There’s a hidden hyperlink that ties collectively the lyrics of lots of Chicago’s largest artists in hip hop at present. “Me lacking Brother Mike, like one thing heavy / My coronary heart simply wasn’t prepared,” Noname raps on “Yesterday” from her debut album Telephone. “And I’m solely getting greedier / And I’m nonetheless Mr. YouMedia,” says Chance the Rapper on the track “Acid Rain.” YouMedia is a non-profit youth middle in downtown Chicago, co-founded by the late poet and educator Brother Mike Hawkins. Before tragically passing on the age of 38, Brother Mike began a weekly open mic at YouMedia that quickly turned a breeding floor for a brand new technology of Chicago hip hop artists. “The majority of the dope, younger artists which are in Chicago got here out of that b*tch,” Chance the Rapper mentioned about YouMedia in an interview with Complex. Chance, Noname, Mick Jenkins, Saba, Vic Mensa, Donnie Trumpet, Jamila Woods and extra all bought their begin at this open mic, and have since gone on to launch tasks which have come to outline the sound of Chicago hip hop at present.


YouMedia is simply one of many many poetry venues in Chicago which have helped spark this new motion of hip hop. Organizations like Young Chicago Authors, poetry festivals like Louder Than a Bomb, and open mic occasions like WordPlay have all contributed to creating Chicago a wealthy hub for poetry.  “What was taking place again then was actually the seed for all this sh*t taking place proper now,” Mick Jenkins mentioned in regards to the Chicago poetry scene in an interview with Green Room Magazine. At the tip of YouMedia open mics, Saba would invite all of the performers again to his house studio in his grandmother’s basement. At that point, Saba had already been recording Noname’s early works in that basement. “We had a kind of homes the place all people in Chicago knew our door was open to them,” Saba mentioned in an interview with NPR. “If it is six individuals down there, then there’s six individuals on a track.”

Chicago Hip-Hop's Unified Sound & Artists

Chance the Rapper holds a information convention in Chicago’s City Hall – Joshua Lott/Getty Images

At YouMedia, Chance the Rapper met lots of the producers who would find yourself contributing beats to his debut 2012 mixtape #10Day. When Chance bought suspended from highschool for ten days throughout his senior yr on the account of smoking weed, he seized the chance and began feverishly recording. The product of this effort was a group of soulful, jazzy and summary hip hop songs tied along with Chance’s poetic lyricism. The mixtape’s spotlight “Brain Cells” opens with the long-lasting strains “Here’s a tab of acid on your ear / You’re the plastic, I’m the fervour and the magic within the air” over a laidback beat that wouldn’t be misplaced on an Erykah Badu album. The Flying Lotus-produced minimize “22 Offs” exhibited extra of Chance’s tongue-twisting wordplay, utilizing the syllable “off” precisely twenty-two occasions all through your entire track. It wasn’t till his 2013 follow-up Acid Rap although, that Chance actually started to discover a signature sound and elegance.

While Chance principally simply labored off of already-finished beats he obtained by way of e mail for #10Day, Acid Rap was the product of working straight with producers within the studio to fastidiously craft a unifying sound. Inspired by acid jazz, soul, disco and funk, Acid Rap was free, experimental and in contrast to the rest on the time (or current). The opening observe “Good Ass Intro” mixed gospel choir vocals, trumpet and organ with the sputtering breakbeat drums of Chicago footwork. Acid Rap mirrored the enjoyment of rising up in Chicago, in addition to the ache. “My massive homie died younger; simply turned older than him / I seen it occur, I seen it occur, I see it all the time / He nonetheless be screaming, I see his demons in empty hallways,” Chance raps on the observe “Acid Rain,” about his good friend Rodney who was stabbed to demise on the North Side of Chicago. Acid Rap was a convincing success, introducing the world to Chance, in addition to to his fellow YouMedia regulars Saba, Vic Mensa, and Noname.

Chicago Hip-Hop's Unified Sound & Artists

NoIdentify performs at Panorama Festival in 2017 – Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Noname was born and raised within the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. She bought into rapping in highschool by watching Def Jam Poetry, a spoken phrase poetry TV sequence hosted by Mos Def. Seeking out venues for poetry in Chicago, Noname discovered the web site for YouMedia. “That’s how I ended up going there and assembly [Chance and] all these individuals,” she instructed The Fader, “A Google search! A Google search modified my life, bruh.” In 2015, Noname featured on Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s track “Warm Enough,” delivering the hook “Who are you to inform me / I am not heat sufficient for summertime?” This hook ultimately impressed SZA to jot down the refrain “Is it heat sufficient for ya inside me?” on her 2017 observe “Drew Barrymore.” Noname then launched a string of singles, organized into the unofficial 2015 compilation “What The F*ck is a Noname Gypspy?” It wasn’t till 2016 although that Noname lastly launched her highly-anticipated debut album, Telefone.

In the summer time of 2016, Noname and Saba rented an Airbnb in L.A., together with Chicago super-producers Cam O’bi and Phoelix, to craft Saba’s debut album Bucket List Project and Noname’s debut album Telefone. Phoelix and Cam O’bi, who had beforehand produced “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and “Good Ass Intro” for Chance’s Acid Rap, produced soulful devices with easy Rhodes keyboards, washed-out guitars, and stay drum kits. Over the jazzy guitar chords of “All I Need,” Noname raps in a fragile but assured stream, “Noname off the medication, Noname give up the weed  / Telefone delight, love is all I want.” Channeling her slam poetry origins, Noname’s raps sound like inside monologues, starting from playful and humorous to deeply introspective. On different tracks, she delves into heavier themes of gun violence and police brutality. On “Casket Pretty,” Noname raps, “And I am afraid of the darkish, blue and the white / Badges and pistols rejoice within the night time.”

Chicago Hip-Hop's Unified Sound & Artists

Saba performing in 2016 at MTV Studios – Brad Barket/Getty Images

Saba’s Bucket List Project was an equally profitable effort. Revolving across the theme of life’s fragility and briefness, Bucket List Project intersperses its tracks with voicemail recordings of Saba’s buddies saying what they need out of life. “I simply need to play soccer on rooftops in Tokyo,” Billy Williams says on the observe “Photosynthesis” (ft. Jean Deaux). Saba carries the challenge with vivid first-person storytelling, portray an image of his Chicago upbringing on tracks like “Church, Liquor Store” (ft. Noname) – “It appear like funeral house, church, church, liquor retailer / Corner retailer, dread-head, lethal, ditto.” Saba gained additional consideration in 2016 together with his characteristic on the lead single “Angels” for Chance the Rapper’s third challenge Coloring Book. Produced by the Social Experiment, “Angels” had a robust gospel-rap sound that outlined a lot of Coloring Book.

At the time of Coloring Book, Chance was at an important turning level in his life. He was simply recovering from a deadly dependancy to Xanax, bought again collectively together with his outdated girlfriend, and had a toddler who was born with a coronary heart situation. These tumultuous experiences introduced out a extra non secular aspect of the rapper, which was expressed each lyrically and musically with Coloring Book’s gospel themes. The album was extremely bold, boasting over 25 options, together with all people from Kanye West and Young Thug to the legendary gospel singer Kirk Franklin. The anti-record label anthem “No Problem” (ft. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne) was certainly one of Chance’s catchiest songs but, that includes the unstoppable hook “You don’t need no issues, need no issues with me,” backed by a gospel entice beat. The god-praising gradual jam “Blessings” was additionally a Coloring Book spotlight, with a church organ and jazz trumpet backing the catchy hook “When the praises go up, the blessings come down,” sung by Chance’s outdated good friend from YouMedia, Jamila Woods.

Chicago Hip-Hop's Unified Sound & Artists

Jamila Woods acting at Panorama pageant 2017 – Monica Schipper/Getty Images 

Jamila Woods got here from the same background as her friends, rising up in Chicago, singing in her church’s choir, and stepping into poetry by way of an afterschool program. In 2016, she launched her debut album HEAVN, a magnificently lush combination of jazz, soul and gospel. On tracks like “VRY BLK” (ft. Noname) and “Blk Girl Soldier” (Prod. Saba), Jamila Woods sings about Black satisfaction and resiliency, with strains like “See she’s telepathic / Call it black woman magic / Yeah she scares the federal government / Deja Vu of Tubman.” On “LSD” (brief for Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive), she sings about her house metropolis, with the assistance of Chance the Rapper. Jamila is now the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the place she helps to arrange Louder Than a Bomb, the identical poetry pageant the place lots of her buddies bought their begin. She is ready to launch her second album LEGACY! LEGACY! this yr.

2018 was an particularly robust yr for the Chicago YouMedia alumni. In April of 2018, Saba launched his second album Care For Me, a deeply private work about psychological well being and rising up in Chicago. On Care For Me’s lead single “LIFE,” Saba addresses the demise of his cousin John Walt, who was stabbed to demise in Chicago in February 2017. In September 2018, Noname launched her second album Room 25, an intricate challenge that covers themes of politics, sexual freedom, and self-reflection. Executive produced by Phoelix, the album is full of stay instrumentation, soothing vocal harmonies, and even a string part that Noname paid for herself out-of-pocket. In October 2018, Mick Jenkins launched his second studio album as properly, Pieces of a Man. Backed by a mix of neo-soul and boom-bap, with a number of joints produced by Kaytranada, Mick’s dense wordplay, double entendres and vivid storytelling shine on Pieces of a Man. His stream is Gil Scott-Heron meets Ghostface Killah, who even options on the standout observe “Padded Locks.”

Noname’s Room 25 options appearances from two different key gamers within the Chicago scene: Ravyn Lenae and Smino. Studying classical music on the Chicago High School for the Arts and taking inspiration from Disney songs, Ravyn Lenae makes experimental R&B songs with one-of-a-kind celestial melodies. She met rapper Smino and producer Monte Booker in 2015, forming a collective known as Zero Fatigue. Backed by Monte Booker’s left-field digital manufacturing, Ravyn Lenae launched her first two EPs Moon Shoes in 2016 and Midnight Moonlight in 2017. An important part to Chicago’s music scene, Ravyn Lenae has contributed her ethereal but highly effective vocals to Mick Jenkins’ “Communicate,” Noname’s “Forever,” Saba’s “California,” and Smino’s “Glass Flows,” simply to call just a few. Her newest EP, 2018’s Crush, is a collaborative challenge with The Internet’s Steve Lacey, laying down 70’s-inspired funk and disco manufacturing for Ravyn Lenae’s voice to soar on prime of.

Chicago Hip-Hop's Unified Sound & Artists

Smino acting at a Skull Candy launch social gathering in 2018 – Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Smino is initially from St. Louis however moved to Chicago for school as soon as he began getting severe about music. “I f*ck with their group,” Smino instructed Rolling Stone, “There are individuals there that really f*ck with one another.” Smino additionally had ties to Chicago by way of his cousin Drea Smith, who grew up within the metropolis, and was already concerned in an underground collective with Ravyn Lenae and Jean Deaux known as Medicine Woman. But it was when Smino met producer Monte Booker that he actually started to search out his sound. With synths that sound like every part from bubbles to video video games, and rhythms spanning hip hop, jazz, home and reggae, Monte Booker’s freeform strategy to manufacturing pushed Smino to undertake a signature singing-rapping stream like no different. Smino has since guested on Noname’s track “Shadow Man,” Saba’s “World in My Hands,” and Ravyn Lenae’s “Spice.” His 2017 album blkswn featured the triumphant single “Anita,” which was remixed by T-Pain. In 2018, Smino launched his follow-up album NOIR, which accommodates extra of his signature vocal acrobatics.

Today’s hip hop and R&B scene in Chicago is huge and ever-expanding, however there’s a core group of poetry and gospel that unites the scene beneath a typical motion. Chance the Rapper, Noname, Saba, Mick Jenkins, Jamila Woods, Ravyn Lenae, Smino and Jean Deaux are solely only a few of the extraordinary artists to come back out of this expansive scene. And with lots of them on solely their first or second albums, we are able to count on much more revolutionary and soul-filling music from them sooner or later. Moreover, poetry retailers like YouMedia and Louder Than a Bomb proceed to encourage the following technology of Chicago’s budding artists.

If you loved this piece, you might also get pleasure from our three-part sequence of “Brief Hip-Hop Histories”

Our Brief History of G-Funk right here.

Our Brief History of Jazz-Rap right here.

Our Brief History of Rock-Rap right here.