There is no denying that 2016 has been Chicago’s year. Jamila Woods, Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Saba, Noname, Vic Mensa, Towkio, Joey Purp and Malcolm London are just a few among dozens of Chicago artists who have released quality new projects this year.
But I would say that Saba—who released his latest mixtape Bucket List Project last month—and Noname—who released her debut Telefone this summer—in particular, have had the biggest year as emerging rappers (Chance and Vic are established at this point). The two rappers have long been friends, and together, as collaborators, they possess a certain positive and radiant energy, one that becomes even more acute when vocalist/producer Phoelix is thrown into the mix.
Today (November 21), Saba, Noname and Phoelix’s collective spirit has again been exhibited on the new song “Counterfeit,” which is further rounded out by a guest verse from budding Brooklyn emcee Chelsea Reject.
Noname appears first over the subdued, murky beat. Her hook is on-brand, a blend of personal experiences and tongue-twisting rhymes. As her opening shifts into Chelsea’s verse, it’s noticeable that both rappers’ deliveries couldn’t be any more different: Noname’s flow is more monotone and at ease, while Chelsea almost rushes to get her words out. She spits more literal and straightforward revelations: “Sandra Bland, Sandra Bland / Why they ain’t just let her go / Traffic violations, loud music ain’t nothin’ worth your soul.”
Lately, Phoelix has been flexing his production chops, but on “Counterfeit,” he proves that he can brandish a pen, too. His verse is a plea of some sort—and like Noname, his figurative rhymes spin the listener in circles. Saba polishes the song off, his words curling around each other, his flow idle then dynamic: “Grandma tried to keep me sheltered / I mean really tried / Sick of city lights / See the police lights / They were really bright / From the living room / Sippy cup, baby to the city, son.”
“Counterfeit” creates a connection between Chicago and New York, and by doing so, simultaneously flaunts Chicago’s up-and-coming talent and futher solidifies New York’s stake as a hub for hip-hop. The track is a study of brutal truths—ones that are steeped in reality, and that certainly sit in opposition of the track title itself.
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.