call the 2013 Women's Transportation Seminar a concert.
It was a short show: Laws busted just one rap, an introduction of the winner of the Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award, which Laws received in 2012.
“I got a whole room of engineers to give me the beat to 'Rapper’s Delight,' which was quite a feat because we know 90 percent of them never heard rap before,” Laws said.
Laws also has exactly one video under her belt, but we’ll get to that later.
Long before Laws busted into the rap game, so-to-speak, she grew up traveling the world with the Chicago Children’s Choir.
“I was classically trained as an opera singer since I was 11 years old and traveling internationally since sixth grade. I’ve met every president, spent two months in South Africa and met Nelson Mandela,” she said.
After Mandela died in December, Laws rounded up some of her fellow choir pals to sing as a tribute during a City Council meeting.
But that’s the last time she dusted off the ol’ pipes.
“I don’t really sing except for in my car or at home,” she said. “But I probably should.”
Laws will have to forgive herself this year. She’s been busy making sure all those pesky potholes eventually get filled on top of everything else, and she volunteers tutoring kids in math and science as a way of introducing them to the “joys of engineering.”
“Society makes it seem that engineering is so unattainable. My main goal is to tell children, especially minority children, that someone who dresses like them or looks like them can be someone who designs skyscrapers and bridges,” she said. “It’s not unattainable and all you have to do is try.”
Laws, however, did have enough free time to cut her very first rap video — an ode to her hometown that premiered at the WTS conference in Portland, Ore.
“They asked to interview me and said, ‘Why don’t you do one of your raps,’ Laws said. “It was like they thought I had a roster of raps just chillin’ in my desk drawer. So, I wrote a rap, and no one ever notices, but every line starts with a letter and it spells out Chicago.”
And, like a real rapper should, Laws isn’t afraid to brag that her skills outshine her contemporaries.
“I was the illest* rapper …,” Laws said.
“Of the engineering convention,” I said, finishing her sentence.
“Hey,” she said, stopping to laugh. “If I’m gonna rap, I gotta be the illest rapper of something.”
And it’s pretty safe to say Laws runs the City Hall rap game — unless the mayor secretly can beatbox, that is.
*Note to non-rappers: ‘Illest’ is slang for best.
Here are the lyrics to Laws' Chicago rap.
Come and wave the blue stripes and the red stars with pride/ No matter if you claim the east west, north, or south side.
High skyscrapers that make the skyline/ take pics for Instagram, or do it for the vine.
International spot in the Mid of the West/ And the food so good, Even the James Beard’s impressed.
Cold winter months and a few summer ones/ See the Bulls shoot the J n The Sox hit the runs.
Attractions are everywhere no matter what you do/ Take the bus to Navy Pier or EL to the Zoo.
Good God, the windy city so much fun/ Go and hit the lake-front if you wanna take a run.
O-M-G this is where you wanna be/ Come converge upon Chi, just don’t take it from me
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