Amidst the extensive media coverage of Kanye West’s promotional events for Donda back in August, you could be forgiven for imagining that Chicago’s only notable new hip-hop release came from a billionaire who hired crews to rebuild his childhood home in the middle of Soldier Field. This is far from the case, of course, although more and more great music has fallen through the cracks due to the dwindling resources devoted to covering Chicago hip-hop at a local level. – or really at a lower level than “international star”. To give just one example, I would have loved to read more articles on Queen Key’s Your Highness 3 when it fell in early August.
For this roundup, I picked out a handful of recent and upcoming hip-hop releases from Chicago, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to access everything I considered deserving. As I was finishing, Semiratruth released a terrific underground hip-hop stunt called I GOT BANDZ FOR THE MOONLANDIN ‘. But while I can’t be exhaustive or even definitive, I hope I can give you enough window into the new tracks and moves on the Chicago hip-hop field to keep you looking for yourself- same.
Daveeirdo, Lillie (Daweirdo. Inc.)
It’s hard to say if Darrel McKinney is choosing to focus on the structural inequalities, poverty and violence that tore his native Englewood apart, or if the pain he witnessed won’t let him look away. As Daweirdo, McKinney navigates the trauma and grief caused by the violence this country perpetrates against its black people, a grueling task that he tackles with heart and nuance. On the new Lillie, he enlivens his austere songs with attention to detail, a form-changing flow and lively delivery. He sometimes seems possessed by the grief he describes, so the loss distorts his words in the middle of a line – and at such times his voice carries a tension so piercing it makes his point clear. . On “The Last Party,” McKinney extends the hook of Biggie’s “Party and Bullshit” into a discursive portrayal of a neighborhood facing a cruel and neglectful world while creating its own joy.
Rita J, The High Priestess (Neak Imprints / 2nd Life / Gold Standard Collective)
At The High Priestess, Rita J orders a powerfully laid back cool. Her verses gracefully glide over her resplendent, soul-influenced songs, a combination that clearly took a lot of effort to be right, but the music is as tranquil as an afternoon stroll. Rita has been releasing albums since 2009, when she released her first album on the label of underground hip-hop collective All Natural. Since then, she has become a hip-hop veteran while keeping a foot in the city’s underground scene. His main collaborator these days is longtime rapper-producer Neak of the newly formed Gold Standard Collective. Rita wears The High Priestess with his vision, unloading verses on black pride and history with an elegant balance that demonstrates his affection for all aspects of hip-hop. Its luxurious interpretation of the genre evokes its breadth and depth while leaving room for a little boom-bap grind, like a treat. She honors the past without letting it weigh down and wanders through her latest album with the vigor of a newcomer.
Aakeem Eshú, Whatever it will be (self-published)
An experimental sequence runs through Aakeem Eshú’s EP Whatever it will be, and even before his release, the rapper liked to mix things up. Last year he released a few collaborative albums with two very different artists: Twoblk in the world with the tender MC Freddie Old Soul and Black dobsonian with footwork producer and Teklife member DJ Earl. In June, Eshú published Betrayal & Liberation 2, which takes a loose but pocket-sized approach to sample-based hip-hop, like a river not quite overflowing from its banks, but next to No matter what it is, it sounds conventional. Throughout the dramatic changes in style, mood and metabolism of the EP, Eshú casually maintains his raucous and singsong performance, often using his vocals to add new textures to the instrumentals; its fast raps contrast with the wet and indolent R&B of “IDGAF”, and its jagged lines sound almost buttery to the moody and breathy rhythm of “30 Pack”. The EP seems a bit messy, but Eshú has the determination and adaptability to bring his varied songs together.
defer, Sunday sessions (Analects of Filth)
CRASHprez and Defcee don’t have to tell you they’re friends – their partnership as defprez is successful because they clearly care about each other as people and respect each other as rappers. They skillfully share the mic on the new Sunday sessions, feeding off the perfectly imperfect rhythms of the knowthetime producer – it intersects loose drums with refined basslines, mellow touches and samples that sound like vinyl damaged by water, mold, dirt or all three. CRASHprez raps in jerky bursts, sharpening the end of each line to put a bite into it, while Defcee chews his lyrics so you can hear the meat on every syllable. The two MCs rap recklessly, even when they sound like they’re trying to tear up their verses letter by letter – that’s part of the fun of their cerebral underground hip-hop.
Pug Atomz, Road test (block 600)
Sterling Price, better known as Pugs Atomz, never seems satisfied with a single creative project. Road test, his full collaboration with Los Angeles producer Tusk57, comes just weeks after the opening of “Mookie on the Southside,” a solo exhibition of Price’s visual art at the Connect Gallery in Hyde Park which runs through to October 22. Road test, Tusk57 helps direct his partner’s ambition with expansive and stylistically broad instrumentals that aspire to be played at full volume; Price distributes battle-ready rock verses, sometimes lowering the intensity to indulge in a sweet little half-song. Tusk57 can add languid Spanish guitar to insistent skeletal drums (“Test Drive”) or blend low-hum synths into nighttime blur (“Green Means Go !!”). Price invited a handful of guest MCs to polish these songs, and it’s a pleasure to hear him deliver a smashing track together alongside sharp-toothed Chicago rapper Chris Crack and Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest.
Only the single version of Road testThe title song was on Bandcamp at the time of publication.