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Who is SABA? The Chicago rapper who pivoted out of the whisper scene

The real question is – who is Saba? If you don’t know, then this article probably isn’t for you. HA! Just kidding, but seriously…please reconsider what music you’re listening to.

Here’s the breakdown: Saba is a preacher, not a rapper. He is a teacher on his way to teach a nation about the intricate details of his own life while fluidly incorporating jazzy beats to deliver his message in a way that entices you to listen. Think of a hypothetical version of Chance that chose a different path after Acid Rap. 

Now for all of you reading this saying, “CHANCE!?!?” The answer is yes. Chance. But aside from this analogy, Saba has no place being in the shadow of another behemoth of a force in rap; it was merely a comparison of someone that you’d definitely know.

Saba came out of the underground in Chi-town, gracefully etching his name into the whisper scene. What is the whisper scene, you ask?

It’s the foundation of all artists who are about to “blow the fuck up.” It’s the period of time where all aspects of the artists sound like their own…where they have grown from a mosh posh of the past and starts to develop a clear future. It’s the point that they are whispered about in rap circles all over the US. The point before the whispers become YELLS!!!

Yeah, the guy is really that good. If you haven’t listened to any of his albums or projects, you should probably begin with The Bucket List Project.

This is probably his most easily digestible for people who want to get a good grip on his past while still being able to feel the present scene of music. Once you’ve graduated from this phase and start to develop Saba fever, the only cure is caring for yourself in the form of Care For Me.

“The best song is probably on the B-side. Won’t be surprised when the label deny. Disagree—grey. The best song was probably on the demo. But that’s not the one that got you your limo. Limousine—grey. The single the one that wasn’t as honest. But this is what they say make you the hottest. In the game—grey—grey.”

What did you just read? Well, that’s for people who take advice. Go listen. Please. Seldom are the days that fully fleshed out projects, like Care For Me, come out. Give his stuff a listen, and you will not be upset.

Disclaimer: If you become addicted, DO NOT BLAME ME.

Chicago’s very own Mick Jenkins is the new voice hip-hop needs

There’s nothing worse than hearing someone say “there isn’t any good hip-hop anymore.” I mean, obviously, that isn’t true. The myth of hip-hop’s demise has since been disproven with too many noteworthy projects to name. Yet, still, to hear someone say it just irks me.

Even still, as I try and shiver past such crude comments, I can’t help but sympathize. It’s not that there’s not any good music, it’s just that there’s a lot of it.

Music is a lucrative industry right now and continues to be on the upswing. In the first half of 2018 total consumption in both streams and sales grew 18 percent, according to Nielsen’s mid-year report released earlier this year. But people aren’t just listening to music, they’re making it more of it too.

Because there is no middleman to the people or barriers of entry, the trajectory of an artist, in today’s era, lies in the will of the artist.

Becoming a hip-hop musician is more of understanding what sound you want, then learning how to operate the software to make it. Now, anyone with access to technology has the ability to express themselves musically. Where in the past, hip-hop composition used to be made up of percussion, strings and bass guitars, today has been replaced with, iPad plug-ins, MPC loops, and auto-tune.

Ala your Uzi’s and Rich the Kids’, Famous Dex’s, Trippie Redd’s and the plethora of other artists that all seem to keep crawling out of the same hole.vI can see how one could grow weary of the hodgepodge of synths and shrieks and mistake it for the staple of the industry.

But Mick Jenkins is right in front of you. The 27-year-old Chicago rapper who just released his sophomore studio album Pieces of a Man on Oct 26th is giving you everything you’d want in a rap artist today.

Mick Jenkins’s Pieces of a Man is grown, yet relatable, subtle, yet exciting, and holds tremendous playback ability. If The Migos, Cardi B, and Lil Yachty are a vodka Red Bull, Mick Jenkins is a whiskey clean. If mumble rap is mainstream, Mick Jenkins is the direct antithesis: articulation.

Take track 12 on the album, “Plain Clothes,” for example. Jenkins takes his foot off the lyrical exercises and smooths it down with soft guitar licks and croons melodies, but not playing himself either, though. Or “Grace & Mercy” —  a high-energy track that can easily make a club bang.

Maybe when it comes to finding good music is the effort to find it or the chance to give what everyone isn’t into a chance. Either way, with Mick Jenkins it’s simple: rap at it’s best.

Everything isn’t for everyone, every artist isn’t for every mood, which is which you need Mick Jenkins in the library balance the SoundCloud rappers and rainbow-colored youngsters.

Whenever someone says “good rap” is still out there, they’re also referring to Mick Jenkins. And Pieces of a Man is further proof as to why that’s the case.

Stream his new album Pieces of a Man here:

Who is Juice Wrld? The Chicago rapper mixing genres to make a new sound

Juice Wrld is a 19-year-old rapper from Chicago that has recently come onto the scene with his album Goodbye & Good Riddance. He has been making waves with his alternative sound which is a mix of alternative rock and modern hip-hop and people are fucking with it.

The Chicago rapper has put out a lot of music over the years but his most project Goodbye & Good Riddance has turned a lot of heads and is quickly gaining traction. The album details a terrible break up that he went through and the mix of rage, sadness that he felt in that moment and he captures it perfectly throughout the songs in his album.

He talks about the variety of relationships that he has been in and how those women have hurt him so deeply that the only way he can deal with the pain is numb himself with a various assortment of drugs.

Even though he was using a lot of drugs back then he doesn’t condone heavy drug use now. He believes that there is a fine line between doing drugs and letting them influence your creative process and having drugs take over your life and consume you.

“I know people that were very hard working that started smoking weed and now all they do is chill on their couch and any money they get just goes to that. So it’s important to find a balance.”

The Chicago rapper has tried a variety of drugs and he admits they influence his creative process but also real-life experiences that he has been through which heavily factor into his music.

In his song “All Girls Are The Same,” he talks about how all the girls he meets are literally copies of each other and there is nothing that sets him apart puts all of his hurt on display and how he doesn’t like feeling vulnerable on the song.

The inspiration was sparked from some bad relationships that the 19-year-old rapper was going through at the time.

“I’m not the type to vent to people so I use music as an outlet to speak to people.”

Juice Wrld has been listening to music at a young age and started rapping with his neighbors for fun but he never really took it seriously until after high school.

The Chicago native originally started listening to rock music with bands like Paramore, Avenged Sevenfold, ad Black Sabbath but also listened to other artists like Skrillex and Kanye West. He was heavily influenced by Kanye’s albums The College Dropout and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Get high w me if you rock w me🙁🚀⚰ @stevecannon_

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Juice Wrld began to take music seriously after high school when he fell into depression about his uncertain future due to his bad grades and other things.

It was during this time that the owner of the studio Envision Entertainment in country club hills saw potential in the young Chicago rapper and decided to help. He ended up becoming his engineer and the rest was history.

Juice Wrld is definitely making a huge wave in music and may be opening the door to a sub-genre within hip-hop that has yet to created yet. Sky’s the limit for what he can achieve and he’s just getting started. We can’t wait to see what is next for him.

Peep his latest project with Future Wrld On Drugs here:

Who is Noname? The recluse rapper from Chicago ready to blow up

Today, Chicago emcee Noname released her debut album, Room 25.

Now, you probably haven’t heard of Noname and I don’t mean that in the pretentious rap-head kinds way. She’s barely in tune with social media, doesn’t take many photos, and you can count the number of interviews she’s done on one hand.

Yet, still, she’s garnered the respect the music industries elite and has one of the most anticipated album debuts this year.

The thing is, although Noname may be as obscure as rap artist come, she’s no stranger to rhymes and has actually been doing music for a couple of years with critically acclaimed work.

Born Fatima Warner, Noname came up in Chicago’s poetry circuit alongside the likes of Chance, Mick Jenkins, Vic Mensa, and others.

The tight-knit creative scene in Chicago served as an incubator for talent, nurturing the genesis of a lot of rap careers, and Noname’s was one of them.

She’s been a guest feature on Chance’s Acid Rap and Coloring Book, Mick Jenkins’s Waters and dropped the critically acclaimed EP, Telefone, just to give a short-list of her career moves. In the process, she’s acquired a fanbase that one could describe as niche but in all actuality has a sound that’s for everyone.

So why is so hard to know Noname? Well, one reason could be that she juxtaposes where the culture of rap is today. The braggadocious, flashy and, cocky nature of hip-hop at times can get like pro wrestling — there’s a lot of flex, dramatic, and fights — and Fatima is nothing of the sort.

The 26-year-old has a shy innocence about her that’s incredibly inviting. Unlike Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, sex-appeal is not a part of Noname’s gimmick.

And even unlike Rapsody, she’s independent. She’s not backed by a streaming service, her marketing is sort of her just telling you she’s about to release music, and she only works with friends, not industry pairings.

Everything about Noname is laid-back, which is a unique lane in the game.

The poetic background is evident when Noname raps. Her straightforward talk-like flow it’s refreshingly soulful and her penchant for live instrumentation makes her complete sound a match made in heaven.

Her story-telling abilities and ear for melodies put her on an elite level of artists, which is probably why she is a revered as she is with as little exposure as she’s had.

Here comes Noname
The Fader

With her new album dropping today, we can expect much of what we heard on Telefone, except through a more mature lens. She’s kept much of what has worked for her — incorporating a live band and curating an organic vibe — but we’ll only truly know Fatima’s growth once we peep Room 25. She tells the Fader in a rare interview,

“Maybe this project will show some of those people who think that I am this very, like, conscious female rapper that I’m just as regular and normal as everybody.”

Noname isn’t hiding, she just operates at her own pace. And it’s not that she doesn’t want you to know her, it’s just that she is still finding her, herself.

There’s something human about Noname and her approach to being a rap artist in 2018 that’s unlike anything we’ve seen. If she was a book, she’d be the type you’d sit down and get comfortable to read, not a fast one-day skim through.

And tomorrow, with her debut album Room 25, we’ll get the next chapter.

Stream Noname’s debut album Room 25 here:

How self made designer Joe Freshgoods won by sticking to his roots

What if we rethought the possibilities of starting a clothing line? What if, despite a lack of resources, we felt empowered to flesh out a brand, build a business and influence a city?

For a lot of people, such feats are implausible. To them, there has to be a handout or someone you must know. The thought of owning your own as a minority in the most segregated city in the country is a pipedream.

But for Chicago designer Joe Freshgoods, that’s exactly what we’re witnessing today — national recognition and popular success for a homegrown designer who started it all with a dream. You may not know Joe personally but you’ve seen him — or at least seen something he’s designed.

Image result for cousin stizz dbm

His “Don’t Be Mad” trademark has been sported by the likes of LeBron James and SZA to Desus Nice and Chance the Rapper, he owns both a physical and online store which is almost always sold out, and he’ll even DJ.

He dresses humbly, deferring to cozy and functional over flashy; he’s never short of ideas, hence his inspirational hustle; and, most of all, he’s Chicago as fuck.

Just yesterday (May 21st), to celebrate the chain’s new and exclusive MIX by Sprite Tropic Berry Sprite beverage, McDonald’s announced it was partnering with the Chicago designer, who will drop his latest capsule on Friday along with a new track and video “That’s The Mix” from the rapper, KYLE.

To put into context: the mother of all fast-food chains — a billion dollar corporation — tapped a local, self-made, designer, who, for all intensive purposes, only makes clothing he likes, with no compromise of integrity in the process.

Impressive is one word for it; inspirational might just be the better fit, though.

 KYLE wearing a That’s the MIX letterman jacket
 back of a That’s the MIX t-shirt with Joe Freshgoods logo with number 18

If you look at him now, you may consider him an A-list fashion designer from Chicago but it definitely wasn’t always that way.

In a city where the brightest stars are notorious for moving once they get on, Joe has countered that trend. Not only has he remained planted in the windy city with his newfound success but he’s been putting Chicago on because of it.

With the lines that stay repping like his “Chicago Girls Do It Better” tee or his “Save Chicago” cap, he forced big names to come to him. Being that he got his start selling clothes out his basement it’s a major come-up, but more importantly, Joe’s proof that you win the way you want to win when you stick to your guns.

Pinned on his twitter is a montage of tweets that show how he spoke on the things he wanted before having them.

In 2013, he was hoping to reach four-thousand followers, now he has over 35K. At one point he was tweeted about how he needed a store, now he has pop-ups all across the country. And his 2017 run in itself was historic.

In January last year, Joe went viral when his “Thank U Obama” campaign sold out in two days.

mood: let’s just surprise em.

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He followed that up by opening his brand new store, Fat Tiger Workshop in June.

Fat Tiger

And in September, Joe announced his collaboration with the NFL which partnered with influencers across the culture in a campaign titled “Who You With.”


Joe Freshgoods makes it feel like anybody can start their fashion line. Kanye has been on record stating how there are certain powers that be and gatekeepers that dictate career paths, but Joe’s trajectory has proven otherwise.

The fact that Joe has managed to make an impact on the culture he loves in his own way, and still have the mainstream buy-in, is a testament to what happens when you remain true.

The people that endorse Joe don’t do so because they’re told, they do because they like the brand and what it represents, and that’s something Joe has learned to cultivate organically.

His latest collaboration with McDonald’s is just the latest of what I’m sure will be a multitude more of mainstream partners to come.

Who is Elise Swopes? The Chicago creative keeping the dream alive

The cat is out the bag — the creative life is not as romantic as advertised.

It’s a degree your parents won’t jump out the window to fund, it’s definitely not the most lucrative and the odds are not in your favor.

Whether you’re a musician, writer, graphic designer, etc., the idea of making something out of yourself can be daunting in an era where everyone seems to be dabbling in their creative side.

In my own world ✨

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Everyone raps. Everyone’s a photographer. Everyone models.

A smartphone today gives you a camera that would cost you a fortune a decade ago and with social media, it’s never been easier to go viral or get content out to the masses. The barrier of entry has diminished in the face of hi-tech’s assessability.

So, you can either blame the saturation of your beloved craft or use the resources that are literally at your fingertips.

Chicago native Elise Swopes is an artist specializing in photography, influencer marketing, and graphic design. She decided early on to take advantage of her skill sets and her life has never been the same.

a little redecorating with @fruitbythefoot. 💛 #fruitbythefootart

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At the current age of 28, Elise Swopes has managed to make a living out of taking and editing photographs on her iPhone. Yes, you heard me correctly, her iPhone.

What started off as a passion of mashing her playful imagination up against her gorgeous stills of the city ended up turning into a full-fledged career with an ever-growing clientele and fan base demanding more her work.

Swirling through city streets on magical clouds, exploring with an arbitrary giraffe or taking in a beautiful storm that never was, are just some of the concepts that Swopes has ingeniously innovated in her editing.

Described as an ‘Instagram influencer’, Swopes has leveraged her IG following of 300,000 to work with brands such as Adidas, Dos Equis, Beats By Dre, Verizon, The Chicago Bulls and many more.

One could say she’s made it. I mean, waking up every day knowing your job is something you’d do regardless in your spare time is the epitome of the creatives’ dream.

The possibility of your art providing the quality of life you want for yourself is what millions of millennials and artists work towards every day, and Swopes is doing it.

But how? Is it because she got in the game early? She did first try her hand at design in 6th grade. Schooling? She did study design at Columbia College in Chicago.

If you ask her, it’s about being passionate, protecting your energy and actually “putting your work out,” as she stated on Chicago’s local new program Windy City Live in a segment called Chicago Social Media Superstars yesterday.

It really doesn’t matter what the craft is, when you’re a creative, insecurities and doubts come with the territory. Pushback from parents, the starving artist lifestyle and hanging on by the strength of your passion is not for the faint of heart and it’s why many artists let their dreams die.

Swopes had to make difficult decisions too. With one semester left, she was faced with the task of deciding whether she should get her degree or roll the dice on an opportunity in Japan.

She chose that latter; and when she emailed her teachers to inform them of what she would be doing the response she received from one professor, in particular, confirmed it was the right thing to do.

“While all the responses were encouraging, it was one email response that read, “I am so disappointed you won’t be in class,” that brought me to the moment when I knew it was time to take a break from school,” she writes on her website. No one will want this as much as I do. It’s time to take that step and make my dream full time.”

Swopes is where she is today not only because she’s a gifted photographer and editor, but because she bets on herself and the love she has for her art. Moreso than choosing to pursue her career over finishing college, every day she’s intentional about her purpose and vision, which is why it translates into success.

Swopes has since grown what started off as photography on her phone into a mini business for herself.

She has a newsletter called Swopes Note, which is a monthly collection of blogs, tutorials, free wallpaper, artist features and ‘Health is Wealth’ readings.

She gives tutorials where, once a month, she create either a video of how she edits images using just her iPhone. On top of all that, she sells prints from her online store.

Swopes is the perfect example of what it means to double down on yourself, your craft and what you love.

DJ Taye’s ‘Still Trippin’ pushes Chicago footwork to exciting new heights

Chicago footwork is one of the most vibrant music scenes in America, yet is left all too unexamined by those outside the Windy City.

In the ’90s, footwork started as a form of dance, more precisely dance battling. Battlers would square up to rapid, turbulently sampled, electronic beats, drawing from the remnants of Chicago house and Detroit techno.

For South Side Chicago kids, like King Charles, footwork represented a form of expression. The sounds can seem harsh to a novice listener, the ultra-high-BPM tempos can be hard to grab onto, the cascading drums and piercing samples are pretty unfamiliar to fans of hip-hop or dance music.

The late great DJ Rashad’s Double Cup is often pointed to as the project that brought footwork from the functions of the underground Chicago dance music scene to the masses.

Meaghan Garvey wrote for Pitchfork that Double Cup was, “a work that proved footwork could transcend the dancefloor functionality of its origins and flourish in the full-length album format.”

Rashad’s Double Cup is a seminal piece of dance music, repackaging Chicago footwork in a way that both honors the genre’s roots, but also pushed the needle forward, offering a revolutionary vision as to what footwork could be.

The man who brought footwork to the forefront would pass away of an accidental drug overdose in 2014, but Teklife, the label Rashad founded, has carried on his mission to keep the genre alive.

This is where DJ Taye comes in. Teklife’s youngest member released Still Trippin’, his first album, last Friday, and taken footwork to fascinating new heights, both sonically and formally.

DJ Taye’s Still Trippin’, much like Double Cup, pays homage to footwork’s earliest characteristics, but also expands on the sound of the genre, pushing its possibilities further into other genres.

Unlike Rashad, DJ Taye raps on his own beats. While producers voices have appeared over their production in dance music, it’s a new wrinkle to the footwork landscape.

DJ Taye’s Still Trippin’ begins with “2094”, the twinkling pianos and cascading synths rise and fall like a mechanical fountain. It feels like a sort of tribute to Rashad himself, “2094” would fit comfortably right inside Double Cup.

But Still Trippin’ is much more than a stylistic tribute to DJ Rashad. In many ways, DJ Taye takes Rashad’s mission and pushes it forward, adding new layers and new techniques, the most obvious of which is the presence of Taye’s own voice on the project.

With this, Taye offers this chaotic collision of hip-hop and footwork. On “Trippin'”, Taye raps over a wild, bubbling beat as the synths dart around.

Taye combines the unfamiliarity of rapping over footwork production with the more footwork-inherent chopping and screwing of his own vocals.

“Smokeout”, featuring DJ Lucky, sounds less like rapping-over-footwork than just a far-left hip-hop song of a Shabazz Palaces or Flying Lotus.

This is the same quality on “Get It Jukin'” with Cool Kids legend Chuck Inglish, until Taye mixes up the MC’s vocals with rapid drums that are as footworky as any.

Then Chuck is back to rapping. It’s a wild song construction, virtually making the chopping of these vocals as the song’s chorus.

There are levels to this trick; footwork rarely has typical “choruses,” but with “Get It Jukin'”, Taye inserts what is basically a footwork-derived chorus into a hip-hop song. The results are staggering.

“Same Sound”, with Montreal singer Odile Myrtil, goes even further.

With original recorded vocals, “Same Sound” imagines a vision of footwork production with pop, or more typical songwriting, elements.

All of this genre-blending begs the question of whether Still Trippin’ even qualifies as footwork.

While I think the necessity to categorize something into a specific box sort of misses the point, throughout Still Trippin’ DJ Taye brings us back to the ultra-BPM world of footwork without the frills of rap verses or more typical songwriting.

“Truu” is footwork at its boppy best with the urgently and chaotically chopped up sample and heart-racing drums that hit you at every level of your ear.

On another DJ Manny collaboration, “The Matrix”, Taye shoots glitchy, video game lasers that sound like they were mixed by A-Trak at the listener.

It’s as wild of a dance song that you’ll hear.

“Need It” clashes elements of deep house with a footwork sample. Even when Taye leans more towards the dance aspects of his music, he’s pushing footwork to the limits.

The post-dub synths on “Need It” sound like something out of 2011 UK dance music, while the sample and drums are straight Rashad footwork.

There are few things more exciting than a young, upstart artist bursting into a niche genre and blowing the whole thing up. That feels like what DJ Taye is doing on Still Trippin’.

It’s so rare for an album to be formally revolutionary and representative of that genre at the same time.

Still Trippin’ is set to be a footwork classic, not in spite of all of the extra layers the project adds to the fabric of Chicago footwork, but because of them.

How Fredo Santana and Drill music laid the blueprint for what rap is today

Saturday morning (Jan. 20, 2018), it was announced that Fredo Santana, born Derrick Coleman in 1990, had been found dead in his Los Angeles home, having suffered a seizure from what appears to be kidney and liver failure.

Though Fredo’s absence leaves a huge void in the hip-hop community, it’s vital that we acknowledge what he left behind.

Fredo Santana was more than an artist. Whether he knew it or not, he was the essence of one of the most influential movements to happen in hip-hop in decades.

“In The Cut”, “Glo Up”, “Savage”, and really being “about that life” we’re all brought to our consciousness and vocabularies thanks to Fredo.

Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, and Trippie Redd — from their lingo to the upside down crosses — all have evident influences and, in part, owe the lane they’re prospering in due to Fredo.

What hip-hop lost was more than just some artist who was on the bottom floor of a sound that took off. What we lost was a walking embodiment of an energy that transformed a city and culture.

And it all started from putting a voice behind the pain.

At the time, no one really knew what was happening when Chief Keef, Lil Reese, Lil Durk, and Fredo Santana started making music in 2012, they just knew it made them feel something.

If the plethora of hoisted guns didn’t grip you, their youth did. And if for one second you didn’t believe them, the local Chicago news backed them up.

GBE’s (Glory Boyz Entertainment, later known as Glo Gang) assent was almost parallel with Chicago’s recognition as one of the deadliest cities in the country, putting their perspective in high demand.

Who were these kids? How did they get ahold of those weapons? Why are there tattoos on their faces? There was an intrigue like never before because we were given access like never before. We’d seen gangsta rap of the West Coast and trap music from the South, but, from first sight and sound, this was clearly different.

For the sake of categorization, “drill” became the sound’s genre classification but, as illuminated in Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like”, it’s clear that it’s more than that. The young boys hanging on each others shoulders, passing blunts, and declaring their loyalty to one another is beyond some one-worded definition — it was what they knew.

The authenticity made it easy to embrace. Shirt off, guns waving, and kidnap references are all staples in rap videos and songs today, but were first seen in Chicago.

That crass, unapologetic approach to making music based on how you feel, regardless of any set model, is something I can’t help but think GBE made possible.

That influence has permeated to an extent that even reaches other parts of the globe. When you look at the London rap scene you can see clear comparisons to what was first seen on the South Side of Chicago.

If Keef was the face of this influence, Fredo was the heart of it. “Fredo in the cut, that’s a scary sight”, is as perfect a bar as there is in characterizing Fredo.

He’s not the most visible, does not have the chart success or plays, but is arguably more felt than anyone thats ever been a part of drill.

Image result for fredo in the cut that's a scary site

It’s why Drake personally requested him to make a scene-stealing cameo in the video for “Hold On, We’re Going Home”.

It’s why Kendrick gave him a look on “Jealous”, a cut from Fredo’s sole studio album, 2013’s Trappin Ain’t Dead. It’s why there’s been an outpouring from the biggest names in the industry.

😢😢😢 Rest In Peace Santana

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In a lot of ways, drill music is an outlet — a vocal testimony of unfortunate realities; it’s chronicled oppression.

Rap is often described as the “CNN for black people” and drill was Chicago’s youth on the ground reporting. Keef, Fredo, Durk, Reese, Chop etc. were the voices of a disenfranchised people.

Fredo Santana will forever be a part of rap’s storied history. Artists will forever mimic his thoroughness and try to match his fearlessness in his name, and Chicago will forever be in debt to the spotlight he helped bring the city. And for that he can rest easy.

Up next: 9 underground rappers from Chicago with unlimited potential

There is no science, algorithm, or formula that can predict the success of an artist.

While there will always be industry plant conspiracies and indictments of wealth being behind certain artists’ come-up, at the end of the day, the product — the music– always speaks for itself. Every city has its own “scene,” and no matter how they vary, one truth remains constant: there are levels to that shit.

Artists “break” all the time. Some off a song, some off a tape, some even build a fanbase to tour off of a while, but not many have that next level talent.

Chicago rappers like Sir Michael Rocks (also of The Cool Kids), who’s collaborated with Curren$y, and Rockie Fresh, who’s signed to MMG, aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination, yet still have not made the successes as say a Saba, whose Bucket List Project made Rolling Stones 2016 top 40 albums, or a NoName, who’s performed private concerts for both NPR and The New York Times.

This level in particular is for the artists that are on the verge. The underground talent in Chicago that you may not know of yet, that have all the right tools to get on the radar.

These aren’t your Keefs or your Chances, or even your Mick Jenkins or your Towkios. Here are the ten that are one opportunity away from being all over the map.

Phoelix, @Phoelix_MD


2017 was huge for the Fox Valley native.

After building up a buzz by adding his signature sound to some of last year’s most memorable work — from NoName’s Telefone and Saba’s Bucket List to appearing alongside the Zero Fatigue crew — Phoelix dropped his debut mixtape Gspl. 

While he’s still finding his footing as an artist, Phoelix’s penchant for sounds already puts him in an elite class. Not to mention, his last two offerings show tremendous growth already.

With his network and skill, there’s no reason why everyone won’t know about Phoelix in 2018.

MFnMelo, @MFnMelo

This Pivot Gang veteran is not knew to the Chicago scene or to making music at all, but he has all the makings to be the next big thing on the map.

Taking cues from Pivot frontrunner, Saba, MFnMelo has mastered the balance between intricate bars and making groovy records.

If you’ve never heard from this West Side affiliate, peep his October debut effort, MeloDramtics and get acquitted.

Young Jasper, @UnoThrash

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Formally Uno Thrash, Young Jasper has quietly been building his presence here in Chicago.

Upon first hearing him, you may be inclined to lump him into the Playboi Carti/Rich The Kid category, but along with melody, he offers catchy hooks and fast-paced flow.

While it’s been over a year since he’s released the four track long UnoThrash EP, this could be the year he takes it a step further.

Elton Aura, @MC_El

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It seems like people finally started paying this Fox Valley, Chicago native some respect when he dropped his Sun Shower EP with Burns Twins and Bedows, but he’s been making waves long before the collaborative effort.

You’re not going to find a better songwriter out there or an artist so in tune with themselves expressively. If Elton replicates his work ethic from last year, 2018 is his.

Femdot., @Femdotdotcom

If I had to put my money on the next Chicago artist with bars to make a splash it would be Femdot.

When you hear him rap, it’s clear he wants to be the best rapper you’ve ever listened to. His relentless effort to perfect his craft seamlessly translates though his music and his passion is imprinted on every bar.

He’s a hidden gem in the city of Wind, but not for long. Check out his latest album The 20/20 Hour here.

Cam Obi, @iamCam

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Even if you’re not familiar with him, you’re sure as hell familiar with his music.

The Chicago producer has worked with heavy hitters like NoName, Saba, Chance, Mick, Vic, Big Sean, J Cole, Isaiah Rashad, and more.

There’s no doubt Obi will have ears waiting when he drops his 2018 debut.

If not for Obi himself, to hear the finished version of the Chance, Alex Wiley, and Mick Jenkins banger “Grown Ass Kid”, which everyone is clamoring to get their hands on.

Cdot Honcho, @CdotHoncho

Who said drill was dead? Honcho raps with confidence, energy, and passion as if it’s the height of the drill era.

His mixtape Takeover, which dropped in December, has already received a positive response and it shows that there is definitely a lane for his content.

His single “Anti” set the streets on fire (they still haven’t cooled down). Make sure Cdot Honcho is a name on your radar in 2018.

Monte Booker, @montebooker

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If you’re like me, you didn’t see the genius of Monte Booker until his joint mini documentary with St. Louis rapper Smino Brown dropped last year.

Booker, who toured Europe last year and who is signed to Soulection Records, is not your textbook underground talent, but has yet to break as a household name.

That will change in 2018. As it’s the year if the producer, this engineer/DJ has the world in his hands. Check out his most recent song “Drunk”.

Valee’, @valee

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Valee’ shocked everyone last year when he came out of nowhere with the hits “Shell” and “Started Off My Day”.

With no one “putting him on,” he hustled by connecting with the right people and putting out the right product.

That can only make you certain that we’ll hear plenty more from him in 2018. Check out his last album VTM:

Who Is Valee’? The Chicago rapper everyone’s going to be talking about

Don’t sweat it if you’re unfamiliar with Chicago southside rapper, Valee’.

Though he’s five projects in, owns his own distinguishable sound, and has an organically grown fanbase, the 30-year-old rapper has only been making music seriously for three years.

Much like his arrival on the music scene, Valee’s journey to becoming an artist sort of came out of nowhere.

In an interview with Noisey last summer, he spoke on how he found music and how it’s become an obsession since.

“I’m in the house, bored, one day about four years ago, and I’m like, ‘I think I’m going to go and get a game system.’ But on the way to get to the game system, I make a detour and go to Guitar Center.”

Soon after his life was never the same. Valee’ continued,

“I began just staying in the house, tucked away with my head down making music while going to nightclubs, the out south strip clubs and spent my time getting to know the security, DJs. That became like a full-time job, and it paid off.”

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With a home studio and the all the time in the world, Valee’ has been able to shape, reshape, and grow his sound at his own pace. With production coming from either himself or St. Louis producer ChaseTheMoney, Valee’ has found the recipe.

For example, how he was able to repurpose and repackage his first mixtape 12:12 by coming out with 12:12 Again a short year later. Between those two projects he dropped two more, 1:11 and 2:22, further mastering his craft.

Valee’ cites Project Pat, Three Six Mafia, and Kanye West as musical influences but he definitely has his own sound despite the influence of those aforementioned artists. His raspy, low-tone voice is more 21 Savage-esque and the simplistic melodies of both his beats and hooks take after a Chief Keef or even Gucci Mane.

His most successful song, “Shell”, encapsulates Valee’s lethargic approach in a nutshell. When you first hear the self-produced track you’re welcomed by trap drums, light chimes, and an infectious hook you just want to nod your head to. It’s Valee’ through and through.

What you’ll gather upon coming across Valee’ is that he’s not chasing fame, clout or notoriety. The attention he’s amassed comes from little to no public appearances despite being in a city known for its open mics and a strong performance scene.

He’s not worried about being seen; only heard — and it’s paid off.

Valee’ and ChaseTheMoney dropped a joint album titled VTM this past September, continuing the chemistry they’ve built together from 12:12. 

Given the rapper’s work ethic — he’s averaging two projects a year — it’s safe to he’s one to look out for in 2018.

In the meanwhile, peep Valee’s body of work thus far. Don’t say we didn’t put you on first.