Chicago hip-hop has been putting itself on the map for a few years now. Every year there would be notices that the city was brimming with talent ready to take over. And, for a while, it sort of would. Acts like the Cool Kids, Rockie Fresh, King Louie, and Tree would grab a bit of national buzz, enough to validate those claims of coming Chicago dominance, but not enough to thin out the deep talent pool. 2013, though, saw a few Chicago heavy hitters reaching insane new heights, further solidifying that projected dominance.
Three rappers in particular have provided blueprints and left space for the next crop to grow. Chief Keef largely did the latter after his big deal in 2012, spending much of the year releasing mediocre tapes, having run-ins with the law, and plotting his next big step. Chance the Rapper, meanwhile, skyrocketed from promising dude with a prominent high school suspension to a feature on a Justin Bieber track, among other star moves. Kanye… Well, Kanye got to a point where it’s hard to say that he’s actually a human being that is from a place.
So, if you’re ready to see what names might be filling those big shoes this time next year, look no further. We’ve assembled a list of 10 up-and-coming Chicago rappers that haven’t gotten to that level yet, but have the potential to break into the national consciousness. It’s time we stop talking about Chicago taking over the rap world and just let you know who comprises the next wave.
Ibn Inglor is an undeniable talent, but that’s proven to be as much of an obstacle for him as an asset. Being compared to Kanye West off your first few singles would be something that most rappers would gloat about, even aspire to, but not Ibn Inglor, who has spent the last few months developing a unique style all his own and carving out a niche sound with his debut mixtape, New Wave. On “Black Print”, he raps, “Stop putting me on the highest pedestals/ Let me work,” a plea from an artist immediately slapped with enormous expectations because he sounded somewhat similar to a Chicago legend. New Wave was the perfect response, a by no means perfect effort, but something that gave critics a more complex piece of work to think on. With cosigns from The Fader, Pigeons and Planes, and Complex (who premiered his mixtape), Ibn stands as one of the most promising young rappers coming from the city, with potential that bleeds through on every track. With some dark, aggressive production backing his ferocious lyricism, Inglor shuts down the comparisons and asks that the work speak for itself. But, it doesn’t speak. It fucking screams. –Pat Levy
Joey Purp finally settled on that moniker after bouncing back and forth between iterations like Joseph Purps and Joey Purple. Bursting with personality, Purp positions himself as the freewheeling, hippie-minded member of Save Money. On Tokyo Shawn’s “World Turning”, Purp drops his thesis statement: “Hair tied, shirt wide, I think I’m Jimi Hendrix.” In a collective filled to the brim with young talents and serious potential, Purp has accomplished the Herculean task of setting himself apart, despite not being as prolific as the other members. With his long hair usually knotted in a ponytail, often donning sunglasses and colorful attire, he drops vibrant lyrical landscapes with frequent odes to his Save Money crew and smoking.
Surprisingly, Purp told Potholes In My Blog in October that he “didn’t really get serious about music until the last five months.” That fact is never evident in his first official release, the Raekwon-referencing The Purple Tape, which was replete with smoke-filled jams mostly produced by his friend III, topped with Purp’s laid-back, but not lethargic flow. Now that Purp says he’s serious, it’s apparent he’s not kidding. He’s popped up on various guest spots for his Save Money family since then, with one of the best being Dally Auston’s “Do Ya Thang”. On that track, an out-of-breath Purp spits an intensely emotional and braggadocios verse, “Fuck Purp call me Poseidon,” making it one of the best Save Money tracks released. Purp’s prepping a forthcoming project with his friend and Save Money compatriot Kami de Chukwu, called Leather Corduroys, as well as respective solo releases. —Josh Terry
Lil Bibby, like his venomous partner in rhyme, Lil Herb, is a master of finding new ways to talk about shootings, shooters, and brick relocation. The reason he’s blowing up at the moment is not just because he’s fresh off the release of his Free Crack tape — he’s also versatile, deadly over softer beats like Black Metaphor’s vaguely orchestral “Water”. (With his hickory drawl, I imagine Bibby would be at home on a classically Southern track, produced by Big K.R.I.T. or someone, but that’s pure conjecture at this point.) Free Crack isn’t a starmaker itself; there’s no “Type of Way”-type sleeper, and the lengthy intros and the excessive presence of DJ Scream make for a bumpy ride. But, it’s a sure thing that Bibby will soon find his way onto a big single from a non-Chicago collaborator and extend his reach that much further. Bibby is only 19, and all 19-year-old rappers have time to learn new tricks. With his resources, both internal and external (he’s nabbed King L to appear on a couple tracks with him, and he’s linked up with producers like Young Chop and Hit-Boy), you get the feeling he’ll be around as long as he wants. –Mike Madden
Lil Herb is exactly what Chicago rap was missing: a natural-born wordsmith endlessly detailing the morbid side of drill culture. Here’s the opening line from Herb and Lil Bibby’s “Kill Shit”, so point A-to-point B incisive that you don’t notice how coldhearted it is: “Know a couple niggas that’s down to ride for a homicide when it’s drama time.” Or what about “4 Minutes of Hell”, the hook-less slither already spotlighted in our Scariest Hip-Hop Songs feature for its bloodshed and dark humor: “Maintenance man hate the block cuz we always make a mess.” As we await his Welcome to Fazoland mixtape, Herb has been dropping a long trail of songs individually; the best of them can be found on the Fake Shore Drive-presented compilation Heir Apparents. With Bibby and producer DJ L, the 18-year-old Herb has just a couple of key collaborators, as opposed to the entire squad that surrounds Keef. That means we don’t have to worry much about Herb, a singular presence, losing his individuality amid a deluge of less talented peers. –Mike Madden
It’s a good thing Lucki Eck$ called his mixtape Alternative Trap before anybody else chose to do so. As per an interview with Noisey, he’s referencing Chromatics as well as Keef, but that doesn’t mean this is crossover bait. His spacey beats (frequently provided by close collaborator Plu2o Nash) focus on wobbly darkness and eerie space, giving his loose, smokey flow and rhymes about drugs and the dominance of his squad a nuanced intensity unlike the typical aggression of trap.
The 16-year-old Eck$ has only been recording for about a year, and his rhymes have already dramatically grown in breadth and power. That said, his early 2013 tracks already featured that bruised, cold style, particularly the excellent “No Troubles”, in which Eck$’ clever twists on the usual trap fare bring himself to laughter, all as Nate Fox (the producer of Chance’s show-stopping “Juice”) stitches together a minimalist beat of Bob Marley sample. Eck$ combines the braggadocio and menace of Keef with the doped chuckle of a quick-witted Kool A.D., without ever sounding like the prototypical trap rapper or Das Racist. –Adam Kivel
According to his Twitter bio, Mikkey Halsted bills himself as “the common denominator between Common and Chief Keef” — a highly unusual comparison between artists from polar ends of the spectrum. Yet, in listening to Halsted’s impressively solid body of work, it’s evident that connection isn’t unfounded. Having been in the Chicago rap game a while, he has been signed to major labels, including Cash Money, and worked with some of the city’s biggest names, including Kanye and Common himself. But, at the same time, Halsted is somewhat of a forerunner for Chicago’s current wave of the raw, brazen hip-hop championed by artists like Keef and King Louie. Known for his blunt, introspective lyrics on the epidemic of poverty and violence, Halsted raps about the vehement struggles of the harsh Chicago streets.
Take, for example, “Momma in My Ear”, a track off his impressively solid mixtape, Castro. In it, he waxes poetic about a grainy street life, pulsing rhythmically along a somber piano backdrop. While the content is abrasive, it’s clear his prose is keenly chosen and testifies a level of consciousness akin to Common’s own material. In tandem with his lyrical awareness, Halsted also patrons the simple synth beats popularized by artists like Keef. So, indeed, positioning himself as a bridge between the two is an appropriate juxtaposition. For now, the South Chicago native is at work on his long-anticipated album, Bulletproof Dreams, which we’re eagerly awaiting — and undoubtedly will catapult the introspective artist to the heights of his Chicago predecessors. –Christina Salgado
Sasha Go Hard
In the homogeneously male-dominated rap industry, a promising young female MC from Low End is shattering barriers with her gruesome style and edgy lyrics. Sasha Go Hard is a 20-year-old native from Chicago’s Low End, bursting onto industry radar with her 2012 Internet hit, “Why They Mad”. Her volatile lyrics and fractious style positioned her as one of the rising female talents among the city’s elite. With content ranging from gritty street hustling to shrewd guidance on relationships, she demonstrates street wisdom far beyond her young age. Earlier this year, Sasha released the promising Round 3, which featured others who have forced their way into the male ranks, namely Le1f and Kreayshawn, the breakout set showing a sharp progression from her early mixtapes. With her frank demos and impassioned style, Sasha is transcending female empowerment and shattering barriers, making her a forceful young talent to continue watching. –Christina Salgado
Sometimes it’s tempting to just start listing all of the diverse pop (and not so pop) cultural references in any particular ShowYouSuck song. Hell, I’ve done it a couple of times myself, but it’s hard not to note when a guy rips off a couple of lines about Howard the Duck and Lisa Bonet (as the One Man Pizza Party does on “80’s Boobs”).
Few rappers have as specific and unique a POV as ShowYouSuck, as evidenced by his openness about his straightedge lifestyle, references to nerd-friendly subjects like anime and Sega, and decision to release a song about watching Walking Dead called “Watching Walking Dead”. This is a dude, who, in an interview with The Source, lists Hall & Oates, the Violent Femmes, and Waka Flocka as all taking up serious iPod space. When other rappers are dropping molly and looking for loose women, he’s into “a Big Gulp and a bad broad/ and by bad broad, I mean smart girl.”
There’s something of a punk bent to his non-conformity (and he references both Minor Threat and Black Flag and Ash Ketchum and a couple of pro wrestlers), but the man born Clinton Sandifer rides in the pocket, nimbly bouncing through an expansive encyclopedia of references. He’s also funny, but he’s not joking; he just happens to have the best manners in rap. Though he’d been dropping tracks and tapes for a bit, this year’s Dude Bro EP announces the Rad God’s grand intentions, namely trying to teach the world how to keep it “All Wavy Everything”. –Adam Kivel
Tink has been on the come-up for a few years now, and with her debut mixtape, Winter’s Diary, three more tapes in 2013, and an impressive list of features, it’s easy to see why she’s one of the hottest rappers Chicago has to offer. Winter’s Diary found her relying more on the singing voice she’d spent most of her life developing through singing at church, with soulful R&B punctuated by the promising raps that showed what she still had to offer. And she hasn’t let her city down in that regard with three dope mixtapes, the most recent of which, Boss Up, had features from Lil Bibby and Lil Durk on highlight “Kilo”.
Tink has flexed her rap skills and shown major R&B chops, a level of versatility that truly makes her stand out in the Chicago hip-hop scene. Having been in the game since the age of 17 has only served her well, garnering cosigns from almost every other local rapper, as well as Billboard and Noisey. The maturation from tape to tape is what makes her one of the most promising musicians on this list, and judging by her quality and quantity, it’ll only be a few years before Tink has this whole game figured out. –Pat Levy
“They made a list about Chicago rappers and they skipped me,” an indignant Vic Mensa raps on his single “Orange Soda”. The 20-year-old rapper had a right to be angry. Mensa had previously been known for his brief tenure with the seven wunderkinds comprising Kids These Days, who played an engagingly fun, brace-faced hybrid of rock and rap. With the band, Mensa and company racked up appearances on Conan, SXSW, and Lollapalooza, all while getting constant buzz and a Jeff Tweedy-produced release, Traphouse Rock. Even with all the hype, Mensa decided to leave the band and focus on his rapping, aiming to get the respect he deserved. In May, he dropped the video for “Orange Soda”, a summer and beverage-soaked single high on hooks and replay value, putting himself officially on the map.
Because they’re friends, Save Money comrades, and friendly rivals, Mensa is constantly compared to Chance the Rapper. After all, Mensa guested on Acid Rap’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and gets the shout-out “I’m still jealous of Vic/ and Vic’s still jealous of me” on “Acid Rain”. Sure, both Mensa and Chance boast similar frenetic flows and acid-tinged cadences, but INNANETAPE, Mensa’s debut solo mixtape, is an energetic rush of varied, experimental productions and blink-or-you’ll-miss-it paced raps. From the heavy-hitting drug anthem “Tweakin’” to the alternate universe pop-rap radio hit “Lovely Day” to the hazy, Ab-Soul-assisted “Holy, Holy”, INNANETAPE is quite the rookie statement. While momentarily Chance may have a better ear for beats and may have a more cohesive, focused artistic vision (and the jury’s still out), Mensa can fucking rap, put out one of the year’s best mixtapes, and is bound to catch up to his friend’s meteoric rise. –Josh Terry