Chance The Rapper
With all the noise of Chiraq blaring its way into hip-hop headlines, the tripped-out poetry of Chance’s “Acid Rap” effectively transcended the limitations of your standard free mixtape download. Chance legitimized the format to a wide-reaching audience by offering such immense quality and promise that even traditional sales-tracking methods like Billboard were flummoxed by demand for physical copies, which had pushed the album to number sixty-three on their Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. These are the sale of bootlegs we’re talking about—an official version was never actually sold in stores, just released as a download on DatPiff, the preeminent mixtape website, where no other Chicago artist has topped Chance. Even Chief Keef’s best effort is still 100,000 downloads shy of “Acid Rap,” which is sitting pretty at more than 750,000. Truth be told, that’s nothing compared to the eighty-four million(!) YouTube views of Chance’s “Confident” collaboration with Justin Bieber. Who else can boast of a Lollapalooza headlining spot on the strength of a mixtape? Nobody, and that’s why Chance’s raw talent has all the makings of a long-term career in its ascendance.
The three-time Grammy Award-winning contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird maintains a presence at a number of universities and concert series across the country. But since members actually live in Chicago, they can be heard both “in residence” at the University of Chicago as well as at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where they will open their 2014-15 season September 8-13. Part of the ensemble’s concern has been to open up new audiences for new music by ensuring that the performance level is of the highest possible level, a challenge for standard classical-music organizations to pull off because they are limited by rehearsal restrictions. In that sense, the six-member ensemble—which includes Tim Munro on flutes, Michael J. Maccaferri on clarinets, Yvonne Lam on violin and viola, Nicholas Photinos on cello, Matthew Duvall on percussion and Lisa Kaplan on piano—is at an advantage, as being a small group means the newest and most difficult pieces can be carefully prepared as if they were standard repertoire. The group has also dumped classical music conventions that it considers audience-alienating, such as stiff formal dress and having members’ heads lost in reading music: the group memorizes its repertoire to allow greater ensemble and audience interaction, but attention is also paid to visual space and lighting, sometimes even the movements of the players.
It has been two years since Lupe Fiasco gave us the ambitious “Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1,” but it feels much longer. The music world moves pretty quickly, and new releases from Kanye West and Jay Z, as well as the emergence of a new class of elite rappers (including Kendrick Lamar, with whom Lupe has recently begun a feud), have pushed the West Side rapper to the back of the musical consciousness. But there’s plenty to be excited about when he releases his fifth studio album, “Tetsuo and Youth,” this August. The tracks he’s released, especially the uplifting cancer-anthem “Mission,” are top-rate, and it boasts a solid list of collaborators, including Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper. Lupe has said the album addresses his youth in some of this city’s most violent areas, which might make this an important release as the city endures another bloody summer.
Here are some figures: Jeremih’s latest single “Don’t Tell ‘Em” has more than four million plays on his official SoundCloud page since May, and over a million combined YouTube views of unofficial videos. What more needs to be said to prove this R&B phenom is poised to return yet again to the Billboard Hot 100 when his next Def Jam album “Thumpy Johnson” is released? Guest spots from 50 Cent, T.I., Busta Rhymes and Diddy, who also produced the album, guarantee big things. Open your windows this summer and Jeremih is the Chicago artist you’re most likely to hear.
A tribute to the excess that hip-hop loves to glorify, the #300 tag used by Chief Keef, Fredo Santana, Lil Reese and their Chicago comrades has become a defining buzzword for a new tide of the genre. “Keeping it 300” means being brash and forceful enough not to let anything as pesky as age (none of the collective’s members are even close to being able to legally rent a car), poverty, or long odds keep you from entertainment dominance. #300’s pride can come in the form of a verse, a beat, a pile of weed or a photo with an assault rifle. Whatever the form of their boast, you’re going to notice them.
The cheat code to Chief Keef’s soaring success, Mr. Chop—real name Tyree Pittman—is perhaps the greatest master of Chicago’s “drill” sound. Producer for King Louie, Lil Reese, Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy (among others) the twenty-year-old has quickly grown into a distinct soundsmith of his generation. The unforgettable duo that is Keef and Chop may be over—Pittman suggested as much last summer—as the two move on to bigger things, but the impact made by the singular synergy of Chop’s tracks and Keef’s delirious pomp will inspire Chicago copycats for at least the next decade.
This trio’s music embodies the twenty-four-hour-party-people philosophy of previous EDM countercultures with the commercial tolerance of their own early-twenties generation. Forged in 2007 in Northbrook, in 2010 the singer/songwriter sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf and producer Kris “Rain Man” Trindl moved into a Fulton Market area loft and converted the closet into a sound booth. Posting their work on Soundcloud soon snowballed into a following of more than three million. In 2012 their EP “Play Hard” hit #1 on a Billboard dance chart. This summer they’re touring busy Europe with Lollapalooza as their only US detour.
If the barometer for success in the music industry right now is live performance, then Umphrey’s McGee is among the highest echelon of artists. The band has streamlined their live shows for the benefit of their fans, who number well over 200,000 on Facebook, by offering a subscription service for access to live recordings, as well as hosting their annual UMBowl celebration (now in its fifth year), an immense interactive spectacle that routinely sells out big venues across the country. Umphrey’s McGee’s refined embrace of their audience is far and away the most accomplished among bands of any genre.
K-Town native Twista has been releasing music since 1992 and has not left the game since. After being one of the first Chicago rappers to land a major label deal, Twista set a Guinness World Record for fastest rapper and has worked with generations of Chicago artists from Do or Die to R. Kelly and Chance the Rapper. On the eve of his ninth studio album, Twista has remained relevant in the national hip-hop scene for over twenty years and shows no signs of fading out.