It’s no secret that Chicago is squarely on the map in the lexicon of the national hip-hop conversation. The proliferation of talent in the ‘Go was a central theme in a feature we ran last week, and this week we unpack the sort of ripples that such a movement in Chicago has helped to establish. Midwest cities such Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Louis have long been a breeding ground for underground talent. However, there currently stands a select number of truly talented and unique acts across the breadth of the country's heartland that are largely pacing music on the national scale and beyond and deserve a fair amount of attention.
Whereas it’s largely been believed that both coasts make or break an artist, the current generation of internet-based artists, free to create on their own, have proven that the center of the map is no slouch when it comes to well-meaning talent. Combine all that with a hustle that comes from living in city’s without label offices or major media outlets and the perfect storm for consistently exciting music and sounds begins to loom. In light of the current movement across the middle of the map, lets take a look at who’s about to blow both in Chicago and it's neighbors.
Taylor Bennett - Out to prove that he can maneuver from under the monstrous shadow of his big brother Chance, Bennett has turned heads with a pair of mixtapes (The Taylor Bennett Show, Mainstream Music) that show marked growth over the past several years. While working on a follow-up, entitled Broad Shoulders, Bennett has created a sound for himself that is both in line with big bro and unique to his own aesthetic. Possessing a sort of innate ability to deliver clever bars at a fever pace, the soon to be 20-year-old could find himself well-established on a national level once the new project reaches the public. He’s garnered the excitement of a young fanbase and has become a sort of junior ambassador for his city, falling in line with Chance and his father. For now, check out his recently-released video for “Happy Place.”
Kweku Collins - The lone MC on the Closed Sessions roster after the departure of Alex Wiley, Collins has been an exciting new voice in and around Chicago and used 2015 as a sort of warm up. Stretching and finding his own unique way of doing things, Kweku brings a reggae-tinged delivery to his raps that can fall into a soulful chorus at a moment’s notice. He self-produces much of his own material, but also has a capable team of producers in CS’s Odd Couple and Boathouse to keep the ideas flowing regularly. It’s been a weird year for Closed Sessions, but they’ve shown an ability throughout that they can find and develop young talent. At only 19, Collins has nowhere to go but up, which his debut mixtape, Say It Here, While It’s Safe, further proves.
XVRHLDY - Existing somewhat outside the typified hip-hop circles of Chicago, XVRHLDY has become one of the more endearing and obviously talented acts to emerge on the ground floor over this year. Possessing a sort of rockstar-leaning swag that often finds him wrapped in denim, XVRHLDY has been a force both on the internet and around town. One of the most lowkey gems to come out of the midwest in recent memory in his Need To Know II mixtape, which featured the likes of NoNameGypsy, Saba, Supa BWE, Odd Couple and a steady list of impressive hometown artists and producers. The DJBooth Freestyle Series alum is currently gearing up for his next release, Feed At Dark, which could very well be the most surprising full-length drop out of the ‘Go in '16.
Hurt Everybody - Perhaps no group has garnered more attention throughout the current calendar than the trio of Mulatto Beats, Supa BWE and CARL, who doubled down on a successful 2014 by dropping a solid sophomore album in 2K47. Hurt has built a dedicated fanbase on the interwebs due to an incessant output that has seen them drop songs for weeks at a time only to pull them back, a tactic they have referred to as “rubberbanding.” Local celebrities in the truest sense, the group has been utilizing impressive Soundcloud analytics to line up a nationwide tour that will serve as their introduction to much of the world outside of their hometown. Supa BWE is currently on the road with Mick Jenkins who is touring overseas, while CARL and Mulatto have been busy in the studio gearing up for a game-changing 2016.
Martin $ky: If there’s a reoccurring theme around Chicago acts who stand in line for ‘next up’ status, it’s the consistent hustle that got them to where they are now and nowhere else is that more true than with Martin $ky. The 21-year-old attacked the '15 campaign with a vengeance with his Everywhere But Here EP, which came fully produced by the man himself and boasted guest features from Rockie Fresh and Casey Veggies. The project served as an updated introduction to an act that has been consistently slept on locally for several years. Part of the vaunted Treated Crew collective, $ky has remained a regular on the blogs and ‘net at large with a steady stream of loosie singles that have performed very well on a seemingly week-to-week basis. $ky has the ability to both stay in a conscious storytelling aesthetic and provide enough bravado for more pointed tracks. Keep an eye ear or two open here.
IshDARR: 19-year-old IshDARR has emerged as perhaps one of the most exciting young acts not only in the Midwest but the country at large. His 2015 release, Old Soul, Young Spirit, proved a penchant for conscious tropes, housing open-minded verses with a sense of willful ignorance that comes together to create a sound and a musical style that are both progressive and forward-thinking while being fundamentally realistic and squarely in the middle of any conversation. Part of a boiling pot of talent that includes Reggie Bonds, Klassik, Wave Chapelle, and WebsterX.
Pat App: Indy hasn't exactly been looked upon as a central locale for hip-hop talent, but local artist Pat App (and his ELVTD collective) is looking to change the way you think about his hometown thanks to rhymes packed with social understanding and a want for more. A thoughtful 20-year-old that in person appears to be years beyond his age and often prefers books over computers, App has impressed of late with several singles and a new video for “Spirit Bombs” that dropped last month. Indy seems to be rallying around the Purdue student as well, with each track doing solid numbers across all of his channels. As much a poet as he is a rapper, App could well achieve his goal of putting his city on the national hip-hop map. With his debut project due out in early 2016, we’ll have to wait and see.
Smino: Yeah, yeah, so Smino isn’t currently in STL, having since relocated to Chicago, but the 22-year-old has taken 2015 by storm, utilizing a fortuitous relationship with local studio Classick Studios and the affiliated Classick Fam collective to become one of the more exciting acts of the calendar year. Having already released a steady slew of music since this time last year (“Smelling Like A Re-Up” is a favorite), Smino is fresh off the release his debut collection, the S!CK S!CK S!CK EP, produced entirely by frequent collaborator Monte Booker. The three track release serves as a quick hitter intro while the emcee prepares his proper full-length, Zero Fatigue, which those in the know have been eagerly awaiting for months. There is no word on a release date for the LP, but dig through this young artist's Soundcloud while you wait.
BobbyRaps - A bit of an unknown until recently, the St. Paul native has been hooking fans upon first listen thanks to a depth-defying amount of work he has packed onto his Soundcloud. A veteran of the MPLS scene, Bobby is part of theStand4rd collective out of Twin Cities that counts Corbin (Spooky Black), Psymum and Allan Kingdom among it’s ranks. Raps has racked up a litany of followers in his own right and, while digging through his work over the past month or so, it's clear that his loyal backing is due in part to a consistent number of impressive releases that recently manifested themselves as the collaborative effort Wicked City alongside producer SinGrinch. Without knowing BobbyRaps in any sort of personal way, the young man has certainly found his way onto my regular playlist and is displaying the forward-thinking understanding of music that is emanating from the Midwest.
SupaKaine - Hailing from the same backyard of Eminem, Dej Loaf and Big Sean, SupaKaine is another fairly new name on my rap radar, but if you talk to anyone from Motown they'll tell you he's been busy plugging away. Boasting a musical style that is markedly more street-focused than much of his colleagues who made this list, SupaKaine's records come delivered with a certain amount of grittiness that embody the city that he calls home. His May release, Ghetto America, similarly serves as a mirror for his city, while also proving that he can handle himself over a bevy of assorted beats with varying rhymes schemes and abilities. Whereas his singles have been delivered with a darker feel, the project has a guarded optimism that is reflective of contemporary middle America.
[by Jake Krez, who knows what's up in the Midwest. You can follow him on Twitter.]