If you recall we released our “Top 50 Chicago Projects of 2016” list on the 31st last year, so it we had to bring it back this year due to the insane amount of talent that is coming out of Chicago. Each & every one of the artists included created something special this year for the world, but especially for the city, so it’s only right that we acknowledge their efforts. Please remember that this is in our opinion, & our opinions really don’t mean shit.
Thank you to our terrific writing staff for all of the hard work they have put in this year, I will be linking their socials below so be sure to contact them about getting featured on the website in the future.
This year has been a year of massive growth for Lyrical Lemonade as a whole: from getting our own HQ, to selling out shows in other cities, being featured in the Chicago Reader, working with some of our idols, growing our overall presence and much more. All of us here at LL would like to thank our supporters, whether you just came across Lyrical Lemonade or if you have been showing love since day one, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I promise we have some exciting stuff in store for the fans in 2018.
50) Adam Wilson – Dear So & So
Adam Wilson is a singer, songwriter, and producer that is pretty underground, but one listen to his music, and you’re sure to become a fan. He has one of the best and cleanest male voices I heard in 2017. His music is a mix of R&B, Soul, and hip-hop. ‘Dear So & So is a story of the stages of a relationship that Adam has experienced in his past. He tells us all the highs and lows in a way that’ll have you in your feelings for sure. This EP is bright, soothing, and just simply incredible.
49) Human – The Roseland Free Lunch Program
Human is a Chicago native that has been one of my favorite rappers to listen to for the past couple years, and this year he blessed us with his brand new tape called “The Roseland Free Lunch Program.” This project is a total of five tracks in length with one feature from Jakson, and contains production from Black Milk & CBBeats, while a majority of the songs were produced by Human himself. He really excelled on this project in my opinion, flexing his wordplay, storytelling skills, and all around lyrical ability. Human truly is one of the best spitters in Chicago, it’s about time this man gets the credit he deserves, check out the brand new tape below!
48) Freako – Oasis EP
Freako’s been all over our pages this past year with the release of several eye-popping visuals and strong singles but his inevitable progression was truly established with the drop of the Oasis EP back in April. The project’s heavy, emotion driven production is mostly thanks to Jay-R Beats who has since gone on to work with another notable Chicago heavyweight, Supa Bwe, on Finally Dead. Frequent collaborator and fast rising producer, Luke Almighty, also assisted with a few tracks on Oasis which gave it the dynamic edge only “Almighty On The Beat” can provide. Overall, Freako created an elaborate soundscape for the listener to indulge in, drawing lines between everyday reality and living completely in your head. He also got intimate on the use of vices as a means of escapism; a theme his cathartic flow certainly embodied thus resulting in one of the most addicting albums of 2017.
47) Nuworld Kayo – Southside Blue Hearts
Nuworld Kayo has became a LL favorite in 2017, and for good reason too, his project Southside Blue Hearts showed arguably the most promise out of this next wave of Chicago talent. This one is a total of ten tracks in length, and if there’s one thing i can take away from this tape, it’s that I was entertained the entire way through. Too often nowadays when rappers drop projects, there might be a song or two that you skip, or consider them just fillers. However, Kayo had my upmost attention for every single second as he proved that he is fully capable of creating an all around solid tape, which is why he is landing at #47 on our list.
46) Charlie Curtis Beard – Existentialism on Lake Shore Drive
Charlie Curtis-Beard stood out to me this year with his brand new album titled “Existentialism on Lake Shore Drive”. There is a total of thirteen records on this new album, and after my first listen through I must admit that I am blown away, to say the least. Charlie didn’t waste any time making sure that this project started off on a positive note, coming into the intro track with with plenty of memorable bars and a great energy, and both of those things continued throughout the entire track list. The features on this project come from the likes of Lyrical lemonade favorite Kiraly Payne, Leah Jean, Nick Henderson, Isis Serrano, Marcellis, Melody Kai, Hunter Kennedy, Ajani Jones, Leah Zeiger, Oby, Shawn Rieke, Brian Danzy and last but certainly not least, Kira Annalee. Each of these artists did a fantastic job of using their great vocal or rapping abilities in order to compliment Charlie’s signature style flawlessly, the chemistry on this tape was unbelievable. I really enjoyed this project and I believe that you will too, stream it below!
45) Rooski – Midnight Club EP
Roo$ki Dash leveled up ccompletely on the Midnight Club Ep, easily his best piece of work to date. Aided by gloomy heavy hitting beats provided by Mayhem Meech and more, Roo$ki drops hypnotizing bars about dealing with the darkness in life while keeping the finesse raps we have come to love from the Dash boy. This is definitely Roo’s standout drop and while all the tracks are bangers, “Attached” and “Lights” stood out to me in particular. They are not your typical love songs; filled with destructive undertones and addictive flow, these have to be some of the best songs in his catalog yet. Don’t sleep on some of the grimiest music coming out of the city and be sure to check out the Midnight Club Ep.
44) LA VanGogh – Everything Is Subjective: Episode 1
No he is not from L.A., but he is one of the dopest musicians coming up in Chicago at the moment and the release of Everything Is Subjective: Episode 1 proves just that. L.A. VanGogh paints his own story through transparent lyrics that remind listeners how easy it is to get lost in the mind. By showing us that everything really is subjective, L.A. offers another life perspective to ease the stress of day to day life, and when backed with groovy instrumentation one can’t help but nod along and feel some weight lift away. Blake Davis and Sam Trump join L.A. for an amazing closing track on “Escapism” and solidify it as one of our favorite, more insightful projects of 2017.
43) Rich Jones – Light Work EP
The Chicago native and Lyrical Lemonade favorite returned this year with a brand new EP titled “Light Work”. After my first listen through this tape I immediately wondered who put together these ear grabbing instrumentals, and I was soon pleased to find that Rich paired with lauded producer Vapor Eyes, a prominent member of the Push Beats collective to make this one possible. I have been a fan of Rich Jones for a few years now but I must say that this is by far some of his best work, there was so many stand out moments of soothing melodies, perfectly executed flows and flat out euphoria, that feeling that only a certain type of great music can bring out. A couple of my favorite moments on this project were the flows he caught in “Outroglide”, as well as the melody and piercing bars he was spitting on “Duffle”. The features on this tape pushed it over the top into that next level, so shout out to Show You Suck, Sports Boyfriend and last but not least, Kosha Dillz. Stream this brand new project below and let me know what you think about it in the comments section!
42) Josi Green – One And The Same
Josi Greens “One And The Same” project was easily one of my favorite projects on the list this year, and you’re about to find out why. The 10-track effort may very-well have been some of Josi’s most impressive tracks, and after each song, you are only pulled-in more by the mesmerizing story-telling throughout. From beginning to end, the startling production from Rokmore, Plainro & The 25th Hour was right-at-home for Josi’s charismatic, J.Cole-like verses, most notably in “Misunderstood” that was my undisputed favorite. If there’s anyone to keep tabs on this coming year on this list, look no further than Josi Green.
41) Sydny August – 6th Floor
Sydny August is one of the special young talents in Chicago that you may not know, but should be after hearing about her. She boasts one of the best upcoming voices in the city, and that is evident in all four tracks for her ‘6th Floor’ EP. She delivers some easy listening music that you can throw on anytime you’re trying to relax, and just because it is only four tracks in length doesn’t mean you should look past it. Give it a listen, and you won’t be disappointed.
40) Dally Auston – 99 Cent EP
Dally has been a frontrunner in the booming Chicago music scene the past few years, and this release was just the next step on his way to greatness. As we all know, this one was a long time in the making, but from the sounds of it there’s no doubt that it was well worth the wait. This project felt like a warm up to whatever Dally has up his sleeve for us next, and I’m sure I speak for all of his fans when I say I can’t wait to see what exactly that is.
39) Kiraly Payne – Project Z
Kiraly Payne is one of our favorite upcoming Chicago emcees, and this year he blessed us with his brand new project titled “Project Z.” There is a total of five tracks on this EP, all jam-packed with solid verses from Kiraly, and there’s also a couple of solid features from TeBe & Samia. Kiraly has an undeniable talent that can no longer be over looked, he even was in the top 100 Rap & Hip Hop albums on Apple Music, one spot ahead of Future’s album when he released this. I’m going to end this post by simply saying, STOP SLEEPING ON THIS MAN! Check out the brand new project below and while you’re at it, why don’t you check out the Q&A I did with Kiraly a few months back here!
IsaiahG – KNOWSPACE
Southside rapper, IsaiahG, has been making waves in the city for some time now, always coming through with masterful bars over futuristic, soulful beats and his debut EP, KNOWSPACE, gave us that and so much more. Aaron Deux and Cameron Butler co-produced the project, creating a crisp atmosphere that Isaiah tackles head on with lyrical dexterity and catchy flows. No this isn’t trap music but it is real and filled with Chicago references that can be appreciated by anyone from the city. There is also a universal appeal present here, with the prominence of “mumble rap” many hip-hop fans have been wondering what happened to lyrical content- the answer lies in artists like Femdot, Smino, and yes IsaiahG himself . No stranger to the local scene, Zay has recently linked with fellow Chicago artists like Saba, Supa Bwe, and DuffleBagBuru, in the last year just to name a few so if you’ve never heard the kid, KNOWSPACE is the best introduction of what lies ahead in 2018 for the AAP Diamond Gang artist. Odd.But.True’s wavy cover art should also be praised, his off the wall designs will be all over the city and beyond this upcoming year so get familiar.
38) Adamn Killa – I Am Adamn
Another project you simply can’t tweak on is Adamn Killa’s Summer-project “I Am Adamn,” and while it wasn’t his only project this year, this one was more-than-worthy for a spot on the list. Laced with an impressive 16 tracks, “I Am Adamn” is more-or-less a story mixed with a rollercoaster of vibes throughout. From the long-list of contributors on this project, there was really no doubt it would be an instant-classic with an array of producers that did an incredible job taking this project to another level. Expect to see Adamn Killa on our platform more this coming year, but for now, get familiar with the rising Chicago emcee.
37) Montana of 300 – Don’t Doubt The God
Montana of 300’s “Fire In The Church” tape was a dark horse on last years list, and the title of his latest project basically sums it up reading “Don’t Doubt The God.” It should be no surprise that the album is bursting with energy throughout the 15 tracks, which also includes a handful of features from Jalyn Sanders, Talley of 300, Tay Sav and Budouble who appear on the hit records “FGE Cypher Pt.4” & “Thankful.” While Montana still deals with legal issues, he made sure to let everyone know this year that he’s still “working on the future” and appreciates the ongoing support. I don’t think he needs to worry about his supportive fanbase, but I’ll just let the album do the talking. Don’t slip-up on this one.
36) Phoelix – GSPL
Delivered to the world midway through this past July, multi-talented artist and producer, Phoelix, jump started his career with a fantastic debut EP, GSPL. Although his past credits range from a few of Chicago’s most renowned artists including Saba and Noname, the rising talent was sure to prove himself as an individual on this EP, letting sounds of infectious energy and sharp soul fuel his project and show listeners that Phoelix can do much more than just stay on the boards – and thank God he did so. Phoelix’s talents struck me as both contagious and uplifting the second I realized just how well he radiates and controls his energy, making for effective deliveries and a never-ending cycle of illustrative lyricism to light the way. GSPL seems to look at the Chicago talent’s past with a keen eye for detail, especially finding its identity in the creation of small snapshots of the process that it took for Phoelix to become the man he is today. His strategic choice and placement of these snapshots blended to produce a cohesive project that rung true as one of our favorites of 207, and I hold the utmost confidence in saying that I won’t be surprised to hear Phoelix continuing to thrive in the coming year. With his skill set and potential, the sky’s the limit.
35) Lud Foe – #GetWellFoe
Earlier this year, after being involved in a near-fatal car accident with an 18-wheeler and consequently landing in the hospital for weeks upon weeks to come, Chicago artist Lud Foe let his music transcend the physical and emotional trauma of his situation with an introspective mixtape titled #GetWellFoe to lead the way. Throughout pain-ridden stories of his unforgiving past alongside hard-hitting moments of emotional lyricism and self-reflection in this one, Foe gifted fans 9-tracks of personal discovery and life experiences, speaking to the lessons that we can learn throughout our trials and tribulations as human beings. By using his signature hard-nosed flows and charismatic touch, the inimitable talent pointed to an introspective spin on this project to explain to us what he learned during such a tough time for him, all the while maintaining the infectious styles that fans have come to know and love him for – two standout elements that helped to carve out #GetWellFoe’s spot on our list as one of Chicago’s standout projects of 2017. When faced with harsh times, Lud Foe was sure to return to his roots in hard-hitting rap, and with this much skill to lead his undeniable wave, 2018 will surely be yet another prosperous year for the rising talent. It’s clear to us now that even with the odds stacked against him, Lud Foe cannot be stopped.
34) Christian Jalon – Vinyled Love EP
Christian Jalon is making her debut on our Top 50 list with her stunning sophomore project “Vinyled Love EP,” and expect to see this name on the list for years to come. First things first, shouts out to THEE Wax Roof for the fantastic instrumentals throughout, most notably the smooth guitar strings that pulled me into this album right away on “Wax’s Intro.” Christian was no stranger to our platform this year, as she was featured in a couple of segments including a look into this project which undoubtedly got our attention for it’s release. Like the unreleased track we reviewed back in the Summertime with her, Christian’s vocal abilities were at the forefront as the 8 tracks take you on an entrancing music experience, not-to-mention the rollercoaster of emotions throughout as well. If you slipped on this one earlier this year, you’d best go ahead, take a listen and get familiar with the promising artist out of Chicago.
33) Fredo Santana – Fredo Kruger 2
This wasn’t the first project from Fredo Santana this year (check out Plugged from January,) but it was certainly the most-anticipated of the two. Almost 4 years in the making, the 27-year-old finally unleashed the sequel to his 2013 mixtape Fredo Kruger, which, at first I thought was impossible to top. I was wrong. The Savage Records CEO didn’t let up for a second on each of the 16 tracks laced with a star-studded feature list including Glo Gang’s Ballout, Tadoe & Chief Keef, Lil Reese, Gino Marley, Kodak Black and even Cleveland Cavalier’s player Iman Shumpert who has taken up a music-career throughout this past year. Along with that, production came from a number of producers including Southside, 808 Mafia, Zaytoven and executive producer Corey Lingo amongst many others. Shortly after the release of the project, Fredo had a scare after he was found shaking on the floor of his house due to kidney and liver failure, and while things could have been way worse, we can only hope he has a quick recovery and gets back to making music very soon. Until then, you better turn-up to the multiple bangers on this project.
32) MFn Melo – Melodramatics
Pivot Gang’s own, MFn Melo, finally dropped his own project and it blew any expectations out of the water. His confident flow dominated the entirety of Melodramatics with eclectic production that we can always expect from the Pivot crew. Notable features include fellow Pivot homies Saba and the late DinnerWithJohn (Long Live the Legend) on the standout track “Lately”, as well as Jacob Denzel and Femdot on “The Giver” . “No Mas” is my personal favorite track because it is a burst of energy, instantly triggering a motivational mindset through the ear drums. This project really has something for everyone from smart wordplay to soulful lines and singing. Worthy of landing on our top 50 albums of the year list, don’t miss out on this outstanding introduction to MFn Melo’s vast musical mind if you haven’t listened, by bumping Melodramtics from front to back!
31) Loren – Fake Deep
Loren has had quite a year, from shedding his old alias (see “R.I.P. Logan”) to flooding the streets with nothing but heat all year, the Chicago rapper has given his all into his music and we have noticed. Fake Deep found Loren hitting a new stride and having fun in the studio with his main producer, Flight, with upbeat hits that showed a new side to the Chi town veteran. He also branched out to link with other local talent such as Femdot and Luke Almighty to drop some of the best music of his career. His rhymes are street, yet fluid so it really depends on what vibe he is working with at the moment but that is what we love about him, you never know what to expect. We have a feeling this was just a taste of what is to come from Loren in 2018 so prepare your ears now by listening to Fake Deep if you haven’t and if you have then be sure to keep it in rotation until the next project!
30) BIGBODYFiji – Long Azz Summer
Chicago artist and Decent Militia primetime player, BIGBODYFiji, is a character filled to the brim with contagious personality that truly never fails to deliver an anthem just when we need it. His ability to craft charismatic collections of clever wordplay and memorable ad libs comes across as naturally entertaining, and with his standout EP, Long Azz Summer, providing the perfect energy to soundtrack this past summer, BIGBODYFiji is a name that we simply couldn’t keep off of this list. Fueled by booming production and a melodic tint to the street style that we have come to know Fiji for, this 5-track EP reaches its full potential through lyrical performances that glue themselves to the listener’s head with ease, and a variety of smaller details that effectively give Long Azz Summer the signature BIGBODYFiji-feel – most notably seen in the Frank Hill adlibs and unforgettable hooks. Match this with deliveries that could light up any room and you see why this project made our list as one of 2017’s most entertaining listens in its authentic, Chicago charm. With that being said, BIGBODYFiji is most definitely a name to keep an eye for in 2018, so be sure not to sleep on the success that the Decent Militia representative has coming.
29) Chance & Jeremih – Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama (Remastered)
Right around this time last year, we had just received the first of what would expand into two discs of holiday cheer with Chicago stars, Chance the Rapper and Jeremih’s collaboration mixtape, Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama. This year, spreading the cheer even more and delivering a number of charismatic songs along the way to soundtrack the season, the duo came back for more, delivering a remastered version of their first holiday mixtape in addition to a second disc featuring 10 brand new songs. Wrapping all of its magnetic energy and merry personality into one, we received Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama Re-Wrapped. Throughout the mixtape, ranging from the trap-inspired “Are U Live?” to the nostalgic and hopeful sounds of “Family For”, both Chance and Jeremih tap into their innermost feelings within a world quite unforgiving at times. They choose to reflect on holiday traditions and burst with happiness and soul rather than speak to the negative happenings that 2017 brought about, and in all honesty, a mixtape like this was very necessary. Sure, it may be a fun project – not exactly the same product we would receive from a studio album, but it’s just right in that very way. It’s a reminder to stay positive and embrace the joy that comes with the holiday season, and for that, we’re grateful. Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama revitalizes these feelings in an infectious way, landing itself a spot on our list as one of Chicago’s standout projects of 2017. As we head into the new year, it goes without saying that Jeremih and Chance will continue to represent their hometown with abundant success, and we’re excited to watch and support them along the way.
28) Sunde – Eureka
Looking back at 2017, Chicago native Sunde is arguably the best artist I discovered this year, and that’s not an overstatement in the least bit. She possess star like qualities and it’s apparent when you listen to her music or see her grace a stage during a live performance. I don’t want to speak too much about her because we have a Q&A featuring her dropping very soon, but get to know her by giving her project a spin below!
27) Ohana Bam – Tree Up 2
Ohana Bam has been a Lyrical Lemonade favorite for quite some time now, and a few weeks back he blessed his growing fan base with his brand new project titled “Tree Up 2”. There is a total of twelve tracks on this project, and after the first listen through the main thing that stuck out to me was without a doubt the consistency of the tape. Bam set the tempo of this entire tape from the jump, as he addressed how some of the people in his past currently feel about him on the intro, it felt something like “Stan” by Eminem. That introspective energy popped up quite a few times throughout the track list, as well as some of Bam’s signature up-tempo sounds, he did a little bit of everything on this one. A few of the standouts on this one to me were “Like I Can”, “Level Up”, “Don’t Miss You” and the intro track “Dear Brenton”. From front to back this is one of the best projects to come out of Chicago this year, which is why he is finding himself at #26 on our list. The future is bright for Ohana Bam, I have nothing but excitement to see where his music takes him, but stream the tape below while we wait.
26) Jayaire Woods – Big Wood The EP
We almost slipped on Jayaire Woods project from last year, but this year, that wouldn’t be the case. Back in Summer, the promising Chicago product came through with a full length project in “Big Wood The EP” which featured some of his best music yet. Let’s first give credit where it’s due, as Canis Major, VZN, and Kid Ocean were huge factors in the melodious production that caught me off-guard in the smooth-sounding intro simply-titled “Big.” After that, the remaining 6 tracks were where Jayaire shined kicking off with “Off The Clock” and wrapping things up with “Vacation.” Much like the 2016 list, Jayaire’s spot was well-deserved, and you can expect him to be a regular on this list for the many prosperous years he has left in his promising career. To put things simply, do not sleep on this project.
25) Ajani Jones – Eternal Bliss
Ajani Jones is going to be a star in a few years, plain & simple. His project “Eternal Bliss” that he dropped this year was the most overlooked tape of the year, this one is a CLASSIC. Every single song on this project hits, and his unique style is more than enough to keep you invested for the entire duration of the tape. His ear for production is unmatched, and his ability to create melodies is impressive to say the least. This was one of my favorite Chicago projects of the year, and I am more than excited to see where Ajani takes it from here.
24) Lil Durk – Signed To The Streets 2.5/ Love Songs For The Streets
Was there ever any doubt Lil Durk would make his return to our list? The Chicago emcee had an eventful year with the release of his follow-up tape “Signed To The Streets 2.5” and when “Love Song For The Streets” dropped earlier this year, it was evident the OTF front wasn’t messing around. The STTS series undoubtedly packs some of Durk’s finest hits, but when the LSFTS project showed an entirely different side of his music, his stock only got higher throughout 2017. These weren’t even the only tapes we got from Lil Durk this year, but take my advice and let me put you on some of his most impressive bars yet.
23) Joseph Chilliams – Henry Church
Chicago’s own Joseph Chilliams finally let loose his debut album this year in “Henry Church,” and it’s safe to say it was definitely worth the wait. Laced with a steady 13 tracks, Chilliams brought the whole city aboard with a massive line-up of features including MfnMelo, Jamila Woods, NoName, Supa Bwe and the late DinnerWithJohn who appears on the closing track “Charlie Murphy.” To add to that, the list of producers is just as impressive with DaeDaePivot, Cory Grindberg, Sen Morimoto & Saba to name only a few of the many contributors to the decorated project. It should be no surprise to anyone that Joseph didn’t let up for a second on the album, as each track was graced with catchy lyricism infused with humor, wittiness and all-around energy such as the slapper with Saba & Kevo B titled “Werewolf” which was undoubtedly a standout record. This is still only the beginning for the Austin-based artist, and this album only proved further that Chilliams is destined for stardom. Don’t let this one go under the radar.
22) Duffle Bag Buru – Whole Bag
I don’t think any rapper has shown as much growth as Duffle Bag Buru over the past year, and I understand that’s a bold statement but you would be hard pressed to disagree with me after listening to his highly-anticipated project “Whole Bag.” He literally just started rapping when you think about it, as his first record “Wittagang” dropped October 21st of last year, and he has accomplished plenty of milestones since then. He has music videos with well over 100,000 plays, he has performed for big crowds in Chicago, Texas & Los Angeles, collaborated with talented artists such Pollari & Chxpo, and put himself in the position to be seriously considered for the “next out of Chicago” conversation. The sky is the limit for this young Chicago native, and I believe I speak for everyone when I say that I’m excited to see where he takes it from here. Find out what we’re talking about by checking out arguably his best work yet.
21) Ausar Bradley – GROWTH EP
Being one of the shorter projects on our Top 50, Ausar Bradley’s 4-track “GROWTH” EP may or may not have some of the best songs from any of the projects on this years list. With help from producers Plainro, Wax Roof & Gold Haze, the project takes you on an uphill climb of emotions starting ironically at “Ground” and finishing at “Step In My Way” which, in my opinion, could be one of the hottest records I was put onto this year. With each impressive release comes more reason as to why Ausar has made so much ground in the music scene this past year, and I guarantee we will see him pop even more this coming year.
20) Ric Wilson – Negrow Disco EP
When it comes to intoxicating energy and groovy, enthusiastic deliveries, few compare to Chicago’s own Ric Wilson. Coming from the Southside, Wilson solidified his spot in the city as an unforgettable talent earlier this year with his fun-filled, soulful EP, Negrow Disco. Only 4 tracks in length, this project’s overbearing energy makes up for the shortened length by utilizing melodic flows and beautiful production that weaves through lyrical showcases from Wilson with seamless chemistry. Every element of the project creates a strong, central sound, all the while exploring the ranging talents and versatility of Ric Wilson in a way such that listeners simply can’t get bored. This young talent has nearly mastered the art of making the most of every track and squeezing the most feeling out of every moment to a point where Negrow Disco sees its dance-filled roots used to a point of wonderful emphasis. Match this with underlying commentaries of the struggles of being black in today’s America, and you have a standout project that deserves its spot on this list in every aspect. Ric Wilson is a name that refuses to be ignored, and rightfully so. His infectious wave will surely continue to prosper in the coming year, and I wouldn’t sleep on this rising star. As he says it, he’s not chasing the wave, he’s making the wave.
19) Kweku Collins – Grey
Defining himself with refined artistry and a knack for meshing personal accounts of self-discovery with universally thematic lyricism, Evanston’s own Kweku Collins is a name that cannot be missed when looking back at 2017’s eventful year of music. Back in April, the rising talent released his sophomore project, Grey, filled to the brim with atmospheric production and melancholic cadences, providing for an overall nostalgic world of sound as he delved deep into his personal state of being. The EP includes only three guest spots from Allan Kingdom, Sylvie Gray, Kipp Stone, all of which contribute seamlessly to its unrivaled cohesiveness, further giving it a hint of melodic prowess and overall helping to solidify Grey’s spot on our list as a can’t-miss work of art when looking back on Chicago in 2017. Kweku Collins simply knows how to carefully put together sonically pleasing pieces with an almost effortless feeling, and now with two critically-acclaimed projects under his belt, this young talent will undoubtedly continue to impress as we head into 2018. His skills range far beyond his years, and I’m genuinely excited to continue watching Collins churn out high-quality music in his bright future.
18) Juju Exchange – The Exchange
Nico Segal has been no stranger to our pages over the years, from his days as Donnie Trumpet frequently collaborating with Chance The Rapper to his breakout success in the Social Experiment. The JuJu Exchange finds Segal venturing into new creative territory alongside Julian Reid, Lane Beckstrom, and Everett Reid with the release of their album, The Exchange. Possibly the most positive album on our list this year, the mellow upbeat jazz sounds are experimental enough that lyrics are not necessary for a great listening experience. The only vocals really present are from Chicago singer, Jamila Woods, who is recruited on the heavenly track, “We Good”. We are very excited to see what lies ahead for The JuJu Exchange, play this album in the car on a sunny day and let the good vibrations take over.
17) Meech – truecolours. EP
2017 certainly wasn’t the busiest year for Meech, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t drop some absolute hits. In his sole project of this year titled “Truecolours,” the up-and-coming Chicago emcee was in his bag with 7 new tracks that, right away, put you in a musical trance. From “Pray For Me” to the standout closer in “On The Way,” Meech’s smooth vocal abilities were at the forefront throughout each track, which only pushed the quality of the tape further. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait for another Meech project, but for now, get familiar with some of his best work yet.
16) Mick Jenkins – Or More; The Anxious
Mick Jenkins highly-acclaimed album The Healing Component was a staple in our Top 50 projects out of Chicago in 2016, and this year, he surprised the masses with an EP titled or more; the anxious. Coming in at a steady 7 tracks, the project is more-or-less the first installment in a series of tapes leading up to the Chicago natives forthcoming album that has yet to be given an official title. It’s no surprise that the EP is dripping with gold including the intro in Happy Gilmore & Energies with Saba, and on top of that, the 26-year-old also wrote a brief statement on SoundCloud explaining the creative process, stating that:
Or More is a project series involving musical ideas and concepts that are currently inspiring the album’s creation process. As creatives, we live in a world of time constraints imposed by illusive industry standards, anxious demands of appreciators, or even our own self-reflections. #OrMore is a smaller context of this larger pool of thoughts.. a world of exploration removed from the confines of a particular method. It’s my way of sharing the beauty in Indecisiveness. Sometimes we have to make music to locate the true music within our being. The first hones in on the ANXIOUS.
It looks like Mick Jenkins fans have a lot to look forward to in 2018, so without further ado, dive into the or more; the anxious project below and stay tuned for more from Jenkins throughout the New Year.
15) The Cool Kids – Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe
Upon label complications that interrupted their reign back in 2011, Chicago-based duo, The Cool Kids, were forced to take a step away from the spotlight for quite some time. Their sonically unique approach to music and abundance of refreshing sounds that helped lead Chicago’s ambitious wave of new talents for so long had been left to the side, but after the release of their 2016 single, “Running Man”, it was clear that The Cool Kids were back in action, ready to take over once again without missing a beat. Here enters their comeback album, Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe, highlighting what would quickly become known as an extravagant return to music from this ever-exciting duo. 16 tracks in length, this eccentric yet soulful barrage of new music marks itself as a standout album of 2017 not only because of its importance in the career of The Cool Kids, but also because of the way it exhibits the versatile skills of both Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish. Within such a rollercoaster ride of an album, weaving through the agressive, hard-hitting nature of songs like “20/20 Vision” to the warm energy and soul-filled anthems like “9:15PM”, the seamless chemistry of this duo clearly isn’t lost. With that, The Cool Kids are back and here to stay, so keep an eye out in 2018 for more releases from the Jordan-Pippen duo that Chicago rapheads hold so dearly.
14) Femdot – The 20/20 Hour
Compiling four EPs together with undeniable chemistry, Chicago artist and lyrical phenom, Femdot, blessed fans earlier this year with a dense, 17-track project tiled The 20/20 Hour earlier this year. Tightly packed in its poetic, storytelling verses and clearly indicative of the lyrical prowess that Fem has exhibited time and time again throughout his budding career, this tape lends itself to soulful cadences and familiar charisma to fuel the abundance of thoughtful tracks at hand – an effortless venture that enriches the listening experience tenfold in its electric underlying energy. As a general rule of thumb, 17-track projects tend to drag on to an extent of boredom or ineffectiveness, but by maintaining his distinctive style, this Chicago native ran a clinic on keeping listeners entertained with The 20/20 Hour. Set aside by its nostalgic sound and reflective of the life that Fem lives on a daily basis, I personally found myself paying close attention throughout each and every song on this tape, consistently attentive alongside its ever-changing flows and relentless lyricism. With that being said, The 20/20 Hour undoubtedly deserves a spot on this list, acting as a testament to the star potential that Femdot holds as we watch him grow both as an individual and as an artist. Something tells me that he has a promising future waiting for him in 2018, so be sure to keep an eye out for more timeless music to come from Fem as we turn the corner into the new year.
13) Mulatto – .22 Summers
This man Mulatto dropped arguably the hottest Chicago project earlier this year with “.22SUMMERS”. I understand that this is a bold statement considering the undeniable amount of great music that has came from the city this year, however I assure you that it doesn’t take more than one listen through to come to the same conclusion as me. This project is extremely special in my opinion, it seemed as if I said to myself “this shit is hot” about each and every one of the ten tracks provided. Mulatto truly brought out the best in all of these artists, some of the hottest verses I have heard from some of these guys in recent memory where included on this tape. This was an all around good listen that more than exceeded my already high expectations, undoubtedly one of the best from Chicago this year!
12) Taylor Bennett – Restoration of an American Idol
Taylor Bennett has always set extremely high expectations for himself, and yet, through introspective, soulful music, the Chicago native has quickly found his own spotlight aside some of the best in the game. Within the trials and tribulations of life, looks back on his growth and upbringing, and most importantly, self exploration as both an artists and an individual, this young talent further developed his undeniable wave of ambitious music in his sophomore album, Restoration of an American Idol, released back in February of this year. 9 tracks in total yet densely packed with energetic personality, this project seeks its purpose as an exhibit of the personal growth of Taylor Bennett throughout his 21 years of life so far. The prideful sounds and deeply-rooted, confident perspectives of Bennett, alongside features ranging from Lil Yachty to Raury to Supa Bwe, contribute greatly to the immense feeling and soul of this album, and within a prideful atmosphere, fans gain the ability to not just watch Bennett discover himself, but to witness this discovery from a first person point of view. His personal lyricism runs deep into his inner thoughts in a nearly inimitable fashion that pushes this project forward to a whole different level. With the high aspirations and sincere emotion exhibited so extensively in Restoration of an American Idol align with Taylor Bennett’s inspirational growth, this album deservedly finds itself on our list as a benchmark in the journey of this promising talent’s career. As he solidifies his name in both Chicago and beyond, Taylor Bennett is destined to continue rapidly carving out his spot in the music world, and he certainly won’t fail to keep the fans entertained in 2018.
11) Kami – Just Like The Movies
Taking his foundations in rap as one-half of the Leather Corduroys alongside Joey Purp and bending them into new directions and sonic masterpieces, Chicago artist, KAMI, put together one of the most unique efforts of 2017 with his 13-track album, Just Like The Movies. This project was executively produced by fellow Windy City artist, Knox Fortune, and throughout its neon melodies and illustrative production, KAMI achieves the ability to turn his life experiences into cinematic moments of bold colors and dramatic importance. In this sense, each track can be looked at as a separate scene, or a separate epic of emotion in itself. Set these genre-bending works of art to the tone of synth-led, bellowing production, and you have an album that simply couldn’t be left off of our list. The features from Vic Mensa, Towkio, Joey Purp, Sterling Hayes, and Knox Fortune all add to this piece greatly, giving fans somewhat of a yearbook when you look at some of the names who helped to lead Chicago’s newest generation of rap. From the tumbling, 80s-influenced sounds on “Home Movies” to the night-life approach of “Miami: White Limousines” to the vulnerable aggression of “Right Now”, this album finds its purpose in a wide range of places joined at the hip by a cohesive feeling, eccentric in its sound yet near-perfect in its storytelling abilities. Overall, KAMI is one of the most exciting artists coming out of Chicago right now, and to see him deliver such a solid album with Just Like The Movies is a preview of the success to come. This young talent is set to have an incredible 2018, and we can’t wait to watch him continue to rise to the top.
10) Ravyn Lenae – Midnight Moonlight EP
An atmospheric blend of nostalgic cadences and controlled deliveries mark Chicago artist Ravyn Lenae’s sound apart from the crowd, as she consistently achieves a balance of sparkling personality and universal themes into her music in a way that makes her style nearly impossible to stop listening to. Furthering this sound with the perfectly-executed, 6-track, Midnight Moonlight EP earlier this year, Lenae is quickly proving herself to be one of the most talented artists out today, delicately playing herself into the ears of listeners all around the world with genuine emotion and a gentle touch that finds itself appealing to a wide range of moods. In her featureless EP, all of these aspects and more marry together to form a soothing project in whole, earning it a spot on our list as one of our favorite projects of 2017 through pure authenticity and talent. Tracks such as “Unknown” and “Last Breath” stuck out to me personally as charismatic testaments to the immense potential that we see in Ravyn Lenae, and her consistent delivery of high-quality music makes it clear that this young talent is gearing up for a success-filled 2018. With that being said, Midnight Moonlight deserves its spot on this list and will continue to make waves as a truly incredible piece of art to revisit as often as possible.
9) Knox Fortune – Paradise
Knox Fortune has been making some serious noise in the Chicago music scene, and more so the entire music industry over the last year or so. Earlier this year we were blessed with his brand new project titled “Paradise”, which was without a doubt my personal favorite project of the year. I hate to call something a perfect album because “perfect” doesn’t have any specific guidelines or anything to it, but I image that this Knox project as close to perfect as you can get. One thing that stuck about to me about this tape was how smooth & effortless all of the transitions in between each of the songs sounded, it truly felt like you were listening to one really great & long record, it felt something like watching a classic movie. There is a total of eleven tracks on this project and a couple of features from Knox’s frequent collaborators Joey Purp & KAMI, who came through with some solid contributions to make this one that much better. If you consider yourself a lover of music, no matter what genre it may be, I HIGHLY suggest that you take a good look at this new Knox project, it truly is a masterpiece.
8) Warhol.SS – Where’s Warhol?
It’s safe to say that 2017 might have been Warhol.ss breakout year, and before dropping his much-anticipated debut album Chest Pains, he unleashed a banger-filled tape titled ‘Wheres Warhol?’. Laced with 7 tracks in total, the pair of features came from Rich Forever’s Rich The Kid & Jay Critch who helped provide the undeniable energy in Froze that also happened to be my personal standout joint on the tape. Warhol.ss cutthroat style is like nothing I’ve heard before, and even from his earlier tracks like Speed Racer, you can hear the progression and improvement in his sound with each release. I can’t wait to see what this man does in 2018, and it’s really only a matter of time before he becomes a top contender for an XXL Freshman spot.
7) Famous Dex – Read About It
It’s safe to say that just like last years list, Chicago’s own Famous Dex proved to be one of the hardest working artists in 2017. The Lyrical Lemonade regular came through on his promise this year and dropped his highly-anticipated mixtape Read About It, and once again, he showed how much he’s leveled up since his last project. With features from an all-star roster of features including Ski Mask The Slump God, Reggie Mills, Trippie Redd and, of course, the Rich Forever gang in Rich The Kid & Jay Critch on Spam, it’s really no surprise each song is just as good as the last. The 24-year-old Englewood native has dropped off countless tracks this past year with almost as many features, and with each ecstatic verse in 2017, comes more proof as to why Dex is one of hottest upcoming names out of the Chicago scene. But, you knew that already.
6) Lucki – Watch My Back
If you have been following Chicago’s surge of young talent throughout the past few years, it won’t come as a surprise to see Lucki’s Watch My Back project on this list. The young artist’s wave has been solidified in Chicago and beyond, driven by the ever-apparent inner conflict that we have watched Lucki go through since the very beginnings of his career. With this, he has proven his skill to turn his pain into distinctively honest accounts of his life, making way for drowsy deliveries to float over an endless array of hard-hitting production. As Watch My Back looks even deeper into these traumas and sorts through Lucki’s life, fans are taken closer into his mind and mentality, clashing with deeply-cut production from names including Plu2o Nash, Ugly Friend, and Clams Casino. It comes together to create a project fully-equipped both lyrically and sonically with noteworthy moments, 18 tracks in whole yet still a fairly quick listen due to the shorter length of most tracks. In this limited amount of time, Lucki is able to accomplish quite a bit in terms of providing both value and entertainment to the listener, and his ability to transform his darkest moments into sonically pleasing tales of the good and the bad in life is quite frankly inimitable by his peers. Songs like “Poker Face”, “No Wok” and “Waiting On” solidify Watch My Back’s spot on this list, and as usual, I wouldn’t sleep on Lucki in the coming year. His skills have only sharpened since the release of this project, positioning the hometown representative as one of Chicago’s most promising artists.
5) Cdot Honcho – Takeover
Chicago newcomer Cdot Honcho had a breakthrough year with a handful of impressive projects, and his last project of 2017 in “Takeover” was indeed, the start of a takeover. With production from a number of producers including Trell Got Wings, DP Beats & Kid Marquis, the 12-track tape doesn’t let up on the energy for a second as we were given several new hitters including his striking remix with Rich The Kid for his standout joint 02 Shit. Honcho’s cutthroat delivery and machine gun-like lyrics are unmatched and extremely unique to Chicago’s underground scene, so even though I was put on to the 21-year-old halfway through the year, I knew it was only the start of something crazy. 2018 is the year of C Dot Honcho, so let loose this project before it’s too late.
4) Chief Keef – Two Zero One Seven/ The W/ Dedication
Chief Keef was on an absolute tear this year with multiple full-length projects, and with his first tape Two Zero One Seven dropping on New Years Day amongst countless other tapes, there was really no better time to become an avid listener of Sosa. Amongst the hours of new music in 2017, Keef showed why he remains in the elite of today’s rappers with ear-catching bars that seem to improve with each record. The Chicago legend may have saved his best-for-last though, as his latest album Dedication was the ultimate turn-up absolutely flooding with heat. This man definitely doesn’t need an introduction, so do yourself a favor and check out each offering from Keef this past year.
3) G Herbo – Humble Beast
This may very-well have been the most anticipated tape on this list, and I’d go as far to say it’s been waited on since the very-earliest days of his career. Chicago’s G Herbo has done nothing but improve year-after-year with a mesmerizing lyrical ability, so it was really no surprise he cracked the 2016 XXL Freshman list alongside Lil Yachty, 21 Savage & Lil Uzi Vert. This past September, he dropped off his debut album Humble Beast after years of preparation, and with good reason, as the 14-track project is overflowing with timeless hits from the 22-year-old. With production from Southside, DJ L & C-Sick amongst others, the album also included a star-studded feature list of Bump J, Lil Bibby, Jeremih, Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert who appears on my personal favorite Everything. All in all, my words don’t do a lot of justice for this project, as you really have to dive in and feel the raw-energy for yourself. Then again, you’re playing yourself if you haven’t heard this album already.
2. Supa Bwe – Finally Dead
For about 10 years, Supa Bwe has been crafting a unique sound filled with relatable existential lyrics and passion filled crooning, garnering him an intense cult fan base. Freddy Got Magic was one of Chicago’s original punk-rock pioneers in the hip-hop scene, gaining many listeners during the Hurt Everybody days and continuing that traction into his solo career. Finally Dead is Supa’s debut solo album and it contains the vulnerability present in his countless tapes but takes it to another level with a polished, cosmic sound that leaves no doubt who is king to the emo-rap wave that has taken off in the recent year. Featuring notable production from Jay-R Beats, Luke Almighty, Jxhn Scxtt, LordFubu, and TayMasterChef to name a few, Freddy has an incredible skill of finding the perfect vocal pocket to the waviest, hard hitting beats. He chose to include only a few features including his cousin JuJu, Saba, Xavier Omar, and fellow Fight Me member – UG Vavy. One highlight that shows just how genre defying the Chicago dead bwe is would have to be “Supa’s Sweater Song”, his original take on the Weezer classic and one of our favorite tracks on the whole album. This project is one that we are going to look back on one day as a classic, but I’m sure Supa will give us a few more by then.
Weighing in at number 1 on our list (as you may have predicted) is Chicago prodigy and Save Money leader, Vic Mensa, with his simply unbelievable album The Autobiography. Years removed from the ever-important Innanetape, it has been a hell of a ride for both Vic and his Chicago fans, watching the same kid who was once a regular Chicago teenager with a love of music just like us grow into a renowned artist leading his city in the music world alongside some of the biggest names in the game. From basement shows to a contract with Roc Nation, we have been here for each and every step of the way. Now, hitting yet another major milestone in his career, Vic is here to take us through his highest highs, lowest lows, and everything in between with his latest album. He’s weaving through the life that comes with fame, vividly logging his journey along the way and bringing the fans a step closer into his world. It’s a moment of inimitable importance for Chicago, and it feels just right to see Vic where he’s at now. In this light, The Autobiography checks in with our old friend with 15 tracks of personal growth, shaping the character that we know as Vic Mensa with each and every song. After hearing intro to the album, “Say I Didn’t”, it quickly became apparent that we were in for a treat. This song’s pride and Chicago roots run far beneath the surface, and within nostalgic lines and soulful presence, Vic looks back on when he used to say he would make it to the top with a keen eye while comparing it to the life that he lies now, maintaining an unmatched loyalty to his hometown along the way. From there, the album switches from a reminiscent and prideful tone to explore the lows of addiction in the lyrical showcase of “Rolling Like A Stoner”. Followed by “Homewrecker” featuring Weezer and “Gorgeous” featuring Syd, we experience yet another focus shift over into Vic’s relationship problems throughout the years, giving these last 3 tracks immense power in the album’s whole as they provide detailed accounts into the lows of this young talent’s life. At this point in the listening experience, it is already clearly apparent that the lyrical talents of Vic Mensa in terms of both content and delivery have only sharpened since his previous efforts. His knack for storytelling is nothing less than impressive, and when the album jumps into “Down For Some Ignorance” with Chief Keef and Joey Purp and “Coffee and Cigarettes”, we see the multifaceted struggles of the story in Vic’s street life and romantic life. Arising from the ash with a motivated state of mind, the following tracks “Wings” with Pharrell and Saul Williams, “Heaven On Earth” with The-Dream”, and “The Fire Next Time”, all take the main character of the story and bring him from “the fire” – his rock bottom experiences – back into the light. Vic finds a new purpose in life and new wings as he delivers aggressive anthems, showing listeners the passion that brings him out of this breaking point. He goes on to recognize the hidden blessings around him while also taking us through the his road to recovery, and in “We Could Be Free” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and “Rage”, we watch Vic moving towards the light while trying to make peace with his past woes. It certainly doesn’t come with ease, but by way of lyrical exploration and fitting production, we get to experience the Chicago native find himself again in an incredible story. To top things off, the album ends with “OMG” featuring Pharrell and Pusha T – an absolute flex of a song that brings everything full circle. Vic went from the very bottom to the very top in the process of this album, and to see him end of this triumphant note is simply inspirational. Ultimately, The Autobiography is a story of a Chicago kid who lost and found himself along the road of fame and the life that came with it. He’s seen it all, and now with a rejuvenated mindset and clear ambition, Vic Mensa is back and better than ever. As we head into 2018, things are only looking up for this hometown hero, and we’re excited to witness the bright future for Vic as his journey continues to unravel – it has been an inspiration for all of us.