Chicago Artists to Watch 2016
It's that time of year again. The new year has settled in, I've just about stopped writing '15' in my datelines and we're beginning to take a more full look at what the year might have in store for the artists coming out of Chicago. One month in and we've already seen a ton of activity from some of Chicago's biggest naem and new risers alike and it seems like the 'Renaissance' that everyone has been talking about for a couple years now in Chicago might just have another chapter. With that in mind, we decided to team up and pick three acts each that we individually felt are due to have a big impact sometime this year. Check our picks for who's going to make noise in the new year and let us know what you think as well in the comments section. - Jake Krez
Jake's Picks • Jamila Woods, Femdot & Qari
Jamila Woods • Somewhat of a local hidden gem who had yet to really spread her wings on the national scene, Woods put that to rest over the course of the last year which saw her drop jaws left and right with her turn on Chance The Rapper & The Social Experiment's "Sunday Candy" (Even Anna Kendrick couldn't believe it). She performed that song live at Pitchfork Festival and onstage at Saturday Night Live and capitalized on that moment by entering 2016 with a Closed Sessions recording deal and a new single with Macklemore to boot. Her debut solo track, "blk girl soldier" perfectly accentuates the kind of innate artistry and understanding of the world that Jamila possesses and it is going to be very fun spending 2016 watching her rise even higher.
Femdot • A TheseDays favorite, I have Femdot as my true sleeper pick. Having first met dude about a year and a half ago at a Starbucks in Wicker Park, Femdot immediately became one of my go to acts for ruthless, controlled bars that speak to a truer sense of hip-hop than we find in the mainstream today. A bio-chemistry major at DePaul University, Fem is also one of the sharpest artists I've met in recent years, combining a penchant for slick wordplay with deep pockets of vocabulary and references for days. His "Kinglish" track proved he has the kind of energy and forward aggressiveness to pull listeners in, now we're just waiting for King Dilla to show us the next act. While the meaning of "rap" today can be many things, Femdot is holding it down for real hip-hop in Chicago and folks should really take notice this year.
Qari • Aside from being one of the most wise teenagers I have ever met in my life, 19-year-old Qari (a.k.a. Carl) is primed to be one of the best rappers to emerge from what many have been referring to as a 'Chicago Renaissance'. Coming off the recent announcement of Hurt Everybody's impending break up, the young man with the old soul appears to be in a favorable position as we settle into 2016. A deeply thoughtful artist who's rhymes tend to go beyond surface level understanding, Qari has worked as a professional rapper in one sense or another since he was a freshman in high school and the HE experience should prepare him well whenever he's ready to step out on his own.
Eric's Picks • Whitney, Joey Purp & Rich Jones
Whitney • A supergroup of sorts, Whitney is a six-piece band fronted by former members of the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Will Miller is also in the band and he’s the shit). Radiating folksy feel, their style sets them apart from most bands we come across and makes for some genuinely pleasant listening. While the band is still relatively unknown here at home, they’re certainly on the fast track to success. Before they even had two releases to rub together Whitney had already impressed FADER to the point where they made the print issue of their magazine and graced the stage of their CMJ showcase. With a European tour kicking off next month, it’s very possible these guys become a big deal internationally in the same time it takes them to become a big deal in Chicago.
Joey Purp • After spending the last couple of years as part of the musical adventure that is Leather Corduroys, Joey Purp is back at it as a solo artist. The subject of our January cover story, Purp has long been regarded as one of the best rappers in the city by those who know its talent pool best. Despite the consensus, the lack of a solo project has kept him cementing himself in the national conversation. Luckily for listeners, we won’t have to wait much longer as his long awaited manifesto iiiDrops is expected to arrive within the next few months. Since his return, he’s been out to prove he can still rap circles around the competition with tracks like “Run It Up” and “Performance Art Freestyle”, but knowing the insightfulness of Purp we foresee a lot more than rapping for sport come the release of iiiDrops. Stay tuned.
Rich Jones • In 2015, Rich Jones began his casual crossover into the melodic. With a pair of EPs, Pigeons & Waffles and Loves Jones, we saw him test the waters of his newfound singing ability alongside raps that reflected the Rich Jones we had come to know over the years. While the combination turned out well, it was clear that his talents were developing in a way that was only being confined by his hip-hop comfort zone. Understanding that, Rich flew out to Las Vegas to work with longtime friend and EDM producer Ryan Lofty. The first and only release of their efforts, an awesome tropical house cut titled “Universe + Me”, debuted last summer to great feedback and has amassed over 86,000 plays on SoundCloud since. The two now are sitting on a full project due out this year, and having heard most of what’s to come, there’s no way I couldn’t make room for Rich Jones on this list. Stay tuned to These Days for more on their upcoming collaboration project, as well as Jones’ forthcoming solo project Pink Slips.
Patrick's Picks • Jude Shuma, Woo Park & Smino
Jude Shuma • The multi-instrumentalist had a very under the radar but productive 2015. Schuma released a groovy lo-fi three song EP titled Insomnium that was critically well received by a small audience. I personally had it on repeat. Songs from the EP landed on Spotify featured playlists and a piece that profiled him in The Chicago Tribune. It also caught the ears of respected music supervisor Scott Vener (Entourage) who selected the tune for the popular HBO series Ballers featuring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. Although I've personally never seen him live, all I've heard is great things. Jude's psychedelic sound (and look) combined with a quality live show leads me to believe he could be a great touring and festival act down the line. Hopefully, 2016 is the beginning of that journey. For fans of Tame Impala and Mac Demarco.
Woo Park • The five-piece spacey funk soul band spent most of 2015 crafting their live show in support of their 2014 release Smokes. Wow - did they deliver. While tackling festival dates (Mamby on the Beach, Summer Set Music & Camping) throughout the summer, Woo Park also managed to headline a show at Reggies. The band made out of state trips (plus SXSW) and nailed down their first tour. Woo Park did all the smart exercises a band needs to do take to move from buzzing local band, to exciting national act. Hopefully, 2016 brings new music and more stunning visuals to fuel their psychedelic fire. For fans of Hiatus Kaiyote and Thundercat.
Smino • What I hope to see from Smino in 2016 is the hustle to become a true chart-topping artist. The awareness he has of his flow (especially with frequent collaborator Monte Booker) is the most exciting part about him. If he lands the right guest feature, I truly believe he could have a similar rocket to superstardom trajectory like B.o.B. or Kid Cudi. Maybe it's too early but I want to see Smino jump from the SoundCloud jams to radio-ready singles. For some reason, I love the idea of him becoming just as big as the last St. Louie hip-hop superstar: Nelly. Building a catalog in the Chicago music ecosystem that currently has everyone's attention, certainly helps. For fans of Chance The Rapper and anything on Soulection.
Brent's Picks • Smino, Ric Wilson & Noname Gypsy
Smino • Who would have thought one of the most talked about artists in Chicago right now isn't actually from Chicago. Originally hailing from St. Louis, MO, Smino has bounced back and fourth between locations, but he's made his primary address Classick Studios on Chicago's west side where he and his Zero Fatigue cohorts have been making hit records. While still under the radar for most of the world, Smino's well on his way to bigger things if he keeps at this pace. 2015 brought two EP's and a handful of singles generating over a million plays, and producer Monte Booker was behind all of them. This unstoppable pairing is due for a big year.
Ric Wilson • Rapper and activist Ric Wilson has been on my radar for the last several years, but after reaching a handful recent milestones in his career including a performance at the Metro for Louder Than a Bomb's mixtape release party, Ric's gaining the attention of the right people. From trips to Geneva, Switzerland to joining and leading protests right here at home, Ric's involvement with political activism has supercharged his music with passionate real life experiences. You'd think keeping your music honest should be expected, but we know that's not always the case. Between his lyrical content and an ear for less traditional production, Ric Wilson is that wild card that I think is going to continue to surprise us with his accomplishments in life and music.
Noname Gypsy • The most talked about secret award goes to Noname Gypsy. Hands down. Her introduction to most of the world came in the form of Chance The Rapper's "Lost", where the unknown voice known as Noname Gypsy won fans over good old fashioned bars. Since those humble days in 2013, Noname's sparse releases and talk about her debut project Telephone have amassed an insane amount of attention. Noname's fans are dedicated, supportive and confident that her debut is coming soon, and after some recent activity from Noname, I'm starting to think so as well. If Noname Gypsy can generate hundreds of thousands if not millions of plays and sell out shows with no album, there's really no telling what she's capable of next. I'm excited to see.
Ben's Picks • Monte Booker, The Walters & Elias Abid
Monte Booker • Monte Booker might have been the most interesting and unique artist to follow throughout 2015. Beginning last year with a relatively small following, he continued to gain more and more attention by dropping instrumental songs intertwined with songs by Smino and Ravyn Lenae. The three all took off last year with stand-out projects Blkjuptr and Moon Shoes respectively. Perhaps most impressively, Monte teamed up with Soulection for a four song EP, one that stills receives plays in my car. With Monte and Smino prepping the release of the full-length Zero Fatigue, I imagine we'll hear plenty more heat from the 19-year-old producer in 2016.
The Walters • Between selecting two promising producers, I felt it right to include a group of bedroom pop rockers: The Walters. Made up of five friends and multi-talented instrumentalists, the group has impressed with their debut EP Songs for Dads (end of 2014) and their follow-up EP Young Men (end of 2015). They've scattered music videos and in-studio recordings throughout their catalog, as well as a split single last summer through Canvasback Music. Their signature style properly soundtracks falling leaves on a beach somewhere in September/October. If you're really 'bout it, you can check out their goof troupe side project Cardigan Boys. They've recorded a Chingy cover.
Elias Abid • Smaller in notoriety than the other two artists on this list, Elias Abid has been slowly and surely gathering steam by releasing a slew of pristine and vibrant tracks. Working with names like Telana and Smino, he also fully produced an EP with his duo Abandoned Mall Arcade which includes the rapper Jabril Power. Jabril went on to record his solo EP, which featured a track alongside Abid. You can also see the talent working with acts like Beach Jesus and Iris Temple. All collaborations and features aside (including a recent trip to LA with Appleby), Abid is assuredly working on a handful of solo material, as well as (I'm sure) remixes and, oh yeah, his collaboration alongside singer CHIA, who is currently residing in South Korea. Abid will be fully international in no time.