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Chicago's rap boom, one year later

By Ernest Wilkins, @ErnestWilkins

RedEye Sound Board

7:32 PM CST, December 19, 2013

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On Dec. 18, 2012, Chief Keef released his major label debut, “Finally Rich.” Its arrival marked the culmination of an unprecedented year for Chicago rappers: Awareness and media coverage exploded; a plethora of major label deals, both rumored and confirmed, were thrown out all over. It’s been one year. How is Chicago’s rap scene looking now?

Short answer: not much different. Save for Keef, not one of the lauded acts—Lil Durk, Lil Reese, King L, Katie Got Bandz, Sasha Go Hard, Tink, Tree and collectives the Treated Crew and #SaveMoney (I clumsily refer to these as the Talented 10)--has released a full-length album in a calendar year. That’s not good.

There definitely are acts just sitting on their music, content to bitch on Twitter about perceived slights and other trending topics of the day. The lack of tangible releases in this ADD music industry hurts. You can release only so many tapes before people wonder what the jig is.

Speaking of mixtapes, this year has been a bona fide success for local acts. Chance The Rapper’s “Acid Rap” has been rightfully lauded as one of the best things that dropped in 2013, and Vic Mensa’s “InnaneTape” was right there. Singles weren’t exempt either: From Durk’s “Dis Ain’t What U Want” to Katie Got Bandz’s “Pop Out” to Keef’s “Macaroni Time,” the artists who gained the majority of the looks proved they deserved the shine.

This year saw the rise of acts who already can claim local hits and growing national acclaim. Newcomers ZMoney, Lil Bibby, Lil Herb, Lucki Eck$, Giftz, Blanco Caine, Caleb James, P. Rico, The Guys and the resurgence of Bo Deal have reinvigorated Chicago’s rap scene. So what’s the problem? Lack of support? Lack of access? Why can’t Chicago get the respect it deserves as the city most consistently putting out hot rap music for the past two years?

At first, I believed that the majority of Chicago acts are complacent with being “the [bleep]” in their respective scenes and languishing in them. That’s myopic. You can’t speak on the next man’s hustle unless you’re standing right there. I then blamed the New York Rap Illuminati (a consortium of bloggers, writers, magazine heads, radio hosts and Funk Flex), as many outside that world are inclined to do. Next, I truly claimed laziness. The Herculean output of ZMoney alone (he released three mixtapes in one day, people) killed that idea fairly quickly.

It’s a big problem, one that might be bigger than one columnist. I do have a temporary fix for the stagnant state of Chicago rap: hits. Hits solve all problems, heal all wounds and grant second chances. They kill any argument that would be formed against you and give you access to worlds you’ve never dreamed of. So this is what I ask of all the Chicago rappers who read these words: Make hits. Everything after that takes care of itself, and Chicago wins yet again.

erwilkins@tribune.com

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