Since I wanted to start this blog, I’ve had for primer goal to talk about the artists that make me love music on a daily basis. And for more than 5 years now, I’ve been in love with what I call « The New School of Chicago ». Rappers, singers, producers, Chicago always has been a city of talents. Kanye West, Common and the young Chance The Rapper, all those Chicagoans, have showed to the world the beauty of the city, each differently. But there is something special about this city. And this is what I will try to show you in this article.
First, I have to explain the title of my article. As a humanities and social sciences student, the school of Chicago is one of the first theory that I’ve learned during my first year of college in my sociology classes. And this approach of the urbanized city, which is seen as a human body, just impressed me. And until now, this school of philosophers and sociologists born at the very beginning of the twentieth century, birthed the urban sociology. So to me, using the name of this school of thoughts to name the new generation of Chicagoans artists makes sense. Mostly, because the artists of this new school are all in their twenties and so connected to each other, like a constellation : they’re all different from each other but can still find some main musical attachments and in the end, the result is always incredible.
I have no specific order about the making of the article, I will just try to keep things simple and short. Let’s start with the first artist of this new School that I discovered : Mick Jenkins.
Not originally a Chicago Native, the rapper moved to the city when he was 9 years old. The night was everything but young at this time in January 2015. I was doing my Kaytranada researches on underground Youtube channels when I heard his deep and singular voice on the song « Your Love » by Kaytra and I was amazed. A voice like this is pretty rare. I dug and I fell for his music and his universe. At the time, I started to listen to his fourth mixtape « The Waters » (2014) and you know why, he convinced me (I mean who wouldn’t be). « Comfortable » and « Vibe » directly made me a fan. Jenkins has this particular universe, a mix between melancholy and hope with a touch of realism. The main theme that I noticed from his songs is love. He’s surely a lyricist. His vision, the rhythm that he uses to rap on the beat is something else. Soft and tough at the same time, you can’t place him in a certain case, which is a beautiful and common thing for a Chicago artist.
There’s musically an atmosphere of weirdness and difference that can be sensed in all the artists of this New School of Chicago. His EP « Waves » (2015) just confirmed what I already knew and a few Kaytranada collaborations later, nothing can make me doubt the talent of this man and the consistency of his music and projects. On October 2018, Jenkins dropped his second album called « Pieces of a man ». Personal, powerfully charged with self-esteem and musically rich, Mick Jenkins has find his place in the crowded world of music and succeeded in distancing himself from other artists. I personally saw him live last year and I was not disappointed. And I almost forgot, Mr.Jenkins has dropped a new EP at the end of January 2020 called « The Circus ». And after my declaration of admiration for this man, you better go listen to it.
To me, Noname is a jewelry in the current rap industry. A black woman, intelligent and educated, distancing herself from the many sexy women rappers who are trending lately. Noname, born Fatimah Nyeema Warner, is a Chicago native and represents a whole world to herself. I first heard her music on Soundcloud and checking my Instagram, in November 2016. I don’t remember how, but I started listening to her first mixtape « Telefone » and I immediately flew away. The softness of the melodies, the stories that she is telling on each song, just send you on a whole new planet : hers. From love and its disillusions to her childhood and her expressing her love for her city « Chi-town », Noname’s universe balances between softness, sadness and humour. Her music sounds like an eternal sunshine even when it’s tough and serious. « Diddy Bop » is an ode to Chicago, « Reality Check » is a call of realness, opportunities and life dramas that we all faced in our lifetime as black people.
Noname raps and describes her world like a sociologist. It all comes clear and limpid, each song feels singular and natural, like we automatically understand what she tells us. She’s definitely a lyricist and a storyteller. After « Telefone », I just appreciated her collaborations and I’ve waited for her world tour, that I missed actually, twice. From Mick Jenkins on the song called « Comfortable » to the song « Church/Liquor Store » from an another Chicago gem, Saba, the rapper is everywhere. And after discovering her, I began to understand that Chicago was a new land of rap and r’n’b talent. On September 2018, Noname revealed her first album called « Room 25 ». It combined anything that the rapper feels about, her believes and disagreements : her views on colonialism, her independence, the appeal and pride for black communities. With « Room 25 », she has confirmed her status of a lyrical rapper, capable of critical thinking without hiding her charisma and personality. Due to a declaration on twitter in the end of November 2019 (you can read about it in my article on the gentrification of rap and hip hop), we are not sure if we will have new music from her. But she never disappointed me, time will tell us.
How to explain ? Without my sister, I would have known Saba maybe months or years after I did. I first heard him on the song « Angels » with Chance The Rapper, but his part didn’t really surprise me. My sister was trying to convince to listen to his music for 1 year and one night, where I missed a J.Cole concert in Leeds, I saw that Saba was coming to my city in a few days. So, on a frizzy Sunday of October 2017, I went on Soundcloud to listen to « The Bucket List Project » and excuse my french but FUCK YEEESS. The project just excited me. It sounded like a source of good vibes and energy. From « The world in my hands » to « Stoney », the project just focused on so many personal subjects but they were all linked to Saba. His dreams, his willingness for freedom and escape (the song « California » is an anthem), his mistakes, his sadness and the joy that his neighborhood brings him. But there is always this one song, the one that makes you fall in love with an artist and when I heard « Most », I knew. Hearing the first notes of the song, the tempo, the calm of the song, the tone of Saba voice’s, everything was perfect. 3 days later, I was at his show vibing hard with some of his British fans. He had this weirdo rapper as the opening act of his show, Joseph Chilliams, who is Saba‘s brother. Joseph is one of a kind. Literally an alien. He started singing his song « Fergie » I was amazed : wriggling his body from left to right with his high voice, the guy just spread a funny energy. His personality is everything and until this day, I have a collector picture of him on my phone.
Like Noname and Mick Jenkins, Saba is a lyricist, undoubtedly. He can be called a poet, a teller, or a lost friend from your childhood and « Bucket List Project » is his long letter, his long e-mail or message after many years apart. That’s how « Bucket List Project » made me feel. Following the concert, I just waited for new music and almost 7 months later, he dropped « Care for me ». Seeing the cover of the album, you could sense its theme : it’s conflictual. « Bucket List Project » was solar but « CARE FOR ME » is cathartic. Saba directly asked us to care for him, and we should. « Broken Girls » is a claim of depression, he’s facing his troubles about his relationship, the rising distance and the loss of understanding in a couple. « Calligraphy » just expresses his feeling of un-ease of being an artist and of losing loved ones. But the song that made me lost my mind was « Fighter ». The aquatic sound, the bucolic atmosphere but mainly, the deep sadness that emerged from the song. We could hear him battle for his life, it’s clearly the world (a friend, his grandfather and his girlfriend) vs Saba. « Logout » is the epitome of our societies vanity and a denunciation of the hypocrisy and shallow of the social media. The album is an experience of truthfulness that we can’t ignore. Saba has faced the toughness of his world and he relates it to us with beauty and intricacy.
Originally from Saint-Louis, he has clearly been accepted in this new school of Chicago. And he fits in so well. I can’t even tell you when I first heard of him exactly but it was maybe between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. Probably on Soundcloud. Smino is a hothead, this charismatic guy that nobody can contain or understand. He is out of this world. I found out about him with the project « Blkswn ». « Blkswn » is a treasure, nondescript. Every song is a door to a new corridor, a new room, like a twisted maze. Switching his voice and rap flow from a song to another, you find a new Smino on every track. On « Flea Flicka », he’s fast, funny, sarcastic, greedy. On « Innamission », we are in front of a bragger Smino, the « I ain’t got time Smino », the charmer. Switching between english and french, he’s on 100% even when he says that he’s only on 10. On « Amphetamine », the rapper is romantic, soft and drugged on a moonlight. Like a chameleon, he adapts and transforms himself. On the project, we can hear the singers TheMind and Ravyn Lenae, whom I like a lot. Accompanied by the Chicagoan producer Monte Booker, Smino offered us a complicated aspect of his universe. On November 2018, the chameleon offered us a new album called « NOIR ». Always including a part of his blackness in his song and his visuals, Smino is a proud natural hair man and I can say that I’m deeply jealous of his twistout. On both his albums, we can see him sitting between the legs of black women, getting braids. « NOIR » is more rap, tougher, blacker. Even the titles are in big characters. Touching reggae music on « Tequila Mockingbird », neo-soul on « Spinz » and « Hoopti » mixed with trap, Smino has evolved and confirmed us that he can’t be stop.
After Smino, my infinity gauntlet was almost completed. And thanks to the artists above and their connections, I discovered the goddess of r’n’b Ravyn Lenae, the cool and floating rapper from Evanston (near Chicago) Kweku Collins and the delicate singer theMIND who has collaborated with many of the city’s artists but mostly with Mick Jenkins and the two together are remarkable. I know that I forgot a lot of new prodiges, but the ones above were so important to introduce this new school.
So take a sit, play their projects from the beginning and listen quietly to those professors.