It’s obvious that 2020 didn’t turn out nearly how anyone expected at the top of the year. With a global pandemic shaking things up, a pivotal presidential election coming to a head, numerous generational talents passing away, and racial injustice protests taking place across the country, it’s safe to say that this year was beyond unpredictable from even the most seasoned psychics.
Nonetheless, Chicago persevered like only we know-how, bringing attention to these issues while also divulging into a plethora of other, more personal narratives in the form of music. Throughout the year, some mainstays in the city continued to impress us here at Lyrical Lemonade while other up-and-comers made some very valid, attention-grabbing claims as to why they’re the next rising star that deserves a place at the table. Also worthy of note, Chicago had some truly excruciating losses this year in terms of music legends whose work still shined through as some of the most impressive of the year, primed to carry on their legacy for years to come.
All of that said, we’re more than excited to round this farfetched year out with Lyrical Lemonade’s Top 50 Chicago Projects of 2020. This is our 5th year bringing this list to life, and although there are some regulars, we’re also excited to introduce you to some of the most remarkable rising stars in the city and their incredible music, so make sure to take the time to listen to every single project you missed out on and revisit those that you’ve been bumping all year long.
As always, we can’t thank the artists on this list enough for constantly going above and beyond to bring their stories to life in the form of some outstanding music, and we’re already on the edge of our seats waiting to see what’s in store for 2021!
Honorable Mentions: Adobo, Goldenboymnny, Luke Almighty, Sunde, IsaiahG
50) 8matik Logan • Blu Flame
8matiklogan has been a legend in the Chicago music community for the better part of a decade, and anyone who covers the city’s scene will tell you that, but he has had an interesting journey, to say the least. He has rebranded himself and his sound once or twice since I first got familiar with him, and it’s been for the better, too, because he adapted up his sound to fit in more of the modern-day style with great success.
Earlier this year, 8matiklogan released a new project called Blu Flame, where he packaged up eight new songs spanning just over twenty minutes in length. Each song is unique in its own right, yet the project flows together seamlessly. Logan is the perfect example of never giving up because his story could have been over years ago, but he evolved and came back stronger and better than ever. His perseverance cannot be overlooked or ignored, and honestly, neither can the great music that he’s been providing.
It’s no secret that Logan has released a ton of great music in his career, but trust me when I say that some of his best material is featured on this project. Stream this tape on Spotify below before you continue on with the article!
49) Lil Blessin • Sin
Lil Blessin might be one of the more underrated names included on this list this early on in his career, and this is apparent as soon as you press play on any of his incredible songs because his talents begin to speak for themselves from the very moment the sound hits your eardrums. Last year, he introduced himself to the world with his project Planet Blessin, a project that set himself up for success and grabbed the attention of the music scene in Chicago. While Blessin can often be described as a Drill rapper, I think it’s hard to categorize him in this singular lane, because this year’s project Sin proves that he’s not at all characteristic of many other Drill artists, and his versatility is my main evidence. Sure, certain cuts off of this project are heavily Drill-influenced and contain those gritty, aggressive, and hostile qualities that are very characteristic of the Rap subgenre, but more often than not, he changes things up and delivers sounds and styles that might contain Drill inspirations, but are far from being boxed into that particular category.
Throughout this album, Blessin rotates through a myriad of different sounds, sometimes including touching, meaningful piano instrumentals where he reveals his emotions and feelings with regards to relationships in his life. Other times, he delivers a West Coast-inspired bounce that he floats over effortlessly. What’s even more impressive is his adaptability to the various types of beats he includes on this project, sometimes singing while other times spitting rapid bars that could go toe to toe with many of the mainstream stars today. No matter what, there is a hint of autotune on his vocals that help bring out the melodious qualities within his voice, even when he speeds things up and allows his rhyme schemes to go off the rails. While Blessin might have a bit more work ahead of him in order to truly make a run at the crown within Chicago, he continues to impress time and time again, making Sin an incredible addition to his early but consistently growing discography.
48) Joyfriend • Dog Fight EP
One awesome thing about having a brother who also works in the music industry is that we can share music with each other that most people haven’t discovered yet, and although we do have pretty similar music tastes, we definitely have differences as well. Every so often, Eric will send me a project that I haven’t heard yet, sometimes I’ll enjoy it and sometimes not so much, but in the case of the Joyfriend EP that he put me onto, I loved it!
This project is more alternative than anything, and although this year-end list covers predominantly hip-hop releases, there are always at least 5-10 different genres mixed in that we enjoyed. When I was trying to think of one word to use when describing what I thought of this project, all I could think of was the word “pure”. This EP just felt so raw + pure to me, the music was so pleasing to me and it felt like Joyfriend was just scratching the surface of what he will become.
I didn’t know much about Joyfriend before Eric put me onto him, but this project has been in heavy rotation in my headphones over the past handful of weeks. Hopefully, in 2021, I can connect with Joyfriend personally and bring him by the office for an interview. For the time being though, get familiar with him through this fantastic EP below!
47) Jay Wood • Trackstar
One new Chicago artist that I had the pleasure of getting familiar with earlier this year was Jay Wood, who released a solid tape titled Trackstar that is landing at number forty-seven on our list.
The EP features production from in-house Freesole producer Moses Mode and Namesake, with the latter most notably having worked with STL’s pinkcaravan! Wood tends to infuse relatable songwriting, smooth r&b hooks, and raw lyricism to create a differentiated, yet refreshing sound from his Midwest contemporaries.
On the track “CHAMPAGNE,” Wood flaunts a luxurious lifestyle over Namesake’s ominous, 808-heavy production. Conceptually, “TRACKSTAR” is the standout song on the tape. Wood writes about a situation-ship, where non-commitment consequentially results in the couple sabotaging their relationship altogether. “WE GOOD?” featuring Freesole’s S.O.S. displays Wood’s R&B capabilities, with passionate remarks emphasizing the importance of checking on a partner after falling out. The song also verifies the necessity of overcoming adversity in any stable, long-term relationship. On “ICEBREAKER,” Wood concludes the EP by shooting his shot at a potential partner, demonstrating his natural storytelling ability that comes from genuine experience.
What makes Jay Wood’s EP great, in my opinion, is that the music can cater to everyone’s interest(s). Moreover, despite the project being dominated by romantic themes, Wood’s confident tone, along with the club-catered production, makes this project equally as worthy to bump in the whip. My personal favorite record, “SH*T!,” supports the previous point, as Wood successfully delivers a love-related banger. Stream the project below!
46) TrenchMobb • Mobb Ties
TrenchMobb is a Rap group in the city that has been making hits for a few years, but up until now, they were relatively local legends. Although music fans within the city have been rocking with them since at least 2017, the moves they made in 2020 were undeniably crucial for their growth to new fan bases and regions within the country. JR007, TMB Spazz, and Lil Jaydoe make up this dynamic trio, and although I might’ve just become familiar with them with their album Mobb Ties that released back in May, it was beyond clear that they’ve got something very important to say, and they convey their messages in some of the most addictive music coming out of Chicago.
Each artist has a different sound that complements the others but stands out just enough to be able to differentiate from their counterparts, and even with all of the dexterous aptitudes that each member brings to the party, they just seem to have this chemistry and natural bond that comes through effortlessly. This fluidity brings their music to new heights because no sound, flow, melody, or other element feels even remotely forced for a second, and while they can be looked at as Drill artists, after listening to this album in its entirety, it’s beyond obvious that their talents don’t just stop there. Whether they’re masterfully utilizing effects and autotune to bring their lively deliveries to life, ruthlessly spitting bars, or combining the two together on certain cuts, it’s clear that there doesn’t seem to be a single style that this trio can’t perfectly bring to life, and I’m in shock at how easy they make it seem every time I revisit this project.
After doing a little more digging to find out more about the Mobb and how this album came together, I was absolutely floored to find out that they compiled all 13 songs that add up to an almost 45-minute-long effort in under a two-week time frame. That seems impossible for most artists, and an unbelievable project like Mobb Ties would take most other artists months if not longer to complete, but that just speaks to their natural talents as well as their insane work ethic. I can’t wait to see what unfolds in 2021 for this rapidly rising Rap powerhouse, but until then, you know I’ll be bumping Mobb Ties religiously, so make sure you check it out before continuing on to the rest of the unbelievable projects on this list.
45) Aaron Deux • Everything’s Great, Everything’s Falling Apart
Over the past handful of years, Aaron Deux has been making his name known throughout the music community here in the city, but mainly as a producer. Every now and then, Aaron would let a loosie go where he was rhyming as opposed to producing, but he was honestly never consistent with it. For years, I would ask Aaron to release a tape of some sort to hear what he had to offer in a project format, so I was thrilled earlier this year when he unleashed his EP called Everything’s Great, Everything’s Falling Apart.
Aside from Aaron being my friend, I can genuinely say that he released an excellent body of work this year, and I highly suggest that anyone who isn’t familiar yet should tap in. This project has many different intricate flows, ear-pleasing melodies, fantastic instrumentals, etc., and shows just a small piece of how great Aaron could be, and how great he will become with time. I think that all five of these songs are great, but if I had to pick one that I would suggest that you start with, check out “Catch Me If You Can.”
44) CP • Cinema
CP has been a close friend of Lyrical Lemonade’s for years, so his transition into music was pretty seamless and made complete sense. He basically just hit the studio with some friends to hang out, and when he decided to jump in the booth one night, it was game over for many other Chicago artists. CP’s voice is just so unique and individualistic, and he encompasses an entire world while painting a dark, eerie picture with his ruthless lyricism and aggressively shadowy delivery. Cinema might be his debut project after years of making music and dropping countless loosies, but it’s definitely a perfectly cohesive mixtape that encompasses exactly why he’s projected to be the next best thing out of the thriving Windy City. While it might almost sound as if he’s whispering as he speaks with his trademark rasp and grit, he is able to swing his voice and change his intonation incredibly, which is something many other artists who possess a similar sound have such a difficult time perfecting.
Although there’s a shadowy overtone throughout this project, CP is able to prevent too much repetitiveness through the variety of cadences, beats, and tempos he carefully picks out, dissecting each instrumental down to their respective cores through rotating flows and constantly changing deliveries. It helps that he includes production from some of the most notorious hitmakers in the game including Danny Wolf, Mulatto, and Sidepce, among others, who effortlessly create perfect foundations that the Chi-Town emcee just rips to shreds. Beyond these versatile producers, he also makes this a bit of a family affair, recruiting some of his closest friends like TheHxliday, Buru, and RonSoCold to assist him on a few of the cuts on this project. While none of these features sound even remotely alike, they hold an undiagnosed chemistry that works perfectly with CP’s murky disposition, adding some energy and bounce to certain tracks that bring them to new heights.
What’s even more amazing about Cinema is the fact that this is only the beginning for CP, and his uncharacteristic, distinctive style is going to do wonders for him as he continues to gain traction, standing out amongst a very talented group of artists emerging from the remarkable music scene within the city.
43) Franchika • Be Free
Although Franchika might not be one of the most recognized names on this list for out of towners, that doesn’t take away from the fact that she’s one of the most unbelievable songstresses coming out of Chicago. She has such power behind her voice and when combined with an uncanny elegance, this power steals the spotlight from the moment she begins to sing, which has made me a fan from the very moment I found out about her. On her latest full-length effort Be Free, she shows off the variety of aptitudes she has become known for throughout the 10 songs that last just over 25 minutes in length. She combines obvious R&B styles with sprinkles of other genres such as Soul, Pop, and even a bit of Funk, with each and every sound complementing the others seamlessly. Franchika utilizes a plethora of layers on many of the cuts off of this offering, and even though her main vocals shine through consistently, she changes the intonation of her voice on other layers that provide depth and complexity, ensuring that her vocals penetrate deep into your soul and tug at your heartstrings, whether this gets you in your feels optimistically or adversely.
Considering she only has two guest features from BlockBurna Jaque and Toot, it can be tough to carry the brunt of a project like this on her own so early on in her blossoming career, but she doesn’t let this phase her in the slightest, rather using it as an opportunity to share he gift with fans and adversaries alike in the most powerful, incredibly moving way she knows how. On the other hand, these two features were carefully selected to complement her sound and add some diversity to the project, and they do the perfect job of adding some freshness and variety to the otherwise individual effort by Franchika. While this isn’t necessarily a style of music I find myself listening to often, it captivated my attention and engulfed me with emotions unlike anything I was ever expecting, so it’s undeniably an incredible effort from the Chicago talent.
Whether you’ve been listening to Be Free since its release or this is the first time you’ve heard of it, Franchika lays it all on the line and comes out triumphant with one of the most incredibly soulful records you’ll see on this list, so make sure you check it out if you haven’t already.
42) Lil Romo • King Without A Crown
Lil Romo is a name that might not have country-wide recognition quite yet, but that doesn’t mean he should be forgotten about in the slightest, and he’ll let you know that up front. For many Drill rappers, their music glorifies guns, drugs, sexualizing women, and many other topics that can be left at the surface level without ever having to go any deeper than that. Romo, on the other hand, might highlight these things at times, but ultimately uses his platform as a way to bring awareness to much deeper, more important issues such as gun violence, police brutality, and social dilemmas that he sees in his everyday life. These topics and more can be heard in abundance on his project King Without A Crown – his 13-song, almost 35-minute long album that first put me onto the rising star – and I haven’t looked back since. At only 19 years old, it’s absolutely remarkable that Romo possesses the command and narration skills that he does, going into detail about the various pertinent topics that he discusses throughout this project.
He never seems phased by these things, often remaining fairly even-keeled despite the emotive qualities within his delivery that often come through even more powerfully than any words he actually recites. On many occasions throughout the project, he uses touching piano melodies and soulful instrumentals to share his story, complementing these lighter, more airy sounds with piercing percussion and even more aggressive drums that aren’t necessarily uncharacteristic of Drill music but are certainly unique in the way that Romo fits in on them. Even though many of the songs on this project give him the opportunity to share his melodious voice that is accentuated with a touch of autotune, there are other tracks that he ditches these tuneful elements altogether and opts for a much more straightforward, ruthless, and aggressive flow that captivates you from the moment you hear him speak. At such a young age, Lil Romo hasn’t even scratched the surface of all the storylines he has to tell, but he’s been doing an unbelievable job so far, making King Without A Crown a must-listen for any fan of Rap music in general.
41) Sterling Hayes • Flirting With Death
Savemoney affiliate Sterling Hayes kept applying the pressure over and over again in 2020, as he released three different projects; Flirting With Death, Eye Of The Beholder, and his mixtape The Sterlz. I am going to focus on Flirting With Death here though, as it lands at number forty-one on our year-end review.
As I sat with this project throughout the year and ran it back multiple times, a few central things stood out to me: the production, the self-analyzing that Sterling did on the tape, and how much Sterling has improved as an artist over the years. I don’t think that can be overlooked in the slightest, because Sterling has always had a massive amount of potential but was battling both interior and exterior adversities. With this project, I personally feel like he hit his full stride, and painted a vivid picture of what he’s gone through up to this point.
In terms of the self-observing that he did, I was impressed with Sterling’s courage to speak about plenty of topics that would make most people uncomfortable such as suicidal thoughts, family issues, and overcoming drug addictions. There were a ton of great records featured on this project, but my favorite one was without a doubt, “Part Two.” I feel like this track was the pinnacle of Sterling’s career thus far — it was the best song he’s made to date in my opinion, even after I’ve followed his career closely for half of a decade. Much love to Sterling for creating this piece of art, and I’m eager to see what the future holds for him.
40) ‘Lgado • Killa Season
Every year when we work on this list, I’m reminded of just how many talented artists we have emerging from the depths of the Chicago scene, and ‘Lgado is one of the most prominent emcees in the game. Although his music is often classified as Drill, which makes sense, he brings a different side to the subgenre that is beyond unique, providing fresh air into the sometimes-oversaturated style of music. This is obvious and appreciated on his album Killa Season, his 10-song project that received an additional 5 tracks on the deluxe version, spanning almost 35 minutes long. Throughout this time frame, ‘Lgado shows listeners exactly why he’s a force to be reckoned with in the music world while also proving that he’s not someone you want to mess with after all of the painful, often unfavorable events that he has seen take place throughout his life.
There are certain characteristic sounds throughout the instrumentals he chooses that make his Drill influence obvious, such as the chattering hats and pungent drums, but the melodies that are used throughout the album are mysterious and almost secretive, leading to a shadowy delivery that most people might not expect in Drill music. This style almost transports you to the scene that ‘Lgado is painting with his words, causing emotions within you to ooze out, your heart rate to rise, and your palms to sweat as if you’re seeing the events within his narratives unfold in real-time. Nonetheless, instead of getting aggressive, insistent, and hostile with his words, ‘Lgado seems to remain relatively calm, cool and collected as he moseys his way throughout the verses. This nonchalant demeanor gives off the impression that he’s been in these situations so many times in the past that they don’t phase him in the slightest, and he’s almost numb to the adrenaline that virtually every other person would be experiencing in the same scenarios. On Killa Season, ‘Lgado’s words are as sinister as they are compelling, and although it can be tough to carry an entire project on your own shoulders without any features, he does so effortlessly on this album, making it a must-listen for any fan of Chicago Drill music.
39) 600Breezy • Iceman Edition 2
Although 600 Breezy has been grinding in the Chicago music scene for years, this year was the year that I truly buckled down and tuned in, and man am I glad I did. Luckily, he gifted us even more new music to dive into with the release of his mixtape Iceman Edition 2, which gives such an all-around, fully encompassing look at Breezy’s many talents. A press release I received back when the project dropped quotes the rapper talking about what his purpose with this release was: “I went back to my hood to reconnect with myself. I locked myself into the studio, slept on floors with my people, and watched the sun come up for days. I had to shake the Hollywood nonsense off me and get back to shit-talking Breezo. I created this project strictly for the streets.” Shit-talking is exactly what he does on this project, although the levels and depth of the tape end up running much deeper as you get further into its duration. In fact, Breezy shows off an entirely new style in almost every single track on this project which truly helps grasp who he is as an artist and the dexterity he brings to the table that many other Chicago emcees can struggle with at times.
Throughout the mixtape, he proves just what he was saying in the earlier quote by providing some hard-nosed bars over sometimes minimal yet violent instrumentals, while in other songs, he gets slightly livelier, using some strong, intense beats to help drive his points home. During certain cuts, Breezy takes a moment to go off the rails and show off some enthusiasm and personality with his ad-libs and cadences as he stretches out some words and gets slightly more animated with his delivery, bringing his adaptability and versatility to the forefront. A lot of times in Drill music, artists feel as if they need to stay within the boundaries and stick to a single style rather than venturing off and trying out different sounds. Breezy breaks this stigma by trying out a slew of different sonic styles and each type seems to be more successful than the last. While his voice just has this natural aggression and hostility to it, you might not expect the playfulness or bounce that he demonstrates in multiple songs on this mixtape, but these qualities and more are on full display throughout every single song.
You’re going to want to give Iceman Edition 2 a run-through as soon as possible if you haven’t already, so carve out some time in your busy schedule to tune into the wonderful mixtape brought to you by Chicago’s very own 600 Breezy.
38) Jackie Hayes • Take It, Leave It
One of my favorite parts about this list and even Lyrical Lemonade as a whole is the fact that we’ve come such a long way in many different aspects, the diversity of music being our first and foremost adaptation. In the early stages, it was all about Hip-Hop and Rap music, and while we still focus heavily on those genres, of course, we have diversified and opened our minds to all the different types of unbelievable music that is being made around the city. One of the most incredible artists in the city right now has to be Jackie Hayes, and that’s not even a question. She mixes a variety of genres including Indie, Punk, Rock, and many others in between to create an extremely individualistic sound that is on full display with her debut EP Take It, Leave It. The frustrations she experiences in her day job come about all over Take It, Leave It, as she goes into details about the annoyances she has with constantly having to stick to the same routine and constantly working when she knows she has the talent to make it in music.
As a listener, I completely feel her frustrations coming out not only through the attitude that her deliveries boast but also through the distorted effects and loud noises that overtake her voice, adding to the irritation of her own personal situation. Considering this EP is only 4 songs long and barely 7 minutes, it makes sense that she recorded it in about 2 weeks during a period of aggravation that was coming to a head. Even so, despite the short time frame of the project, Hayes was able to hone in on how she was feeling in the moment and deliver 4 seamless songs that give you a peak not only at the hindrances she was dealing with but also the abundant talents that she so clearly possesses.
All I can say is, I don’t think she’s going to be stuck in the same monotonous rut for long if she continues to create such incredible music, because I have a good feeling that music is going to be her full-time career sooner rather than later, at least from what I can tell after listening to Take It, Leave It.
37) Jayaire Woods • From A Distance
Over the years, I feel like I’ve had a special connection to Jayaire Woods and his music. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s from a couple of towns over from the suburb I live in, if it’s because of the mutual connections we have, or if his music just reaches me on a deeper level, but either way, he has always been an artist from Chicago who I have the utmost respect for. His career definitely took off when he began working with Quality Control, a label that boasts names like Migos, Lil Yachty, Lil Baby, and more, so the experienced he gained from his time with the label is undoubtedly something that has taught him a lot not only about the music industry but himself in general. This comes through loud and clear on From a Distance, the 12-song project he released this year that has a run time of just over a half-hour. On this project, Jayaire wears his heart on his sleeve, and even if it’s not an easy thing for him to do, he shares a plethora of stories from his come up as well as things that have influenced his life in his later years after his music took off. He never tries to hide who he is as a person, but rather uses his melodious, truthful demeanor as a catalyst to share his feelings, emotions, and experiences throughout his extensive career.
Whether he uses faster-more upbeat production or slower, jazzy, and even sometimes soulful instrumentals, Jayaire never misses an opportunity to reveal his emotions, and the tuneful qualities within his auto-tuned vocals just elevate the passion and feeling behind each and every word more than any story he tells truly could. There is pain behind his delivery that is juxtaposed by prominence and perseverance, and this is something that has remained consistent throughout his tenure in music, spanning from the first moment he graced a microphone until now.
While I don’t think Jayaire gets nearly the amount of props he deserves, that doesn’t take away from the fact that his music is as revealing and truthful as it is artistic and incredible. On From a Distance, Jayaire puts it all out there for an absolutely unbelievable project, and it’s because of this that it was one of the easiest decisions to include it on this list.
36) Billy Lemos • Wonder
Often times in the current state of music, artists release an overflow of music that isn’t typically up to the standards that it used to be because, with technology, it’s so easy to just record and drops songs in the blink of an eye. That’s why certain artists can get left in the dust, because with the shorter attention spans of listeners nowadays if you’re not constantly releasing music, you have a very good chance of being overshadowed and falling off the wagon. That is unless your music is as artistic, professional, and just flat out incredible as the records Billy Lemos puts out. The Iowa-born, Chicago-based producer/artist’s project Wonder, which boasts 10 songs and clocks in at just under 21 minutes, took almost 2 years to bring to life, and although many of you might think that this is an extensive timeframe for such a concise album, Billy makes sure that not a single second is wasted, providing hit after hit without even a smidge of filler.
Now, getting into this project, you might be expecting the usual Pop songs you’d hear on the radio, but Billy is such an out of the box creative that his offerings sound nothing like the mainstream offerings you’re used to which makes them immensely better, in my opinion. Beyond this, I keep mentioning Pop, but in all reality, he merges a plethora of off-the-wall genres that in all honesty simply shouldn’t work together but combine with one another in a manner that is absolutely remarkable, to say the least. This album seems to be a collection of ideas rather than actual tangible sounds, but these ideas are brought to life through the vivacious production that he delivers in a seamless fashion. Each and every feature he brought on to assist him plays a pivotal role in the narrative he provides through his instrumentals, adding words and new sonic moments that all seem to combine with one another in some of the most unconventional yet imaginative ways I’ve seen from anyone all year long. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Wonder is Billy’s debut album, and although it was already clear that his future was bright, this project just acts as a catapult for his career, while Lemos is still yet to even scratch the surface. All the hard work and meticulous strategies that went into this album come to the forefront of Wonder, making it a must-listen for any fan of Pop music in general.
35) Myquale • Passport Package
I first got in tune with Myquale on Soundcloud some years ago, but then really started paying attention when he put out a collaboration project with Thelonious Martin late last year called XX Winters. Over the past eight or nine months since, we’ve developed a solid friendship. Without a doubt in my mind, Myquale is one of the best emcees in Chicago; he’s one of the purest bar for bar spitters in the city, but beyond that, with this tape, Myquale proved to us just how versatile he can be. This tape has four songs on it that all flow together in perfect unison, but at the same time have unique qualities that make them special on their own. I loved all of these songs provided, but my favorite has got to be “Snooky” just because of how f*cking smooth Myquale floated on it, and I can’t stress enough how awesome it was to hear him perfectly execute a record like this.
34) Adamn Killa • I Am Adamn 2
Throughout this list, you might notice a common reoccurrence of the word legend being thrown around. While this isn’t a term to use lightly, it’s obvious, bias aside, that there are a plethora of legendary artists coming out of Chicago that can be considered legends for one reason or another. One of these talents is undeniably Adamn Killa, partially for his sheer output and hustle, but also because even with the overflow of music he puts out, he consistently remains unapologetically himself and can piece together some incredible verses, freestyled or otherwise. While his loosies and singles can be hit or miss at times, he usually gives us his all on his cohesive projects, and this year’s effort I Am Adamn 2 proves just how skilled he actually is. The follow-up to his 2017 album offers 12 songs running just short of 25 minutes long, including 2 interludes that divide the project up into sections. His trademark rasp can be heard throughout as it’s elevated by autotune effects and inventive melodies, but the most underrated part of this project is his beat selection. Throughout the album, nothing is common when compared to what you’d hear on the radio from the percussion to the drums to the melodies, and let me tell you, these melodies are truly out of this world.
Whether he carefully picks out out-of-this-world synths, poignant piano keys, or spacey sounds, you never get bored of any instrumental whatsoever, and each beat is the perfect base for Adamn to go to work. While some verses might be freestyles, others seem to be a bit more carefully thought out, and this leads to some inventive cadences and even more unique deliveries that only Adamn himself can pull off. His lyricism might not be insane on certain records, but other times his wordplays capture your attention and even make you take a step back, prompting you to put your hand over your mouth because some of his words are so creative it’s jaw-dropping.
While Adamn might not be your typical mainstream rapper, that’s one of the best parts about him because he embraces this underground phenom persona that he runs with, constantly one-upping his previous releases. With the constant influx of new Adamn Killa music that’s consistently being shared with the world, it can be tough to decide what’s worth the listen and what can be overshadowed, but I say with the utmost confidence that I Am Adamn 2 is well worth checking out, and this list wouldn’t be the same without it.
33) MFnMelo • Portions EP
Coming in at number thirty-three on our list is Pivot Gang’s own MFnMelo with his Portions EP. This one is a very quick listen at less than ten minutes of playtime and three songs included on the tracklist, but Melo made the most out of it, as each of the songs that he gave us are all ear-pleasing and hard-hitting. MFnMelo is an artist whose lyrics you really have to pay attention to, and I suggest you run each song back a few times at least because certain bars will go right over your head. The two features that he chose to include on this tape came from New York spitter Radamiz as well as the legendary singer theMIND, who each maximized their contributions to their respective songs.
MFnMelo has become a staple in Chicago’s music scene over the past couple of years, and I am excited to see where he takes it in 2021 and beyond.
32) Nnamdi • BRAT
About a year and a half ago, I had Nnamdi stop by our old Lyrical Lemonade office and we chopped it up for a few hours about life and music. It was my first time meeting Nnamdi but you wouldn’t have been able to tell if you were a fly on the wall — he has a great personality and once he showed me some of his unreleased music that day, I knew that he had undeniable talent.
Earlier this year, Nnamdi unleashed a new project called BRAT, and it’s without a doubt one of the most memorable tapes to come out of the city this year. Memorable is a great word to use for the project because the same word can be used to describe Nnamdi himself, considering he’s truly one-of-a-kind and this project proves that. There are people who make music, and then there are people who obsess over everything single waking detail and really pay close attention to everything that they are creating, and I’d say that Chicago’s own falls on the latter of the two.
Nnamdi uses his voice more as an instrumental than anything else, and he pitches it up and down at will to perfectly fit whatever instrumental he is rhyming on, with a perfect example of this being showcased on “Gimme Gimme” or “Bullseye.” There are eleven tracks total on this project and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, but my favorite one has to be “Wasted” because of the sheer musical excellence that he reached on this track. I could keep raving about this tape, but I’ll wrap it up. Simply put, make sure you don’t sleep on this one.
31) Ohana Bam + DA Got That Dope • Bam Got That Dope
Ohana Bam is a Chicago native that I’ve been a fan of for some years now — he’s a straight-up hit-maker whose music has become the soundtrack to many movies, TV shows, video games, and more. One fun fact about Ohana Bam is that his voice is the one behind the famous “DA Got That Dope” producer tag that you hear on seemingly every single Billboard hit record. Not too long ago, Ohana Bam and DA connected for a long-overdue collaboration project, which they deemed Bam Got That Dope.
This tape has seven songs with a couple of skits mixed in, and although Ohana Bam has supplied us with plenty of amazing music in the past, some of his best material to date is featured here. Ohana Bam creates ANTHEMS, simply put. I would argue that he has the best pen in Chicago, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue back about that when you see his catalog and some of the songs he has penned for others. Sure enough, he provided us with a few anthems on this one here, my favorite being either “Dodging Feds” or “Dime a Dozen”.
Don’t sleep on Bam and think that he’s just an anthem creator — he’s an amazing rapper too, and he’ll flex that muscle from time to time just to remind y’all. This was an amazing project in my opinion which is why it’s coming in at #31 on our year-end list. Listen to this tape below if you haven’t yet and keep up with Bam by following him on Twitter here!
30) Sen Morimoto • *Self Titled*
Sen Morimoto might have one of the more interesting journeys to our wonderful city on this list, but all of his past experiences have led to the formulation of his beyond individualistic sound that is as calming as it is moving. Being born in Kyoto, Japan before moving to Massachusetts to grow up, Sen eventually made his way to the Windy City where he somewhat planted his roots and made a very strong case as to why he fits so well in the music scene within Chicago. Aside from Drill music, Jazz, Funk, Soul, and other genres influence the emcees and artists around these parts extremely heavily. Sen’s very robust background in the Jazz landscape is beyond evident, and he incorporates this into his music in a very distinctive manner unlike many of the other talents in the city.
On his self-titled project Sen Morimoto, we’re gifted 15 songs that add up to just over 50 minutes in length. Each and every track seems to add even more fuel to the fire as to why Sen undoubtedly one of the most creative and artistic talents in Chicago, and every single cut is definitely influenced by Jazz in some way or another without ever getting consumed by the genre, allowing Hip-Hop elements to shine through and be elevated by the groovy basslines, smooth instruments, and soothing disposition of Sen himself. His voice is as tranquil as they come, shining bright on every single record even though he comes off as being quite soft-spoken, which just complements the pacifying vibe of each instrumental and even provides some melodious qualities that work so well with each soulful beat.
He does an even more remarkable job incorporating some of his newfound Chicago counterparts in on the fun including Qari, Nnamdi, and Joseph Chilliams, among others. What’s nice about these features is the fact that his voice is so wildly different from any of theirs, that they not only refresh the sounds that are being created but also oppose Sen’s sensational vocals in a perfectly juxtaposed fashion. Although Sen Morimoto is a relatively new name in my repertoire of artists, especially in the city, he’s someone I need to keep on my radar moving forward. Sen’s self-titled album is a perfect introduction to the outstanding Chicago talent, so get in tune as soon as you can if you somehow haven’t already.
29) Mother Nature • Portalz
The two emcees who make up Mother Nature – T.R.U.T.H and Klevah Knox – have always stuck out to me since I first heard their music a few years ago. They were super raw, very gifted lyrically, had meaningful subject matter, were good live performers, and were just dope individuals, overall.
The one thing that I thought they needed when I first heard them was some structure, and after teaming up with a good manager as well as indie Chicago label Closed Sessions, they got just that. With the backing that they now have, I was so excited to see what they were going to do early in 2020, and sure enough, they created one of the best Chicago projects of the year in Portalz.
This tape has ten records on the tracklist and is a pretty quick listen coming in at twenty minutes, packed with some great songs as well as a couple of skits to match. Some of the best music of their short careers are featured on this release, so if you’re into the Chicago hip-hop community or just dope music in general, I highly suggest you check Portalz out.
28) Sir Michael Rocks • Broken Window Of Opportunity
A lot of the artists on this list are definitely up and coming sensations that still have a long way to go to prove themselves in the music industry, but their promise and determination are definitely exciting. In fact, I’m not sure if anyone else on this list has quite the tenure that Sir Michael Rocks can claim, and it shows. His calm, cool, and collected disposition just oozes over his carefully curated instrumental choices, and his flows roll off the tongue beyond effortlessly, proving why he’s one of the most prominent legends not only in Chicago but in the entire world of Rap music.
This year, Michael decided to gift listeners with an album entitled Broken Window of Opportunity, and fans ate it up whether they were with him from day one or somehow just getting in tune with him recently. As soon as you press play, you’re encapsulated by the beats which are typically smooth and relaxed, although there are so many more uncharacteristic, inventive, and off-the-wall instrumentals that provide some refreshing balance and complexity to this project throughout. Whether the beats are tranquil enough to smoke to or upbeat enough to play in a club, Michael never loses himself even slightly, rather knowing himself and his strengths while remaining confident and unphased by any sort of curveballs that might be thrown his way.
After the third song, he rids the project of any additional features, taking the baton and running the rest of the race solo, allowing his veteran status to carry us to the finish line. While some artists on this list have a long way to go until they reach the experience levels of Sir Michael Rocks, his inclusion on here was absolutely mandatory after listening to Broken Window of Opportunity, and I don’t think anyone who has tuned into the album would be able to argue even slightly.
27) OG Stevo • Stevo Reloaded & The Last OG
OG Stevo is an artist who hails from the Rogers Park neighborhood and has become one of the most exciting new rappers in the city, which is exactly why he is being featured on this year-end list. OG Stevo is someone that I’ve been in tune with for a year or two now, and as he’s been steadily improving and perfecting his craft, I think it’s safe to say that 2020 was his best year yet, musically.
He dropped a couple of projects this year, properly landing at #27 on this list with his tapes Stevo Reloaded & The Last OG. The former tape only had five songs featured on it and had a run time of only eleven minutes, but it gave a good glimpse of what Stevo was all about and gave a glimpse at his potential. Every track on this EP is solid to me, but there are a couple of songs featured here that I believe stand out from the rest. “Voices In My Head” is a well-crafted track that finds OG Stevo airing out a lot of things that were on his mind, speaking about battling the demons that he’s been dealing with. My favorite song on this project, though, is definitely the outro “East Rogers,” mainly because it’s a beautiful ode that Stevo gave to the area in which he grew up.
As for the Stevo Reloaded EP, this project was my favorite of the two that OG Stevo dropped in 2020, mainly because it’s a more fast-paced tape that finds Stevo rhyming over some truly hard-hitting instrumentals. From the very instant that you press play on this project, “Don’t Scuff Em” just hits you right in the face, which is one of Stevo’s best songs to date. The wild part is, the tracklist just keeps getting stronger and stronger the further you go. The tape flows together in a very cohesive manner, and it just seems like a more polished version of Stevo than I was used to hearing. I believe a large part of this can be attributed to his growth as an artist, and as he continues to practice, he’s only going to keep getting better.
I seriously believe that OG Stevo is one of those artists that could really ‘blow up’ over the next couple of years, and he’s one person that every hip-hop fan, especially from Chicago, needs to keep their eye on. OG Stevo is a special talent and he can not be taken lightly, so hip-hop fans in Chicago need to support and push him, because one day he can be one of the biggest artists that the city has to offer.
26) Ajani Jones • Kenya EP
I love everything about the Chicago music community, and I mean everything. One of my favorite parts about it though is meeting dope individuals within the scene, and Ajani Jones is one of the coolest and realest people that I’ve had the honor of meeting within the past handful of years. Not only that, but he is also without a doubt one of the best emcees that I’ve come across.
Earlier this year, Ajani Jones dropped an EP titled Kenya, and it’s landing at number twenty-six on our end-year list. This project was an ode to his mother, who he named the EP after, and you can tell how special this one was to him just from listening to the intro “1994.” That track set the tone for what was to come, as Ajani delivered us five amazing joints to make up a great EP.
I am very proud of Ajani and how far he has come in his musical journey, and although I know this is just a precursor to an eventual full-length tape, it was more than enough to hold me over for 2020. I am eager to hear what he gives us next year, but for the time being, let’s just appreciate what he was able to accomplish this year.
25) Ausar • Flight Of The Honeybee
Over my past six years covering the Chicago music scene, Ausar is without a doubt one of the most skilled and gifted emcees that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. He never really got the full chance to focus on music during my first few years of knowing him because he was busy getting a degree from the University of Illinois, but since graduating not too long ago, he has had more time to put into his craft.
I (and many others) have been hounding Ausar for years because he does not release projects often at all, so earlier this year when he announced that he would be releasing an EP at some point, I made sure to stay on him about following through with the release because I was so excited to hear it. A couple of months ago, Ausar blessed us with his new EP titled Flight Of The Honeybee, and it became one of my favorite Chicago projects of the year.
This is a five-song tape that is based around, you guessed it, honeybees! I know when you hear that for the first time, you might be like, what? But trust me, this man Ausar made a memorable tape here, and it’s filled with great music and a captivating, unique theme. Congratulations to Ausar on the release of this project – it is a phenomenal body of work and I know that he will have more great music in store for us in the future.
24) Rockie Fresh • Slid Thru Just To Show You Whats Up
Back in high school, I remember first hearing about Rockie Fresh from some of my friends who were heavily into Hip-Hop, and ever since, I’ve made sure to pay attention to his constantly growing career. Obviously, it was a seamless transition into Casey Veggies’ music because the duo is extremely close and work with one another constantly, so I became a fan of Casey just as quickly. I only mention Casey because not only did Rockie decided to team up with him once again this year to provide a follow-up to Fresh Veggies, but he also took the bull by the horns and dropped off a solo effort entitled Slid Thru Just to Show You Whats Up, proving that even as a Rap veteran, he still has no problem keeping up with the young guns of the new internet wave.
While it has been quite some time since I had checked out new Rockie Fresh music, I was luckily forced to revisit my past when he released Slid Thru, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this sonic time machine. Just when I thought I moved on to a new generation of music and let my past go, I was drawn right back in and felt as if I was sitting in study hall once again trying to avoid doing homework in order to play games on my computer while bumping this project, trying my best to ingest every lyric so I could recite it word for word as soon as possible.
Nostalgia aside, it’s clear that in the several years since I last checked out new music from Rockie, he’s undeniably a different person, but that just makes this project even more enthralling than ever, in my opinion. Not only has his fanbase grown exponentially, but he has also grown as a person, and his talents truly display this perfectly on this year’s solo effort. Certain songs show the Chicago side of Rockie’s origins while other records push him out of his comfort zone and experiment with other sounds, which isn’t easy to do considering Rockie’s tenure in the industry.
Then there are cuts that don’t necessarily possess a specific regional sound, giving him the opportunity to express new styles that are as intriguing as they are infectious. Aside from the abundantly talented man himself, he also recruits numerous artists such as Wale, 24hrs, and Charity, to name a few, who add some much-welcomed variety to the project without stealing the show away from Rockie whatsoever.
Although this is sort of my reintroduction to Rockie Fresh after taking a few years off, Slid Thru Just to Show You Whats Up is well worth the listen now that it’s been in our hands for a while, and it only gets better with each additional run through, making it an easy add-on to our list.
23) Montana of 300 • A Cold Day In Hell
Montana of 300 is undeniably a mainstay in the Chicago Drill scene, and he has been this way for well over 4 or 5 years. Due to this, it seems like every year he delivers at least one project that takes Chi-Town by storm and his cult following across the country absolutely eats it up without leaving any crumbs left behind on their plates. This year, he decided to gift fans with a project entitled A Cold Day in Hell – a somewhat abrasive title to some, but a title that describes some of the eye-opening, intense moments he has had to live through during his lifetime.
Opening up with one of the most ruthlessly aggressive songs all year long called “Ja Morant,” Montana goes in over a Trap-heavy instrumental, allowing his power and insistence to drive the narrative while captivating listeners. After this, the story doesn’t change too much, but Montana instead goes with a much more melodious, R&B influenced sound in the middle of the project, recruiting friends and frequent collaborators like Talley of 300, No Fatigue, and Don D, just to name a few, in order to not only complement the new vibe that is set, but also provide new sounds and vocals that add some much-appreciated differentiation to the album.
These middle 4 songs almost act as a bridge from one warzone to another, leading us from the first hard-hitting track to the final two, which bring things full circle and back to his roots where he goes in over some assertive beats and gets even more hostile with his delivery. While the strength of Montana of 300’s discography is notable, it’s definitely tough to pick a favorite project after the many years he has been at it. What I can say, though, is A Cold Day in Hell is definitely towards the top, in my opinion, and it strengthens this list more than even we could’ve imagined.
22) Ric Wilson • They Call Me Disco
Ric Wilson might not be the most recognizable name on this list for out of towners, but he has been known throughout the years to bring an old school-like vibe to Hip-Hop through groovy basslines and Funk-inspired melodies that you won’t find in most discographies across the music landscape. Despite his optimistic, feel-good music, he is also such an important voice for the culture considering he is one of the most powerful voices speaking up against political and social injustices, using his platform not only to bring awareness to these issues but also to lead the charge in any and every way he possibly can. While this might not be abundantly clear throughout his brilliant 6-song EP They Call Me Disco – a collaborative project with LA-based producer Terrance Martin – he does touch on a number of misconducts while fighting for some major common practices and rights among the community, as well as some intricate and original references throughout his high-spirited wordplays that are available in abundance throughout the duration of this EP.
Throughout the project, Ric’s enthusiasm and charisma within every single square inch of this project are as infectious as they are captivating, and he truly wants to make it almost impossible for listeners to not simply get up out of their chairs and bust a move right there, on the spot. The inclusion of the 4 features, including Corbin Dallas, BJ The Chicago Kid, Malaya, and Kiela Adira, provides some differentiation, and although these refreshing verses aren’t always necessary, in my opinion, they do bring some new sounds and styles to the table that tie everything together nicely. The fact that They Call Me Disco sounds nothing like any other music that people are making right now makes it even more of a draw for me, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most underrated projects on this list, well worth a listen if you haven’t tuned in quite yet.
21) Vic Mensa • V TAPE
When compared to all the other magnificent and unbelievably talented artists in Chicago, Vic Mensa is undeniably one of the most compelling emcees hailing from the city. When it comes to Hip-Hop, he has been relatively absent since his 2018 EP Hooligans, creating a bit of a side hustle in the form of a punk band named 93PUNX as well as getting heavily into the world of social activism, thankfully using his platform to make a much-needed change in the world. Just when I thought he was going to run with 93PUNX rather than revert back to Rap music, he dropped V TAPE, a 7 song EP that runs just over 25 minutes, reintroducing himself to the world of Hip-Hop in an overtly powerful fashion.
Throughout the effort, Vic utilizes a variety of different sounds, beginning with a few songs that incorporate vocal samples and old school-inspired beats that truly bring a soulful vibe to the forefront and allow his authoritative, captivating narratives to shine without any sort of filter or ambiguity. He constantly holds your attention, making sure that his words are delivered with dominance and desire. Aside from the more poignant sounds, he also incorporates some ruthless bangers that truly elevate his enthusiasm and allow his emotions to come through unlike ever before, making sure that his passion is the driver of the ship as he allows himself to go off the rails in a remarkable manner.
With only 7 songs, the number of features he recruits can seem a bit overwhelming from the outside looking in, but each and every guest including Eryn Allen Kane, SAINt JHN, BJ The Chicago Kid, Peter CottonTale, and others play a pivotal role in complementing Vic rather than trying to one-up him.
All in all, V TAPE is a fantastic reintroduction for Vic back into the world of Rap, and although he seems to be a busy man with many different ventures on his plate, I can only hope that he continues to bless us with music similar to this much on a much more regular basis moving forward.
20) Serena Isioma • The Leo Sun Sets
If you’re an attentive listener, an amazing aspect of music is that there are great odds you’ll discover at least one talented artist per year. Chicago-based musician Serena Isioma is a prime example, who recently dropped a stunning new EP titled The Leo Sun Sets. Isioma quickly became a must-listen-to artist of mine this year, with her Sensitive EP serving as a proper introduction. Building on an alt-R&B base, Serena’s overall artistry is much more defined than any particular genre, ranging all the way from a strong rock star persona to mellowed-out sounds, at times, showing just how versatile Isioma truly is.
The Leo Sun Sets perfectly illustrates the artist’s stylistic tendencies, as the seven-track EP kicks off with an electrifying guitar and drum-dominant intro entitled “King.” Effortlessly flowing on the instrumentation, Isioma sets the record straight that she’s the ‘King of me,’ thereby forging a title that no one can strip from her. Equally impressive is the follow-up song “I Don’t Wanna Go,” which recruits D.C. based artist Mavi for a memorable rap verse. With an upbeat house kick, the pacing starts slowly to create a fascinatingly alternative synthetic blend. Serving as the third track, “Blue Sky” employs a similar vibe as the former, but the futuristic synths are much more apparent; the intentionally deepened vocals makes it a somewhat trippy offering, as Isioma shoots her shot at kissing a “pretty bi***” surrounded by a gorgeous environment.
It’s worth a mention that every transition on the project is flawless; the bass booming changeover to “Why Am I So Toxic” is as exceptional as it gets. With a common theme of love, Serena openly questions her own romantic flaws that she knows are problematic but simply can’t abandon. On “Meadows in Japan,” Isioma reveals that she needs to trust her partner more, which enables the process of learning “to love in every way.” Seemingly blissful, the record takes a turn when Isioma breaks the relationship off, to which she paradoxically blames herself for taking a blind leap of faith. In cinematic fashion, the second to last track is called “I Feel Fantastic,” which suggests Serena has moved on from her previous love stint. However, while unconfirmed, I would argue that Isioma is actively trying to feel better, as she admits that her head is spinning while gradually crashing. My interpretation is that Isioma is not necessarily lying, but rather painting the inevitable highs and lows that she experiences, post-relationship. On one end, the quality of being free produces magical feelings, whereas the flip side of the spectrum lies in another reality that it takes time to fully move on.
Last but not least, “Stop Calling The Police On Me” is the final offering, which stands out due to its relevancy and eerie subject matter. It’s not that Serena’s love life is unimportant, but compared to the ongoing issue of policing and racial injustice, even she would agree that her flings are trivial in comparison. Painting a harrowing picture of the Black experience and identity, Isioma begs others to stop calling the police on a group of people they cannot comprehend. Its structural relevancy may be criticized by other (specifically non-black) reviewers in terms of fit, but in my opinion, it’s a perfect ending that serves as an internal and external reminder that Isioma must constantly be alert concerning societal judgments of her own anatomy. Overall, The Leo Sun Sets is a remarkable project that contains plenty of conceptual depth, expressiveness, and vulnerability for its brief length.
19) Brittney Carter • As I Am
Brittney Carter is one of the most talented emcees that Chicago has to offer. I have ranted and raved about her skills on our website plenty of times in the past, and I patiently waited for her to release a project for 2-3 years. Lucky for us, Brittney took the next step in her career earlier this year, as she dropped her brand new debut project titled As I Am.
It took me a couple of days to find the time to listen to the tape when it first dropped, but once I did, I sat down for about an hour and ran this album back a few times. Since then, this project has been in constant rotation for me, but I’m not the only one, because many people that I respect are HUGE fans of Brittney. Fellow Chicago legend DJ Hotrod kicked off this tape as he had a few skits as the host of RNR Radio, and I felt like this was the perfect way to start off and build a theme in the project, as it reminded me of many classic albums that I love from the past such as Kush N OJ. Although Hotrod brought an awesome and comedic energy to the tape, the star of the show was without a doubt Brittney herself, as she provided us with nothing but great raps and smooth melodies.
Shout out to Brittney for putting out this amazing body of work – it was a long time coming but the wait was for sure worth it. This is, in my opinion, one of the best projects to come out of Chicago in 2020, which is why we ranked it at number nineteen on our countdown. Brittney has the potential to be a star, and I am so excited to watch her continue her journey in the years to come. If you aren’t yet familiar with her music, you can stream it below before you continue!
18) Hatesonny • Golden Child
I have discovered a lot of new dope artists from Chicago in 2020, but one of my favorites is Hatesonny. He released a project earlier this year called Golden Child and it’s without a doubt one of my favorite projects to drop this year out of Chicago and even worldwide, to be honest.
When you think about all of the amazing music that dropped this year, I understand that it’s a bold statement, but this project was arguably my personal favorite out of the city this year. I enjoy many different things about Hatesonny, as he has the ability to create any type of song that he wants to make – even so, however, one of them stands above them all to me.
Hatesonny’s record “Moonchild” is one of the best pieces of music that I have listened to this year. Sure, it’s not the most polished or glossy track, but it was a song that invoked emotion for me. Every time I listened to this track in 2020, it just made me feel good and helped make any bad day just a little bit better. Much love to the producer Luke Almighty for helping Hatesonny create that jam, and shout out to his aunt for providing him with the sample.
Don’t think that this project just has one track that makes it complete, because the entire tracklist is amazing. There are a few different types of sounds on this tape, so the odds are, there is at least one song that anyone can enjoy. I am excited for Hatesonny and to see what the future holds for him, and I predict a ton of success in his future. But for the time being, let’s just enjoy watching him grow.
17) Lud Foe • Guns Up Funds Up
West Side emcee Lud Foe has been making waves in the Chicago music scene for years and has proven that he shouldn’t be taken lightly in the slightest, whether that’s in music or in the streets. Earlier this year, he dropped off Guns Up Funds Up, a completely underrated album that is as aggressive as it sounds. What really drew me into this project was how multi-talented Lud truly is. He opens up on an all-out street anthem, spitting unapologetic bars that would leave anyone shaking in their boots and running for the hills.
Although I was looking forward to an entire album filled with these types of songs, he switches things up completely on the following track where he uses a piano-driven melody that lightens the mood slightly, although his lyricism still dives deep into his experiences in the trenches. This is a constant theme throughout the project, as he incorporates a mixture of the two completely diverse styles, ruthlessly going in on a beat that is as hostile as it is violent and fitting those vibes effortlessly before changing the narrative, thanking God for letting him evade certain situations while also making sure that listeners know how nothing he speaks about is made up or a joke, whatsoever.
Considering I didn’t have many expectations going into this album, I had no idea what was to come, but after finishing my first listen, I immediately went back for seconds because Lud’s story is way too captivating to hear just once. It’s one of those projects that with every additional listen, you not only pick up on more storylines, but you also get to know him on a deeper, more personal level that turns him from a violent, troublemaker from the streets – as he might be seen in some people’s eyes – to a much more down to Earth and humanized person who has an enthralling story to tell. Lud Foe has an absolutely remarkable album on his hands with Guns Up Funds Up, so if you haven’t tuned in quite yet, it’s well worth checking out considering it was an effortless addition to this list.
16) Famous Dex • Diana
Famous Dex has built a name for himself in the Chicago music scene through being one of the most infectiously enthusiastic rappers, performers, and personalities. Although he has this energetic and captivating disposition, he has also been through some extremely tough times growing up in the streets of this ruthless city that make it noteworthy and courageous that he can keep up with this animated and positive demeanor. This is clear on his album Diana, a project that follows up his 2018 album Dex Meets Dexter in a very touching, revealing manner that gives us another look at a more vulnerable side of the rapper that we don’t often see. Throughout his years growing up leading into his music career, he has dealt with heartbreak, loss, addiction, and more, and although he remains optimistic throughout the brunt of this album, he does touch on these topics copiously throughout, humanizing him and giving fans another look at who he is as a person rather than a performer.
Obviously, if you know anything about Dex, this album is named after and dedicated to his late mother who unfortunately passed away due to breast cancer in 2014, an event that some say sparked his efforts in music which would eventually go on to change his life forever. Aside from his struggles, Dex comes out as a new person on this project, persevering through the struggles he has faced in the past, using these things as fuel for the fire that burns ever so strong within him. At 17 songs and just over 45 minutes long, he gives us a mixture of touching, emotional tracks that are intermingled with other, more characteristic bangers that are sure to get any function bouncing. Although these two styles might not sound like they would fit together, Dex pieced this album together in such a way that you wouldn’t even notice the two sides of the artist if you were just listening to it casually. I definitely believe that Diana is a steppingstone for Famous Dex as an artist, and it’s something that I don’t think fans expected, but we greatly appreciate it now that we’ve had the chance to dive into the creative and artistic mind of the Chicago icon.
15) Jean Deaux • Watch This!
While many outsiders look at Chicago for its Drill influence in mainstream Rap music, there is so much more depth to the sounds coming out of the city, and Jean Deaux is one of the most complex and multifaceted artists that Chicago boasts. While she’s technically classified under genres like R&B, Neo Soul, and Hip-Hop, she’s one artist I simply can’t box into a singular category because her music sounds nothing like what anyone else is making. Not only is she dexterous and presents fans with an entire variety of styles, but she seems to master these things with what comes off as no effort whatsoever, naturally as can be.
When looking at her project Watch This! that released earlier this year, this is clear and obvious considering each and every cut off the EP is completely out of this world, portraying a multitude of styles that not only keep you on your toes, expecting the unexpected but also enthrall you in the wonderful musical world that she pieces together so meticulously. For the first half of the project, she incorporates some almost electronic, automated sounds that not only draw you in and show off her aptitudes in their entirety but also push Jean out of her comfort zone, which is a tactic she’s all too familiar with at this point.
While certain tracks still contain Hip-Hop forward beats, Jean knows how to add some differentiation by using the naturally melodious qualities within her voice to change things up and bring something new to the table each and every time. One of the only two features she includes on this project is Saba on their track “Moody!,” a record I wrote about when it first released and one which remains a personal favorite off the EP.
After fans had their cake and ate it with the original version of this project, Deaux didn’t allow the fun to stop there, gifting listeners with an additional 5 songs on the deluxe version, extending the legacy that this EP is highlighting for the Chicago icon.
While Jean Deaux is forever a staple in the Windy City music scene, Watch This! further emphasizes this point, and whether you’re from this beautiful city or not, it’s sure to be a fan favorite for years to come.
14) Knox Fortune • Stock Child Wonder
I had been patiently waiting for a new project from Chicago native Knox Fortune ever since he released Paradise in 2017, and after three long years of waiting, he finally unleashed his new body of work earlier this year! Knox Fortune blessed his growing fanbase with a brand new project titled Stock Child Wonder, and after a few dozens of listens through this tape, I was fully convinced that it was easily one of the best projects to come out of Chicago this year.
First off, the build-up to this project release was one of the most creative that I’ve seen in a minute, as the skits that Knox was executing were hilarious, playing off of the ‘Knox Fortune LLC’ idea. The music itself is unbelievably good as well, though. There are eleven songs on this tracklist that are unique in their own right but somehow flow in perfect cohesion together.
I loved all of the songs provided here, but my early favorites were “Sincerity” and “Gemini,” each for different reasons, but ear-pleasing nonetheless. Since then, the song “Shirtless” has become by far my favorite track on this one – it’s just so sonically smooth, I can’t even find the right words to express how good it is.
Knox is one of the most talented artists that Chicago has to offer and he’s a shining star in the alternative music space, so I hope that we can all acknowledge his creative genius and give him his flowers while he can smell them. 2020 was a weird and tough year all around, but this project from Knox Fortune made my year just a little bit better.
13) Mick Jenkins • The Circus
Ever since Mick Jenkins released The Healing Component back in 2016, he has dropped off a slew of various albums, EPs, and other projects that have contributed to his legacy. Most recently, he dropped The Circus right at the top of this year. At 7 songs and just under 20 minutes in length, Mick takes things back to a much more nostalgic, recognizable sound, similar to the one I was first drawn to back when I was introduced to The Water[s] – however, he has clearly come such a long way and has grown not only as an artist but as an individual, as well.
During certain cuts on this project, he tiptoes and creeps in the shadows of the night, reciting line after line with conviction and aggression in such a ruthless, captivating manner. At the same time, other records lighten the mood and introduce us to the more introspective, thought-out, soulful side of himself – a side that is familiar yet distanced considering that just when you think you have him figured out, he introduces us to something new and unexpected, constantly keeping fans on our toes.
Out of the 7 tracks, Jenkins carefully includes only one feature from Dreamville’s EARTHGANG, one of my favorite duos in music at the moment. While they’re as individualistic as they come, their funky, soul-inspired flows and deliveries combine with Mick in a seamlessly remarkable fashion, making it an effortless addition to the EP. Aside from this, Mick takes the brunt of the load himself, constantly rotating throughout his various aptitudes, merging them together fluidly without making any song sound out of place or abnormal.
I myself could listen to Mick Jenkins’ discography on repeat for the rest of my life and never grow tired of his music, and The Circus contributes some incredible records to his arsenal of offerings, making it a must-listen whether you’re a fan of the Chicago icon (as you should be) or not.
12) Cdot Honcho • H5
Cdot Honcho has been a standout in Chicago for a few years now, leading him to become one of the staples in the music community here. This year, he further solidified himself as one of the best rappers in Chicago with his new project, H5. This body of work was without a doubt one of my personal favorite tapes of the year to come out of the city, and Cdot showed why he is held in such high regard with this one. His music and rapping abilities shine in many different aspects such as his creative wordplay, multiple different ear-grabbing flows, and his consistency when it comes to tearing beats apart, just to name a few. However, I believe that one thing that Cdot doesn’t get enough credit for is his versatility in his music.
This man has proved many times that he can make any type of song, but I never see this get talked about. H5 was a perfect example of this. Certain songs like “Warrior,” “Gang” featuring Calboy, and “THC” are hard-hitting joints where he just goes off and flexes his pure rapping ability. Meanwhile, he shows more of the introspective side of himself on the tape’s opening record “At Peace,” where he speaks on his life and how he got to this point. Lastly, a track like “Vibes” finds Cdot putting more of a love song together, making for a smooth and ear-pleasing addition that I could see getting some air time on radio stations.
I could keep going on and on about this project, but nothing I can type means more than you just listening to it and judging for yourself. Much love to Cdot for having yet another fantastic year and giving us a memorable project – us fans truly appreciate all that you do.
11) Chief Keef • The GloFiles (Pt. 4)
If there was a Mount Rushmore of Chicago talent, Chief Keef would not only be on the mountain, but he most likely would have carved it himself, as well. The amount of influence he has not only on up-and-coming artists but also mainstays in the music industry is untraceable because he has affected the way almost every single rapper approaches music, being cited time and time again by artists of all levels of fame and fortune as an influence and trendsetter. Although this year might be considered a slow moment in time for him when compared to previous years where he has released 6+ projects, he did decide to release the fourth edition of his The Glofiles series.
On this mixtape, Keef gifts us 12 new songs that run just over 40 minutes long, giving us a taste of classic Keef sounds with a new spin in the form of experimental instrumentals and colorful deliveries. While some cuts off of this tape show him close to his final form, unapologetically mumbling his way through some hairy stories from his time back in the streets of Chicago, other tracks allow him to expand his range as he sings over electronic-inspired beats in his overly-autotuned vocals in a way that is so individualistic, you have no choice but to pay attention and give him the props he deserves.
While this project might’ve been made up of a slew of previously teased or leaked songs, it doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Keef is one of the most inventive artists in the game and will retain that badge until he retires, if that ever even happens.
For most rappers, when they get to their 34th mixtape, they’re almost always going to be looked at as being washed up and outdated, but at the young age of 25, Chief Keef can be argued to be in his prime. After so many years and even more waves in the music world, Chief Keef continues to play by his own rules and doesn’t let outsider opinions sway him whatsoever on The Glofiles (Pt. 4), making it an automatic addition to this list.
10) Serena Isioma • Sensitive
Serena Isioma is a new artist that I believe has the most potential to blow up and become a superstar in the years to come, but for this moment right now, she is the most exciting new artist coming out of the music community here. Serena has all of the qualities that you look for in a star; the voice of an angel, the ear to create undeniably catchy melodies, the understanding of how to create and sequence a memorable project, the “look,” and the great personality to match.
Her EP Sensitive is a great example of where all of these things are visible, packed into a relatively quick, five-track listen. The project starts off with the title track, and I know this is a bold statement but I believe this song might be one of the top ten best songs to come out of Chicago all year long. It’s so f*cking good and addicting, and her fanbase clearly agrees, because the song has surpassed seven million streams on Spotify alone. It’s not like the title track is the only great song on the tape though, because the tracklist only gets better the further that you go, and before you know it, you’ll find yourself running the entire EP back from the top over and over again.
I am so proud of Serena Isioma and all that she has been able to accomplish this year, and I can really see her becoming one of the best all-time artists out of Chicago when it’s all said and done. There’s a good reason why she landed in the top twenty twice, and is landing here at #10, because SHE HAS TRUE TALENT. If you aren’t familiar with Serena Isioma yet, please take my word and stream this project below, the odds are that most of you readers will LOVE this EP.
9) theMIND • Don’t Let It Go To Your Head
Whether you’re actually from Chicago or you’re just familiar with the music scene in the city, you know just how important theMIND is for the music culture within the Windy City. He has been grinding tirelessly for years in order to drop off some of the most impeccable music in the entire industry, yet he never seems to get the props he deserves outside of Chicago for some reason. Those who know him know exactly what others are missing out on, though, and they flock to every single release he gifts us, whether it’s a loosie, a project, or even his work on songs with other artists. He seems to be in touch with his fellow Chi-Town musicians unlike anyone else, not only working with an entire slate of massive names but also elevating each and every song he plays a part in, big or small.
Although it has been a few years since we received a cohesive project from theMIND, he ended that drought this year with the release of his album Don’t Let it Go to Your Head, an 11-song effort that comes in at just under a half-hour long. While there’s an abundance of topics and themes he discusses throughout, this seems like his most revealing work of art to date, and it truly gives listeners a look inside of the Chicago talent, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. His words are emotionally charged no matter what the vibe of the production being used is, and he uses his past pain and struggles to fuel his delivery, which is clear throughout every single record on this project.
His vocals are very unique and particular, coming through powerfully yet somewhat careful, as if to avoid saying the wrong thing while constantly wearing his heart on his sleeve and cutting himself open to his core, letting his previous experiences just pour out into every single song. His use of multiple vocal layers at times brings a sense of command and captivation to the project, adding even more depth and further stressing the topics he’s delving into. This allows for other, more singular lines to also shine on their own as if to avoid any sort of muffle when he truly wants to get his points across.
As far as the production is concerned, he intermingles a plethora of different styles, sometimes throwing in an R&B-influenced sound that is followed up by some Neosoul, Rap, Jazz, and a whole mixture of other genres that just seem to work so effortlessly with one another. The title of the album is important to him on a personal note, because even though he covers topics that are close to home such as overthinking situations, struggles in the Black community, the anxieties that come with artistry and fame, struggles in relationships, and his uncharacteristic and often difficult upbringing, he needs to constantly remind himself to not place too much weight on his back or let the little things go to his head.
While this is a constant struggle throughout the project, he often takes moments to reflect and gather himself, which is clear during certain points on the album. His carefully selected features include a slew of familiar faces like Kari Faux, Qari, Phoelix, Saba, and others, and considering he has a long history of making music with these individuals, their chemistry and harmony with one another couldn’t be more enthralling.
All in all, this might be one of my personal favorite albums on this list for an entire plethora of reasons, so if you somehow haven’t heard Don’t Let it Go to Your Head by theMIND by now, make sure you do so as soon as you possibly can.
8) Lil Eazzyy • Underrated
Drill music is obviously one of if not the most recognized Chicago subgenres of Rap, but the thing is, most outsiders look at it as if it’s a lane of music that’s full of clones. People might think that it’s a bunch of aggressive emcees just spewing threats and bragging about violence over hard-hitting, percussion-heavy instrumentals, but if you truly take the time to listen up and explore the genre, you’d know that it goes so much deeper than the surface.
Lil Eazzyy is the perfect example because just when you think you might have him figured out, you move onto another song and he completely turns things around 180 degrees. He first gained some traction when his song “Onna Come Up” went viral, and although this song is an absolute hit in every sense of the word, it’s abundantly clear that he wasn’t content with being a one-hit-wonder, which is something that’s more than obvious on his debut EP Underrated.
It opens up with his breakout song which boasts some ruthless bars that pierce right through to your core, and this aggressive style can be heard on other cuts throughout like “Feeling Different” and “Big Dog”. What I enjoy about this style of his music is that it’s almost nostalgic in a sense, bringing me back to the days when G Herbo was known as Lil Herb while spitting some of the most ferocious lyrics of all time. More recently, Polo G has been known to share this side of himself as well, and although I know Eazzyy has received these comparisons in the past, that’s still some extremely high praise considering they’re some of the biggest artists in the game right now. Although I can see similarities, Eazzyy also has his own unique individualism that is as differentiating as it is inventive.
On songs like “Finally Rich” and “Kick Da Door”, he actually full-on sings, boasting some unbelievable vocals that are as tuneful as they are emotive. After hearing some of the more ruthless offerings that I mentioned before, it doesn’t seem like he would possess this other side of himself or his skills, but then you get to these records and you realize you simply have to expect the unexpected when it comes to Eazzyy, because at the young age of 18 and being so early on in his career, he is already proving that he’s one of the most dexterous, versatile artists coming out of the city, and although there is a clear Drill influence in his music, he’s far from strictly being a one-sided Drill rapper.
Although this EP is only 7 songs long and just over 17 minutes, Eazzyy makes sure to give listeners a sneak peek at all of his versatility in one place, hyping fans up and getting us prepared for the takeover that he’s about to unleash. I can’t speak highly enough of Lil Eazzyy or his debut project Underrated which means that its inclusion on this list was a no-brainer, making it one of the eazziest additions we made when putting it together.
7) Calboy • Long Live The Kings
Obviously, if you’ve made it to this point of the list, you’ve recognized the plethora of Drill artists we’ve already pointed out prior to Calboy. After tuning in to all of their unique and individualistic projects respectively, you should understand that even though they all might be considered Drill rappers, each and every artist has their own characteristic sound that differentiates them from the telltale, expected sounds spread throughout the subgenre. As for Calboy, he has had an absolutely massive year in his own right.
After last year’s breakout success Wildboy, some listeners were skeptical of if he could keep up with that impressive effort, but Long Live The Kings, his follow-up EP, proved that he undeniably deserves a portion of the spotlight in the city, and he was going to take it for himself whether music fans liked it or not. Luckily and unsurprisingly, they did thoroughly enjoy his music following his debut project, leading him to a spot on the coveted XXL Freshman cover, and it’s much deserved if I do say so myself.
As for Long Live The Kings, the originally 6-song EP was doubled in length with the introduction of the deluxe version, contributing even more incredibility to the already remarkable project. While Calboy might be considered a Drill artist due to the subject matter he discusses and the city he’s from, it’s hard to listen to this EP and box him into this singular subgenre, because he clearly has influences spanning across all different types of music. While the percussion and some of the drums that are sprinkled throughout the beat might be reminiscent of other Drill music, the melodies are anything but common, and the way Calboy’s melodious voice complements these tuneful portions of each and every record is absolutely captivating.
His words are often sung in a calm yet sorrowful manner, which makes sense because themes of heartbreak, loss, and pain are heard in abundance. Even when Calboy reverts to straight-up rapping, his words come through in quite a harmonious way that elevates the emotions he’s going through as he relives these aching moments throughout his life. Amongst these struggles, Calboy does find certain moments to celebrate his accomplishments and even boast about some of the successes he has achieved through all of his hard work, but he never dwells too long on these things because he not only remembers some of the sacrifices he had to make along the way, but he also understands that there’s still has a long way to go to truly get to the place he wants to be.
All of the features here are carefully curated to add even more to his story throughout, including verses from massive stars like Lil Tjay, G Herbo, Lil Baby, King Von, Polo G, Fivio Foreign, and Yo Gotti. While each of these guests provides expansion on the narratives he delves into, Cal makes sure that his voice is the one being heard louder and clearer than anyone else. It’s still unbelievable to me that at the young age of 21, he has made such a mark on the music industry over the past couple of years, but you can tell from listening to any one of his records that he’s nowhere near close to being finished. While it wouldn’t be unheard of to place this EP even higher than it already is, I think it’s only a matter of time before Calboy drops off even more unbelievable music, so make sure you tune into Long Live The Kings if you’ve somehow missed out on it up until now.
6) Lucki • Almost There & The World is Lucki’s
When it comes to Lucki and his music, he’s a bit of an anomaly. He has been steadily making hits for the better part of a decade and his sound is as distinctive as he is himself. This seems like it should be the recipe for world-wide fame, however, he has remained in the shadows, moving in silence and never seeming to truly want the fame and recognition that other artists get. He simply seems to just want the money and luxurious things without necessarily getting the recognition and hordes of fans flocking to him every time he leaves his home; at least, his nonchalant, low-key demeanor gives off this impression.
Lucki has constantly dealt with struggles throughout his life which is something that he has never been afraid to go into detail about throughout his music, and this is something that seems to have gotten more prevalent as he has grown in popularity. On Almost There, he uses the EP as a sort of place holder to tide listeners over until his next fully cohesive project, but he definitely doesn’t just drop off some throwaways and loosies as some people might’ve expected after hearing the job this project was supposed to do. Instead, he dives headfirst even deeper into his inner psyche, allowing his innermost thoughts to exude from within him and shine through hypnotic deliveries and mumbled words.
While addiction has been a theme that he has heavily detailed in the past, it seems like his dependency on drugs and struggles with relationships were what his early music had revolved around. Now, after so many years of making music, he might be past the dependency on some of these things, but he simply seems to have trouble moving on and looking into the future, rather resorting to his past and dwelling on these things. This reveals some of the innermost insecurities that he wasn’t necessarily capable of talking about at a younger age, but his maturity and transparency have helped him make sure to not hide anything anymore because there’s simply no need.
Lucki’s beat selection is absolutely insane considering most of the synth-heavy melodies provide an airy, almost upbeat vibe that is juxtaposed by the chattering percussion, thunderous 808s, and of course, Lucki’s unphased, indifferent disposition that has always been quite compelling for fans ever since his early days. While his enthusiasm never truly elevates and he seems to remain even-keeled throughout the majority of this EP, and pretty much all of his music in the past, there is a filtered, subdued pain that shines on him as he casually makes his way throughout this project.
After we were given the opportunity to bump Almost There for quite a few months repeatedly, Lucki decided he wasn’t finished for the year, recently dropping off The World is Lucki’s, an EP that only boasts 3 songs and lasts just over 6 minutes long, but it packs a very concise, addicting punch nonetheless. Before tuning in for the first time, a friend of mine texted me and said “Holy shit, the old Lucki is back,” and this statement rang very true to me after getting a chance to listen. The beats are calm, playful, uncharacteristic, and appealing, but even more so, Lucki’s unphased, casual disposition just carries us all the way through, as he never seems to worry about the negatives but rather embraces them wholeheartedly. The nostalgia is at an all-time high when it comes to this quick EP, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out right at the end of the year.
Overall, between both projects, while he recognizes the damage that his addictions and struggles cause him physically and emotionally, he seems to brush them off because they’re part of what makes him feel like himself, and even though this seems like it could be a slippery slope, Lucki is fully transparent about these things and makes sure to wear his heart on his sleeve as he doesn’t want to sugarcoat the emotions he has no choice but to deal with. Considering Almost There is pretty much a placeholder even with all of its artistry and incredibility, I can’t imagine what his next actual move is going to be, and The World is Lucki’s is just an extension of this build-up. Either way, these EPs definitely deserve a spot towards the top of this list, and although Lucki might remain an underground legend forever, he’s clearly a legend nonetheless, and the underground is where he thrives, so I don’t think he has many complaints about this status whatsoever.
5) G Herbo • PTSD
G Herbo is obviously one of the most notorious mainstays in the Chicago rap scene, and although he might’ve started off strictly in the booming Drill subgenre, he has clearly come a very long way since his humble beginnings. Nonetheless, he makes sure to never forget these early moments in his life even for a second, bringing real-life truthful tales from his time in the trenches together with his newer, more impressive lifestyle that he has obviously worked tirelessly to be able to live.
On this year’s album PTSD, the title describes his state of mind perfectly, because while most people don’t have to deal with even a fraction of the events that he has witnessed, I’m sure we can all understand just how impactful and frightening these things would be if we had to go through them as well. While the acronym PTSD refers to the flashbacks of previous life-changing events that caused some major trauma in your life, G Herbo makes sure to not dwell on these moments but never forget them either, using them as proverbial fuel for his intense and passionately burning fire that comes to the forefront of each and every bar he spits on this record.
As I said before, Herb might’ve taken the music world by storm with his Drill-inspired style, and although this is still evident throughout a plethora of this album, it’s also obvious that he has become dexterous and knows how to adapt to different styles that he might’ve not been comfortable with at one point in his career, but feels right at home at this point in time. Certain Soul and R&B-influences come to the forefront in songs like “Gangstas Cry” featuring BJ The Chicago Kid, which is obvious considering the soulful, moving qualities that are naturally abundant within BJ’s voice, but G Herbo does a remarkable job of fitting right in and adapting his normally aggressive flow to a much more calm, relaxed, and passionate cadence that captivates your attention early on.
After this, tracks like “In This Bitch” and “Death Row” take us back to a much more ruthless, hostile state of mind where Herb goes completely off the rails and absolutely kills each and every bar he spits, putting your brain in a blender as he rapidly recites his lines. What’s even more impressive aside from his quick flow is the stories he’s telling, calling out specific homies that died way too soon, some not very legal activities, and other struggles he has witnessed first-hand as the result of his upbringing. While features like A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Lil Durk, 21 Savage, and Polo G bring some diversity to the party without taking away from the overall narrative considering they all have experienced similar upbringing, I think it’s obvious that no song takes the cake quite like the title track does.
On PTSD, Herb gets a posthumous verse from the one and only Juice WRLD, some assistance from his hometown friend Chance the Rapper, and Philadelphia’s very own legend Lil Uzi Vert. While this type of song is nothing like anything these three artists would normally be found on, Herb somewhat meets them in the middle, pushing them out of their comfort zones as much as he is pushed out of his own, ultimately leading to one of, if not the best song on this entire album, in my opinion. Regardless, PTSD takes us on a wild ride that lasts just over 45 minutes long that is jam-packed with outstanding stories and even more compelling real-life moments in G Herbo’s life, making it an effortless addition to the top 10 projects on this list.
4) Lil Durk • Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 & The Voice
You might see a reoccurring theme throughout this list where we mention Chicago legends, and although this is a very exclusive list, there truly are a ton of icons coming out of the city that this might just seem too common, at this point. Nonetheless, Lil Durk is towards the top of this list, if not in the actual number 1 spot, and the way he has transformed his career throughout the years has been quite an entertaining journey to watch unfold. Starting out in the streets, his music recorded the battles that would unfold in front of him and were translated directly to the studio without leaving any details out.
When he began to gain more traction beyond the streets of the Windy City, he began to experiment a bit more and brought a new side of himself to life, leading to an unbelievably dexterous, fruitful career that most Drill artists can’t even fathom. Despite the fact that he might’ve been able to move away from the more violent, sobering activities that used to occur on a daily basis, he has made it a point throughout his career to never forget these moments because they’re truly what turned him into the person he is today, and he’ll always back up his block no matter how famous or successful he becomes.
While some artists might claim this in their rhymes and retreat when put to the test, the way Durk talks on Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 makes you believe and trust that he is completely about everything he talks about and isn’t afraid to back up his crew. In fact, he welcomes it, but this is only obvious throughout portions of the album because while he might be threatening and aggressive at times, the majority of the project shows another, much more vulnerable side of the Chi-town legend. It’s almost like instead of popularizing and glorifying the moves he and his clique have made in the past, he remembers the repercussions from these events, paying homage to those who have died as well as some of the more eye-opening, sorrowful incidences that took place as a result.
It’s almost like he’s writing an autobiography, as his music often portrays, but the emotions that come through his messages are more relevant and revealing than ever before. While certain autotuned singing cuts allow pain and passion to exude from his voice, other hostile, assertive tracks put his anger and vengeance on a pedestal, allowing listeners to capture both sides of his conscience. Additionally, there are portions throughout where he gives thanks and truly reminisces on how blessed he is to have the possessions he has and be in the position he is. Durk has seen first-hand so many people have these things taken away in the blink of an eye, so he makes sure to not take anything for granted even slightly.
When it comes to The Voice, Durk decided to give fans a gift right before Christmas to round out the year, and we rejoiced at the wonderful new album. While I wish I had more time to dissect the project and truly do it justice, I can already tell from one run through that he has another hit for his already insane discography. The cover art pays homage to his dearly departed homie King Von and considering the duo was so close with one another and Von’s unfortunate passing happened so recently, you can just hear the pain and sorrow within his voice on many of the cuts off of this album. Although it had to be beyond tough to record while grieving, this gives us a raw, real-life look inside of Durk’s emotions that are as powerful as they are disheartening at times. We also receive another wonderful verse from Von on “Still Trappin'”, one of the more ruthless tracks on the project, but it also provides even further evidence as to why Von was undeniably the next big thing to come out of the city. While this album might be much more emotive than his earlier release this year, it is absolutely remarkable, to say the least, and that’s after just one listen, so I can’t wait to play this on repeat for the foreseeable future and uncover all of the artistry that Durk has worked long and hard to perfect.
Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 and The Voice are absolutely outstanding additions to the legacy of Lil Durk, and although it’s tough to place one of them at the very top of his discography, either album could arguably fit right in up there. Make sure to see for yourself if you somehow haven’t already done so, because both albums are definitely two of the top projects released all year, Chicago or otherwise.
3) King Von • Welcome To O’Block
When we were first brainstorming this list and were coming up with artists who undeniably deserved a spot, King Von was one of the easiest inclusions for us. His storytelling is one of a kind, his passion is always on full display, and his enthusiasm is just enthralling, quickly making him one of the most compelling artists to come out of Chicago in the past few years. That’s why, when I first began to think about what I would write to do his project Welcome to O’Block justice, I was going to take a much different approach than what’s to come. Unfortunately – and it’s honestly painful to even write these words because it hits me and the rest of Von’s fanbase on such a deep, personal level – he was taken from this earth way too soon just about a week after the album’s release, leaving the music world at a standstill.
I personally still haven’t even come close to recovering from this loss, and as much as it pains me to write about another premature death in the Chicago music scene, Von deserves all the praise in the world for the unbelievably individualistic talents that are heard in abundance throughout this album, as well as the plethora of other offerings he has blessed fans with over the past few years. On Welcome to O’Block, Von proves just how important of a contribution he was making to the plateauing Drill scene in the city. I only mention the plateau because it seems like recently, there haven’t been many versatile, unique additions to the subgenre after it took off over a half-decade ago, with Von being one of the only exceptions to the situation.
The instrumentals used are momentous, powerful, aggressive, and authoritative, bringing us back to a time in Drill where artists used these platforms to catapult themselves into topics such as guns, drugs, violence, and women, almost glorifying these darker, more unfavorable things. For Von, he used similar instrumentals in order to provide a bit of a nostalgia factor, but instead of glorifying these narratives, he talked about them the only way he knew how.
He did so through truthful, first-person accounts as if he was a documentarian reciting an audiobook, mentioning friends, enemies, and everyone in-between as he highlighted some of the most life-changing events that unfolded throughout his life. Whether he talked about members of his crew being killed, doing time in prison, selling various illegal items to make a living, or other tales from the streets, he never praised or bragged about these moments but rather detailed them in a way that shows his uncanny perseverance and determination to make it out of that situation. He also made it abundantly clear that although he had to do these things to live at one point, he was doing this to make a better life for his family, never out of greed or self-indulgence.
Despite the inclusion of some incredibly talented features like Lil Durk, Dreezy, Polo G, and Fivio Foreign, amongst others, Von never allows himself to be overshadowed or outworked, proving that he truly was a one of a kind, game-changing artist. Chicago might not ever recover from a loss as big as King Von, but the music he left behind for fans proves that his voice and legacy will live on forever. Although Welcome to O’Block might’ve been his final album before his passing, it also might arguably be his best work as well.
With that, I want to say rest in peace Von, and long live the King.
2) Polo G • THE GOAT
This list is never easily put together because there are so many projects that deserve the top spot it’s almost impossible to have a clear-cut winner. When you see our number 1 selection, I think you’ll have a hard time arguing with our decision because that album undeniably deserves it and I think Polo G would agree wholeheartedly. However, I don’t know if there would be much controversy had we placed THE GOAT in the top spot.
When Polo first took the world by storm, most fans recognize him from his hit single “Pop Out”, a song that later received a remix featuring Lil Baby and Gunna that even further solidified his spot as a top prospect coming out of the Chicago music scene – but what’s even more important is the fact that his music goes so much deeper than this radio banger.
While THE GOAT contains some unbelievably upbeat, party anthems and aggressive bangers, it contains even more truthful, sensitive, and impassioned tracks that are even more captivating than what were originally probably supposed to be the singles and standouts on the project. Throughout the album, he includes production by some of the biggest names in the game including Tay Keith, Murda Beatz, Mustard, Mike Will Made-It, and Hit-boy. Even though these producers have their own unique styles and aptitudes, they seem to adapt to Polo’s wide variety of talents, both pushing him out of his comfort zone while also setting his narratives and cadences up for success, even though it’s obvious that Capalot would undeniably kill any verse on any beat.
Additionally, Polo incorporates features from some of the biggest artists in the industry including the late Juice WRLD, NLE Choppa, Stunna 4 Vegas, Lil Baby, and BJ The Chicago Kid. Even with some of these household names, Polo makes sure that his story is still being told in the most honest way possible while still paving a way for these guests to share a storyline of their own because he recognizes that even if these artists are from different parts of the country, a lot of them are much more similar than they are different, so their narratives are one and the same. Songs like “Flex” and “Go Stupid” are obvious hits, bringing a different vibe that is as catchy as it is moving, but these songs don’t come close to some of the solo efforts he gets into that put his upbringing on a pedestal for everyone to ingest and dissect.
The melodious qualities within his voice might come off as somewhat playful or nonchalant, but there is a very obvious hint of melancholy behind the notes he sings that pair flawlessly with the real-life plots he delves into about violence, drugs, and unforgettable events that would go on to stain his memory and change him as a person to this very day. The Drill influence that comes through within Polo’s music is clear, but it’s hard to classify him as a Drill artist because there is literally not a single artist in that subgenre that’s making music anywhere close to the kind of music that Polo is, so I don’t think it’s unsafe to say that he’s in a lane of his own in a car that’s so fast, no one is going to catch him.
On THE GOAT, Polo G truly engulfs listeners in the wild, intense, and often heartbreaking life that he has lived up until this point. Even with the blessings he now has coming his way, he can never forget the events that led him to his success, and he wants to make sure that fans understand his struggles and fight not as a brag, but as a sense of empowerment and encouragement, reminding listeners through his own stories that they can overcome any obstacle or battle with a lot of determination and perseverance.
1) Juice WRLD • Legends Never Die
The story of Jarad Higgins, also known as Juice WRLD, will be one that is told in movies, documentaries, books, classrooms, etc. for generations to come. It’s almost unbelievable when you think about all that Juice was able to accomplish in his lifetime, but especially in the less than two years that he took the music world by storm – seriously, just take a second to think about this. A young teenager who was freshly graduated from Homewood Flossmoor High School created some music in his bedroom that would not only change his own life and impact the lives of his family and friends but would also go on to help millions upon millions of people all over the globe with work that is timeless and will live forever.
Although Legends Never Die came to fruition after his tragic passing, the legacy he left behind within his music is absolutely remarkable, to say the least. Each of the 22 songs on this project gives us an even deeper look into the constantly churning mind of the young talent, whether that’s through skits, interludes, or the songs themselves, and it’s legitimately impossible for me to press play on any of these records and not immediately get goosebumps.
During the non-musical cuts, hearing his messages full of positivity, perseverance, and straight-up love is just unbelievable because the fact that he can express these emotions to the world and have them actually resonate with each and every listener rather than just one specific person makes you realize how truly powerful his voice was if there was somehow any room for doubt in your mind. Despite this positive energy, his pain and struggles were clear throughout each and every song as he took time to discuss heartbreak, addiction, anguish, and stress, among many other things, but even so, there just always seemed to be this glimmer of hope and resilience no matter how much was going on in his head.
Juice also seemed to make a point of not singularly talking about himself, and while his struggles might be related to his own situation, he made sure that they can be ingested by anyone of any age, helping them get through whatever situations they’re going through, even if they’re not directly correlated to his own state of mind.
As for the features that were selected, it’s clear that these guests represent his likelihood nobly and respectably, wanting to honor his legacy and give their best efforts to make sure Juice would be proud of the outcome, as I’m sure he definitely is looking down from above. Whether it’s his little brother LAROI, his hometown homie Polo G, a dream collaborator in The Weeknd, or other incredible talents like Trippie Redd, Marshmello, and Halsey, each feature gives us their all, and this is obvious when listening to the end product.
Aside from this, Juice’s voice is as powerful and captivating as it has ever been, and although it’s beyond unfortunate that he’s not here to witness the love and admiration fans are going to continue to show for decades to come, he was so very clearly loved even before the tragedy that happened just over a year ago. Everyone I’ve talked to who had an opportunity to be around him has said that he never took this love for granted in the slightest, absorbing all the affection and exuding positivity and optimistic energy right back to the masses.
Juice WRLD worked extremely hard to become the monumental artist that he became, and although he is no longer here with us physically, his energy will never die, and he will live forever through the art that he created. Juice WRLD is the most special artist that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime, and I am confident that I will never see an artist be able to do the things that he did in the short amount of time that he did them in. Regardless, I’m just glad that I was on this planet at the same time to see him achieve everything that he did. Posthumous albums can be tricky and hard to put together, but Juice’s camp did a phenomenal job here with everything from the cover art to the sequence of the album, to the songs themselves. Thank you for honoring Juice’s legacy the way that it deserved to be, all of his fans appreciate it.
Long live Juice WRLD.