Chicago is a city that grinds. From sports to politics, it takes pride in being the formative stomping ground of icons like Michael Jordan and the Obamas. Chicago works hard and plays hard, and this is also true of its creative community.
Throughout this month's Slingshot Scenes, Vocalo Radio will highlight local artists to offer a sense of what Chicago sounds like. Listen and read below for six of Chicago's finest emerging hip-hop and R&B artists to watch in 2019.
Vanessa Ortiz, aka Ness Heads, makes music that defies categorization. Her melodic instincts, powerful stage presence and lyrical prowess have made her a rising star in the Chicago scene. Her songs feature a signature blend of electronic, pop and hip-hop vibes, with lyrics that stick in your head like glue. Ness Heads grew up playing the piano and saxophone, which is evident in her ear for melody, and is yet another example of the powerful and talented female MCs coming to define the Chicago hip-hop scene right now. Her latest single and accompanying video, "Paper Town," features gliding vocals over acoustic guitar chords and dreamy beats, making for a catchy and comforting mini-masterpiece of pop.
Ric Wilson first made a splash in Chicago in 2015 with his debut EP, The Sun Was Out. It was a hip-hop project first and foremost, but from the beginning it was clear that the up-and-coming artist was incredibly playful with production, vocal delivery and had a strong sense for melody and groove. A series of EPs followed that put that groove and dance sensibility front and center.
Wilson dove deep into the beats and sounds of disco and house to channel his positive messages of empowerment, black joy and self-expression, as well as socially conscious commentary on prison abolition, race relations and inequality in America. With each subsequent project, he continues to perfect his dance-centric take on hip-hop which he calls "soul bounce," and last year's EP BANBA (an acronym for "black art, not bad art") is the latest testament of that. Equally inspired by the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the music of Jay Electronica and fellow Chicagoan Noname, the EP is irresistibly catchy, eclectic and above all, bouncy and dancy. (Hear his interview on Vocalo Music here.)
Tasha was born and raised in Chicago. She learned to play guitar at 15, and after studying at St. Olaf in Minnesota, returned to Chicago and began organizing around racial justice and police violence with Black Youth Project 100. On her debut album, Alone at Last, the poet, activist and singer-songwriter examines radical softness as a political act. The merch for this record included sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogan "I love myself and hate police." For Tasha, music has always been a political act, and her work is based in her identity as a black queer woman. Recorded mostly in her grandfather's Wisconsin home, Alone at Last weaves a soft, hazy, dreamlike canvas with a healing message directed specifically toward black women. Tasha is one of the most exciting young artists making waves in Chicago. (Hear her interview on Vocalo Music here.)
Brittney Carter is one of Chicago hip-hop's best kept secrets. The Chicago South Sider started writing in 2014 when she discovered the Young Chicago Authors (YCA) writing workshops, where she learned from acclaimed poets Kevin Coval and Jamila Woods. Carter thought she was just writing poems in her notebook; it was her YCA peers that recognized an incredible MC in the making. With guidance from Chicago hip-hop stalwarts, Carter embraced her musical ability and began MCing in cyphers and recording singles.
In the last year, Carter's flows have caught the eyes of some of hip-hop's biggest names, and she has established a reputation as a fierce live performer, appearing alongside stars like Jay Rock and Chuck D. Though she's yet to release a full-length project, Carter's musical output in 2019 has been prolific. She's dropped five singles, three freestyle videos on Instagram and her first official music video for her single "Breakthrough." Carter is currently at work on a full-length debut, and the city is on pins and needles waiting to see what the future star has in store for it.
Chicago filmmaker, photographer and "one-third emcee" Jovan Landry began rapping and producing at 16 years old. In the last few years, she's been making waves in the local hip hop scene with her conscious lyricism that's unapologetically feminist and black. Now, she's taken this consciousness even further: Jovan teamed up with nine other up-and-coming emcees along with a slew of female producers, graphic designers and audio engineers to craft Synergy, a hip-hop album produced and performed entirely by women. The 11-track release challenges the industry status quo, puts women in hip-hop front and center and is filled with messages of female empowerment and unity.
Chicago multidisciplinary artist Mykele Deville has incredible energy and drive. With his feet planted in the theater, poetry and music scenes, he has earned a reputation as a mainstay and a renaissance man in the Chicago arts community, and now the word is spreading beyond his area code. Billboard streamed his recently released album, Maintain -- a concise, powerful and vivacious statement against toxic masculinity, as well as an affirmation of the values of cultivating community through art and self-expression. The artist remains committed to the DIY communal ethos he's always embraced, but he's looking ready to do his work on a bigger level.
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