One of the most dangerous cities in the United States is Chicago, Illinois. Home to notorious criminals such as Al Capone and Larry Hoover. Illinois is also famous for it’s house music, Harold’s Chicken and the original foundation for many street organized gangs. But there is another side of Illinois and that is the music scene. Illinois has produced some of the most talented musicians in the world. In the 90s, many rappers from Illinois became known for their grimy content and double time flow. Rappers such as Twista, Psychodrama, Do or Die, and Crucial Conflict mastered the art of the speedy flow. This is something that became popular in the midwest as a whole (See Bone Thugs). Female rapper, Da Brat, made history becoming the first female rapper ever to have a platinum selling album. Much like other Illinois rappers Da Brat also used the speedy flow. Other rappers from Illinois that made a significant impact include Common, Rhymefest, Bump J, MC Juice, Snypaz, Triple Darkness, NO ID(producer) and Shawnna. Illinois is also home to arguably the greatest RnB artist of all time, R. Kelly. R. Kelly made a huge impact on the music industry, as a singer, producer, engineer, director and songwriter. He has sold millions of records, and written songs for many musicians, including the late great Michael Jackson. I could write an entire article on R. Kelly, but I’ll leave it at that. Illinois has truly provided us with some great artists over the last 30 years.
Illinois has generated more than just street content in its hip hop. There is definitely a conscious side to Illinois hip hop and the proof is provided through artists such as Common, Kanye West, and Lupe Fiasco. Kanye West is arguably the greatest hip hop artist of our generation. From early beginnings with the Go Getters to producing for Roc a Fella records. He released his debut album College Dropout in 2003 and it was a classic and game changing album, then followed up with a 2nd classic album, Late Registration. His G.O.O.D Music record label is complied with some of the best talent in hip hop. Kanye also put on for a lot of Chicago talent. Artists such as Lupe Fiasco, GLC, Chief Keef, and King L are all Illinois artists that have benefited from the help of Kanye West. Kanye is a true musical genius and will go down as one of the greatest hip hop artists of all time. Lupe Fiasco has also made his name known in the mainstream as a super talented rapper. Much like Kanye, Lupe found a way to bridge the gap between lyrical hip hop and mainstream hip hop during an era where lyrical rappers were not prospering very well in the mainstream. His incredible metaphors and double entendres have been deciphered for years now and he has truly mastered the art of lyricism. His Fahrenheit 1st and 15 mixtapes are classics and attracted the attention of many people. Even Jay-Z wanted to sign Lupe for a long time and served as the executive producer for Lupe’s debut album, Food and Liquor. Lupe’s creativity, content, and song making abilities have earned him the respect of all lovers of music. Lupe will go down as one of the best lyricists of all time. Young rapper Chief Keef enjoyed some success in the mainstream due to his singles such as “Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa”. Chief Keef introduced the mainstream to a movement in Illinois called Drill Music, representing gritty and grimy songs accompanied by trap-influenced beats. RnB singer, Jeremih also has done his part in keeping Illinois relevant in the music industry. His unique voice makes him stand out amongst his peers. He has done his fair share of hooks for several rappers and also has released successful singles such as “Birthday Sex”, “I Like”, and “Down On Me.”
The next generation of Illinois hip hop is filled with very young artists, many in their late teens. The drill movement is spread across almost all of their music. This drill music brings back some of the raw gutter sound of some of the early IIllinois rappers, just without the double time flow. Content varies from gang violence, drug selling, and other things that are happening in Chicago. Sadly, many parts of Illinois have had a high amount of violence and killing amongst young people. Rappers such as Lil Reese, Lil Durk, King L, Fredo Santana, Lil Herb, Lil Bibby and more all make drill music. Other young Illinois rappers such as Vic Mensa, Frenico, Rockie Fresh, and Chance The Rapper represent Illinois in a different kind of way. The young Chicago movement has gained a tremendous amount of notice. Illinois provided this year’s XXL Freshmen list with FOUR rappers: Lil Durk, Lil Bibby, Chance The Rapper, and Vic Mensa. Lil Herb and Lil Bibby first caught the attention of Drake with their “Kill Sh*t” collab. Both Herb and Bibby released great solo mixtapes recently, and Herb’s collab with Nicki Minaj, “Chiraq” has also become very popular. While Herb has a lyrical, aggressive style, Bibby has more of a gritty grimy Beanie Sigel type of flow, but they mesh together to make great collabs. Chance The Rapper brings some eccentric music to the table, with a Wyclef Jean type crooning voice and an unorthodox rap flow. Chance’s music is a break from the norm in hip hop, but it is still so soulful at the same time. His standout mixtape “Acid Rap” received high rated reviews and catapulted his career to new heights. From overseas tours to being booked for the Coachella stage, and even offered the chance to go on tour with Eminem. Chance has created a strong foundation for more success to be in his future. Neo-Soul singer BJ The Chicago Kid has been collaborating with many different rappers over the past few years. Rappers range from Freddie Gibbs, Ab Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Chance The Rapper, Big K.R.I.T, and more. His 2012 album, Pineapples Now-Laters was definitely a standout and one of the best albums from that year. His soulful voice always blends right in with whatever beat he’s singing over. He recently got some mainstream success with Schoolboy Q’s single “Studio.” BJ The Chicago Kid has also written songs for singers such as Musiq Soulchild.
Through all of the years of Illinois hip hop, we have seen it go through many changes. From gritty lyrics about the violence and crime, to conscious lyrics making us aware of the problems in society. One thing’s for certain, Illinois has provided urban culture with many great artists and there are many more to come.