Hip hop is in an interesting state right now. The rise of social media and sharing platforms, such as SoundCloud, have propelled the art to places that the original MC’s breakdancing out of the South Bronx could have never imagined.
The market is flooded with all sorts of rap. There’s everything from classic witty rhymes and soul samples to the banging beats and enhanced vocals that have come to dominate radio waves and rap today. Here, I aim to dissect and praise a particular niche in the game that I believe is doing it the most cohesively: young men and women, singers, rappers, and producers who are working hard to bring their city to the top — and that city is Chicago.
“City on the Come Up, Shout that Ni–a Sosa”
“Juice” – Chance the Rapper
One of the most interesting thing about Chicago in recent years is the dichotomy that has developed within the city’s rap scene. The first break out artist of this new-wave was Chief Keef. His selling song “I don’t like” became a local Chicago hit before being remixed by the biggest star to ever come out of Chicago: Kanye West. Around the same time, two other rappers — and good friends — were working on what would become their breakout tapes, Innanetape by Vic Mensa and Acid Rap by Chance the Rapper.
Now, these two rappers are arguably the biggest stars to come out of the movement. However, at the time, they were merely teenagers, trying to make music that spoke to their voices. A quick listen to either tape will disclose the sincerity and individualism that each portrays. Both tapes included plenty of features from Chicago artists, notably BJ the Chicago kid and hometown legend Twista, who collaborated with Vic and Chance on “Cocoa Butter Kisses.”
Vic has gone on to sign with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and make hits with the likes of Kanye West, while Chance has remained in complete control of his craft, despite deals from every major label. He is still an independent artist, making music with his band, The Social Experiment.
However, what is more important is how they have truly inspired fellow artists and friends through their success and also desire to collaborate without leaving their friends in the dark. They have, in doing so, created genre-altering records via a common network, Chicago.
In an artist talk at Stanford University, Noname Gypsy, fellow Chicago MC and childhood friend of Chance The Rapper, touched upon how Chicago came to be where it is. The answer came down to friendship and respect. She beautifully humanized these individuals, who most only render as artists, as her friends and brothers. Growing up in Chicago as a young child, wanting to get her creativity out, Gypsy visited community centers that promoted the artistic talents of young people, something that does not seem nearly as accessible in other cities. From here, the aspiring artists not only became friends, but also honed their crafts and competed in poetry competitions. For Noname Gypsy, Chance The Rapper, and Mick Jenkins, poetry soon transformed into hip hop, but the friendships remained the same. And rather than competing in their craft, they chose to collaborate.
“[Friendship] helps musical growth and eliminates the ego of the artist”
When asked about her most inspirational moment as an artist, she referred to a show in which Chance performed after he released his 10 Day tape. According to Noname, he went from chilling in his basement to selling out a show in his home city. Watching her “brother come up like that was life-changing” for her.
The success Chance, Vic, and even Chief Keef experienced in 2013 through platforms such as SoundCloud and YouTube, without a doubt, mobilized the troops in Chicago. People saw these young artists garner hype and came to the realization that they could also do it, as well — but not alone.
Making music that is true and filled with passion is difficult; but doing so with others is an even harder and more intimate experience. It takes time and an honest flow of ideas, which may not be as easy to accomplish with another performer. However, since many of these artists treat each other as friends before anything else, they are able to open up and, in turn, push each other creatively. For this reason, if you look at most of these young Chicago musicians’ works, they often contain features from other familiar names that hail from their hometown whether it be a producer, trumpeter, or fellow rapper. And yet they do not step on each others’ toes when sharing tracks and have retained a certain degree of their own authenticity, in the process.
Chicago is having its moment right now, this goes without saying. Every couple of weeks people release critically-acclaimed tracks or projects. Despite the style discrepancies among the community, it seems that these young artists all have a mutual respect for each other’s roots and talents. In this world, where creative expression and a musician’s ability to be something bigger than a money-making entity is becoming increasingly more scarce, so what these young artists are doing is genuine and powerful.
The only question now is what does the future hold? With Vic Mensa signing a monumental Roc Nation deal and Chance leading the way for artists like Noname Gypsy to make it as independent artists, who knows where the cards will fall. In a couple of years, it might become clear whether young, Chicago-based artists keep the character and friendships that is driving Chicago’s hip hop — or whether they will turn their backs on the city that has created them.
Article by Matthew Canals