Chicago Artists To Watch 2017
Each successive year here in Chicago has been marked by a string of breakout artists since the 'renaissance' truly kicked into gear back in 2012. In the time since, we've seen one act after the next ascend to the loftiest of plateaus in the music industry and as we look back on a record-breaking 2016, we simultaneously are prepping ourselves for the next wave of talented artists ready to follow in their contemporaries footsteps. While last year may have seen the rise of acts like Joey Purp, Towkio, Eryn Allen Kane, Saba and more, 2017 appears to lay the groundwork for a similarly eclectic, talented crop that should well be pacing the national scene by this time next year. Want to know who they are? The TheseDays team has you covered, with all of our picks for who's slated for a breakthrough 2017 in our humble opinions. Let us know your opinions on who you think will be killing it this year and make sure to look back on our 2016 predictions for added insight.
Jake's Picks • The O'My's, Ravyn Lenae & Phoelix
The O’My’s • Admittedly, The O’My’s are a band that has probably been on a list like this for me several times over the years. While it’s undeniable at this point that the local outfit led by Maceo Haymes and Nick Hennessey are a soulful force to be reckoned with, they’ve yet to truly breakthrough the glass ceiling of the city and find the widespread success their talent deserves. A year largely away from the public was spent working on a new project with more depth and thought than anything the team has tackled thus far in their career. A launching pad for musicians like Carter Lang, Boyang Matsopola, Nico Segal and many more. One of Kids These Days’ first gigs was opening for The O’My’s and that trend of looking out for the next up continues as 18-year-old wunderkind Eddie Burns has taken up drumming duties. At this point, the band’s place in Chicago music is unquestioned and with a new look, a renewed spirit and an intense year of steady work under their belt, expect big things at long last from the city’s ‘Purveyors of Soul’.
Ravyn Lenae • Perhaps no artist I’ve seen in the last five years has seemed to encapsulate all the good of contemporary teen celebrity while staying undeniably grounded than 18-year-old Ravyn Lenae. Since stepping out with her impressive and genre-bending debut, Moon Shoes EP last year, the Chicago High School for the Arts senior has made huge waves across the city and country. The bubbly, talented Lenae has all the tools to become a name we talk about for a long time, possessing a sort of real disposition and laid back demeanor that seem almost impossible given her innate talent and creativity. Having linked up with Monte Booker, Smino, Jean Deaux and the Zero Fatigue crew, with Classick Fam at her back, the girl seems primed for huge things in the very near future. Having just headlined her first tour with none other than Sahar Habibi handling DJ duties before heading back to high school for finals, the world is only just beginning to open up for young Ravyn Lenae.
Phoelix • I went into 2016 knowing just a little but about the producer known as Phoelix. Save for some loosies and varied production credits that scattered themselves around the Internet, it was really only the Internet trolls who harvest the internet and rarely leave their homes who seemed to really be up on the fairly new face. A few months into the year and it seemed he was everywhere. From having worked extensively on NoName’s long-awaited debut project Telefone to Saba's critically-acclaimed Bucketlist with appearances alongside the likes of Zero Fatigue, THEMPeople and many more, it's obvious that this beatsmith has certainly found himself in the right company. More than that, he utilized 2016 to effectively prove he had the ability to stay there and perhaps take things even further heading into 2017.
Eric's Picks • Knox Fortune, Cam O'bi & Appleby
Knox Fortune • A couple years ago now, ahead of the release of their album Season, I ran into Joey Purp & Kami who excitedly told me they found the secret third member of Leather Corduroys. Once the singles started to roll out, the production gave it away - that third member was none other than Knox Fortune. As great as the overall sound he helped create was, what really caught me was his vocal part at the end of "Remember Me" as it was the first time I realized this fool had the voice of an angel. As time marched on, Knox continued his behind the scenes work, executive producing both Purp's iiiDrops and Kami's forthcoming album Just Like the Movies, while lending his talents to others along the way. The whole time keeping pretty quiet about the fact he had an album of his own completed. Then one night Knox had me & Pat the Manager over to Chiller's Paradise to listen to some of his solo material that we had been hearing whispers about. Knox proceeded to play hours worth of incredible material. Last year, he provided fans with a taste with "Seaglass" - which, while an enjoyable track, really only skims the surface of the gold this man is sitting on. With Kami's album ready to drop and his feature on Chance the Rapper's "All Night" making his name more recognizable than ever, 2017 will be a huge year for Mr. Fortune.
Cam O'bi • Similarly to Knox, Cam O'bi's most notable work is that in which he's done for others. In fact, many of the songs where we hear the stars of this Chicago Renaissance (Noname, Saba, Chance, Mick, Vic, etc) at their best are with Cam behind the boards. Outside of Chicago, Cam's production resume is no less impressive - producing tracks for Big Sean, J Cole & Isaiah Rashad to name a few last year alone. However over the last few years, Cam has been working on an opus of his own. Entitled Grown Ass Kid, it will be O’bi’s debut album, and will see him as the lead vocalist. Now if that catches you off guard, you've likely heard him sing before and didn't realize, as his vocal features date back to Vic Mensa's 2013 fan favorite "Orange Soda" to more recently Noname's Raury-assisted collaboration "Diddy Bop" - both of which he also produced. When transitioning from solely being a producer, Kanye once said he had an advantage as a rapper because he gets to hear his beats first, and that logic applies here too. Paired with the fact the album is shaping up to be sonic self-portrait of one of the most kind, caring and positive people I've ever met in music, "Grown Ass Kid" is on the top of my 2017 wish list.
Appleby • To date, it's always been a personal rule of mine when doing these types of lists to never include an artist that I've said was one to watch in a previous year. In 2015, I included Appleby in a list of the same sort for Hypetrak, however with the turn his music has begun to take I'm making an exception. When Appleby began to release material in 2014, the metaphorically masked musician was giving fans moody R&B sounds, made in a dark bedroom to be listened to in dim basements. Despite receiving a solid amount of buzz with that approach, Appleby decided to take a step back and pursue a different path. Looking ahead to 2017, it's a literally a night and day difference. This transition presents itself best in the form of a song, "Sunshine”. Unfortunately, he's currently holding this song hostage from fans, but I’m working on that. Bright and energized, the song connects to a different point on the emotional spectrum than Appleby has tapped into in the past, and the results are incredible. If you look closely, there are breadcrumbs in Apple's career that show the potential for things to head in this direction - at first in features with the likes of Litany and Ravyn Lenae, but around the time he began to work with Elias Abid the vision began to come into focus. With Abid at his side, a new sound locked in and a new batch of material, this should be the year we're properly introduced to Appleby.
Brent's Picks • KAMI, L.A. VanGogh & Joseph Chilliams
KAMI • Aside from his work alongside Save Money brethren Joey Purp as one half of Leather Corduroys, most of the world is still unfamiliar with KAMI and his solo efforts. Releasing just three singles in 2016 may not be enough for some to rank him as one of the promising artists to be on the lookout for in 2017, but each single was stronger than most releases by KAMI's peers and contemporaries. A result of KAMI's powerful rhymes, vocals and curated production by another up and comer on the verge of breaking out, Knox Fortune. Knox has played a role in each of KAMI's recent releases and is rumored to have a prevalent influence on KAMI's upcoming solo debut Just Like The Movies. What we've heard from the project thus far foreshadows a sharp stray from what we already know about KAMI, but an exciting stray nonetheless. Something different. Something experimental. Something his Save Money cohorts Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa and Joey Purp haven't touched. Truly blazing his own trail. KAMI's debut is sure to have ears perking up and all eyes on the Chicago collective once again.
L.A. VanGogh • We've quickly come to appreciate this south suburban native in the past year. Originally from Dolton, Illinois and currently residing in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, we were introduced to L.A. VanGogh's musical talents with the release of safeNsound Presents L.A. VanGogh alongside producer and bandmate Ambi Lyrics in early 2016. Since, L.A. has proven to be a talented emcee, producer and performer, his charismatic personality and ambitious work ethic has placed L.A. on a short list of who you should know in the coming year. Having recently released Friends First and headlining his first local performance at Wicker Park's Subterranean, L.A. VanGogh closed out the year strong and set the foundation for his takeover following the release of his upcoming sophomore project Everything Is Subjective. While still early on in his career, his music and the team behind it has L.A. on a fast track to notoriety in 2017.
Joseph Chilliams • Pivot Gang's Joseph Chilliams has been tested in 2016, but everything is on an upward swing for him in the new year. Brother of the buzzworthy Saba, Joseph Chilliams is doing anything but following the trail his sibling has paved for himself. While the rhymes are of equal caliber, Chilliams uses his music to paint a picture of his experiences growing up on Chicago's west side. Both Joseph and Saba grew up in the same home, but everyone's experiences are slightly different and how they choose to express their experiences can vary as well. Joseph finds comfort in using humor to tell his story. Watching Joseph perform his music live can often be confused with a stand up comedy set, comedic intermissions substituting brief talking breaks while he catches his breath. Joseph has only released a couple tracks this past year along with an amazing video for "Buck", but everything is leading up to his still untitled debut. Rumor has it that the project is complete, but we're waiting patiently on the final cut. Regardless of the limited content over the years, Joseph Chilliams has constantly proven himself to be worthy of our attention and when he decides to officially step out, we know you'll agree.
Ray's Picks • BigBodyFiji, UG Vavy & Lud Foe
BigBodyFiji • Where to begin. By the end of the year BigBodyFiji had become my favorite rapper of 2016. Some hip-hop fans may take time to acclimate, but the sooner the better because when it does, you’re getting hit like a ton of bricks. He’s got a perspective, a funny motherfucker weaving a wild web of suburban street fairy tales (“growin up rich, I ain’t never struggled bitch”) with the chops to match. He knows who he is, and is probably waiting for a thank you. Figuratively and literally, he’s got a voice, and knows how to deliver. And what a voice it is - to be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve heard anything like it, a rubber band that’s stretched out, hit the blunt and forgot to bounce back. His ear is crazy, the way he combines hook-verse-and-beat is so intuitive it's borderline effortless. But that would be cutting him short. His work ethic goes crazy, and I’m sitting on a deep playlist of BigBodyFiji tracks and verses from the last 12 months that still gets daily play. He performed what is easily the best 30 person show at a soccer field I’ve ever seen (sounds sarcastic but not, it was fucking awesome). But if there’s one takeaway, it’s this; there’s no gimmick behind Fiji, and if you draw that conclusion you aren’t listening closely enough. Expect very big things in 2017.
UG Vavy • UG Vavy, a hitmaker in the flesh. In 2016 he began peppering Chicago with singles, and fighting his vibe was an exercise in futility. There was stopping power in every track, each a stepping stone in the local music ecology. No small feat, with so many artists, so much static noise to break through. UG Vavy set his sights on a big year and got it done at the most efficient level, never even dropping a project. And don’t get me wrong, we want a project. But shit, he rode these singles far because he could. The fact is, his tracks were just too damn catchy, and with every release he was able to show a new side of himself while simultaneously fleshing out the various corners of both his sound and persona. Catch a live show and you’ll understand, his energy moves effortlessly and the audience rushes closer to the stage at the opening measures of each consecutive track. No denying good music, and as a producer / rapper / singer triple threat he’s able to write songs that are 100% UG with 0% compromise. It’s why every single sounds a little different, and yet when you press play you know exactly who you’re listening to. It’s a common trait you’ll find with all our 2017 artists to watch and it’s why he belongs on this list.
Lud Foe • Lud Foe put out a mixtape called No Hooks that, from what I can tell, literally had no hooks, and that’s fucking cool. It almost feels cheap to call him an artist to watch in 2017, because he’s got thousands of eyes and ears on him already. But the fact is, in 2016 Lud Foe has been regarded as a local phenom, yet his potential has a ceiling far higher than that, way beyond “outwest, 290 shit”. Yes, Lud Foe has bars for days and attacks each rap like it’s his last (although his recent Chance feature showcases his ability to switch it up). Most importantly, he has something to say. Every verse has endless lines and wordplay to unpack, and even subject matter which a surface judgement could deem 'played out' is described with loving detail. Take Lud Foe on one of my favorites, “Ambitionz Of A Rider”, discussing cars - “26’s blow kisses / Forgiatos and candy paint”. That’s a damn near perfect two lines, crazy imagery packed into seven words. His delivery is dripping in drive. He barely reaches for air. He’s got it, he’s hungry, and he’s going places.
Patrick's Picks • whethan, Bunny & Emily Nichols
Whethan • I firmly believe that an artist is as great as the team they've built around them. 17-year old DJ/Producer Whethan (aka. Ethan Snoreck) shares management with fellow Chicago DJ duo Louis The Child, whom rocketed to success as streaming and festival darlings in 2016. He's also signed to booking agency powerhouse AM Only. Whethan started off mid-2016 with his single "Can't Hide" which is over 5 Million streams on Spotify (2.3 on Soundcloud) with the follow up single "Savage" featuring Flux Pavillion and MAX coming in at over 2 Million in just a few months. Whethan starts of 2017 by graduating high school early before he heads up on a 15+ date national tour including an all ages hometown Chicago show on February, 10th at Lincoln Hall.
Bunny • Despite just a handful of bite sized releases since their founding in Feb. 2016, Bunny is still an artist I'm optimistically going to be watching this year. Bunny wrapped 2016 recording some new material with Joyful Noise recording artist and fellow Chicagoan J Fernandez. The band is fronted by the Jessica Viscius, who is also a Senior Designer at Pitchfork. Considering that Bunny's artwork and visuals are what first hopped in front my eye, I'm excited she and the rest of the design heavy band pulls off as music and mixed/media come together. Having designer Drew Ryan (illustrator/branding behind the fantastic Chicago tiki bar Lost Lake) as your drummer helps. Guitarist Tim Makowski has a stunning collection of mixed media online. Bassist Alexa Viscious is the band's in-house photographer too! The band has played at Coles, Beat Kitchen, East Room, The Observatory, The Hideout - all the first right steps for a Chicago band. Simply put - Bunny is some visually pleasing, plain 'ole Chicago rock n' roll. I think we could all use a dose of that!
Emily Nichols • I was fumbling between a few acts for my third pick and was swayed by a familiar voice in the final hours. I caught a live set from Emily Nichols over the New Year's Eve weekend. Despite an early set time and small crowd - she absolutely crushed it. Nichols was a part of my artists to watch last year, as lead singer of the funk band Woo Park (who soon after took an abrupt hiatus). She's taken that already confident front woman spirit and applied it tactfully and tastefully toward her solo stage performance. Emily peppered 2016 with local live shows and a sonically graceful 6-song EP called Strange (which got a glowing review in the Chicago Tribune from one of my favorite music tastemakers Britt Julious). She also lent her vocals to few electronic pop songs and popped up on the road with festival powerhouse DJ Manic Focus. I have a feeling that in 2017 Nichols takes everything she's learned over the past few years and applies it toward those next big steps an artists needs to take. My favorite part about Emily is that she let's her freak flag fly. You can genuinely see it (her style is sui generis) and hear it (her voice is voluptuous) - I love that.