Chicago Artists To Watch 2018

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We’ve all made it through another year and, now more than ever, the Chicago music scene is bursting at the seams with talent. One of the best parts about it all is witnessing so many friends and familiar faces touching hands and building futures together. If there was one thing to criticize about Chicago, a lack of community sure as fuck wouldn’t be it. Over the course of 2017, there were some serious collaborations taking place: from musicians, to visual artists, designers, etc, Chicago has been the focal point for some of the latest and greatest in the game and, as far as we can tell, 2018 looks to be an exceptionally momentous year for its music. If you didn’t have an idea of who to look out for, feel free to pick our brains below.

—Franky Dono


Tasha

 
Photo by Michael Salisbury 

Tasha is a special voice and an important voice to be tuned into in 2018. Intent on showing the world the strength that lies in softness and sensitivity, she is fearless in her lyrical honesty with an elegance and palatability to her melodies and a sweetness to her vocals that even the most benumbed listener could not be impervious to. After a 2017 that involved invaluable performance experience including touring with Jamila Woods and Vagabon on the West Coast as well as a Pitchfork after show with Vagabon, Tasha has entered 2018 equipped with the talent and skill set capable of having a very big year. If her recent single "Lullaby" is any indicator of what's to come, there is much to look forward to. 

- Rachel Blackman

 

theMIND

 
Photo by Michael Salisbury 

Approaching just over a year since the release of his debut album Summer Camp, theMIND is definitely looking to forward his solo-career in 2018. Between national and global tours, and an insane amount of collaborations, we’ve all but heard the last of theMIND. Moving into the new year we expect to see an even larger focus on solo music from theMIND. As we learned in our December cover story, theMIND’s forthcoming EP “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” will be a step in a different direction. Unlike the more coming of age spirit of Summer Camp, this next project will showcase a deeper sense of confidence from theMIND. Following up with another EP and later on with a full length album, 2018 will undoubtedly be an adventure for the Philadelphia native. TheMIND’s ready to show just how far he’s come as a musician and he couldn’t be more excited to share this feeling with the world. When you’re dealing with someone who pays attention to every detail of the music like theMIND, you can bet he’ll make 2018 a year to remember.

- Franky Dono

 

Elton Aura

 
Photo by Michael Salisbury 
 

From his Sun Shower EP with Burns Twins and Bedows to his collaboration with Phoelix, Elton Aura has been on a roll. His raps combine the soothing flows of rhythm and blues with the energy of live instruments and upbeat positivity. Elton identifies as a renaissance vocalist and producer while forging his own sound and providing undeniable Chicago vibes. After working with several Chicago musicians and growing his fanbase through stellar releases and unforgettable performances, Elton has set the path for an incredibly strong year that deserves national recognition.

James Roeser

 


Sen Morimoto

 
Photo by Michael Salisbury 
 

Sen Morimoto presence may strike you as lowkey at first, but he’s an artist with big talent that we should all have our ears on. His music is a seed that’s plants itself in your ears then grows and grows, revealing itself to you slowly. As each song progresses the vision, voice, production, all come in to clarity. His voice is gentle but present and grounded, uniquely listenable.  But Sen’s eccentric production is one of the first giveaways that Sen is a case of still waters running deep. The beats are simultaneously chaotic and tranquil. It’s not just his solo work either – Sen is a contributor all throughout Chicago music, whether in live performance or in the studio. One of the biggest examples is the hand he had in the production of Joseph Chilliams' impressive ‘Henry Church’ project. Sen Morimoto has a sound entirely of his own, and has been putting in work all over Chicago leading up to the release of his debut project, which makes him one of our artists to watch.

Ray Mestad


Frsh Waters

 
Photo by Tom Vinn

Photo by Tom Vinn

 

In all actuality, Pivot Gang’s co-founder FRSH Waters has a reputation that precedes this list by nearly half a decade. Due to his incarceration, FRSH Waters became the subsequent namesake of Pivot Gang’s debut mixtape Jimmy in 2014. After his release in July of 2017, FRSH has shown no slack in his step since getting back to the studio. Just last October, we got our first new taste of FRSH’s seasoned lyricism on The Boy Illinois’ track “Cool”, featuring and produced by Saba. However, FRSH’s most significant appearance of 2017 came from his debut single “Piss Po” featuring Jean Deaux. By way of these releases, FRSH Waters has not only further established himself as a lyricist but as one of the top contenders of Chicago in 2018. Even amongst the strong conglomerate known as Pivot Gang, FRSH Waters still stands as a force to be reckoned with. Knowing that going into 2018 is reason enough to keep the polished MC on your radar.

Franky Dono


Jean Deaux

 
Photo by Jarrod Turner

Photo by Jarrod Turner

Since making her way to the scene around 2012, Jean Deaux has yet to stop short of amazing. Even in her early days with songs like “Bring It On”, and “One More Time” featuring Pivot and Benjamin Earl; Jean’s flawless rhymes have always stuck out nicely. Although she was more known as a rapper, it didn’t take long for Jean to begin showcasing her versatility. Along with being a skillful lyricist, Jean Deaux can sing her ass off as well. Lately she’s been laying on the sauce on every side of the spectrum. With her more recent releases like “Piss Po” with FRSH Waters, and the electric bounciness of her Tim Suby produced “Pressure”; Jean Deaux appears to be getting ready for a very surprising 2018. On top of that, her talents as a performer are only getting better and better with time. 2017 saw high quality releases such as “Wikipedia” and even better performances like Thanksgiving weekend’s BLK Wednesday. Her potential as an artist is sky-high – 2017 was her plotting and preparing, and we know she’s sitting on some releases that are destined to hit hard in 2018. We don’t know where Jean’s coming from with her next body of work. We just know it’ll be worth the wait.

Franky Dono & Ray Mestad

 

Iris Temple

 
Photo by Alexanna Cox

Photo by Alexanna Cox

 

The duo of Quinn Cochran and Quinn Barlow that comprises Iris Temple are fresh off the heels of quite an exciting 2017 with the release of their Vistas EP as well as a tour with Xavier Omar. Still, as noteworthy as these accomplishments are, they are just the beginning for the talented pair. Armored with heavenly vocals, undeniable lyrics and melodies, timeless, thoughtful production, and an exceptional live show, all the elements required to succeed on a massive scale are present and most certainly accounted for. The sky is the limit for Iris Temple and they’re well on their way there right now. It'd be a shame if you weren't paying attention in 2018.

Rachel Blackman


Plu20 Nash

 
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Plu2o Nash has been grinding on his production for years in Chicago and building momentum for himself- work that has unquestionably paid off. Through his collaborations with artists like Lucki, A$AP Rocky, and Jesse Rutherford as well as his exemplary solo work, Plu2o has cultivated a recognizable sound that is both capable of turning out the function and is simultaneously an intimate, dark take on hip hop production. As a producer that manages to seamlessly walk the fine line between displaying versatility and still having a signature, we can expect to experience the "Nash Effect" all over 2018. 

Rachel Blackman


DRAMA

 
Photo by Jarrod Turner

Photo by Jarrod Turner

 

DRAMA is the electronic duo challenging whatever assumptions you had about the genre. Consisting of singer Via Rosa and producer / DJ Nael Shehade, their combo enthusiastic house beats and subtle, strong vocals immediately impressed out the gate. Their debut EP was ‘Gallows’, an ironic name given how full of life the project is. Nael’s beats were imposing but moved with grace, and Via’s vocals and lyrics embrace an unconventional, stream of consciousness style that sets her apart from other electronic vocalists. ‘Gallows’ left a huge impression, and that came out in 2016. Moving into 2018, with shows and new music on the way, DRAMA is one to watch.

Ray Mestad


Yomi

 
Photo by Sam Fuehring

Photo by Sam Fuehring

 

Yomí was one of the hardest hustlers in 2017, dropping multiple projects and playing a ton of shows. She went from the fringe to being a staple of the Chicago scene, putting her in position to have her talent recognized on a large scale in 2018. She’s described herself as an ‘experimental harpist’, but Yomí is much more than that. The sound of her music resides at the intersection of Portishead, Joanna Newsom, and PIVOT Gang, creating fresh music that is captivating and distinctly Chicago. She’s a remarkable producer, formidable performer, and she knows how to hit the streets and promote her shows. She’s been in the studio with some of Chicago’s most intriguing artists, and 2018 is sure to be a year we see some exciting music from her. I look forward to seeing more coverage of #thatharpist from Chicago on a national level.

- Ben Levine


Grapetooth

 
Photos by Alex Hupp

Photos by Alex Hupp

 

A partnership forged in the fires of friendship and mutual interest in experimentation begat the wavy new kid on the block: Grapetooth. Some circles have a theory that the name is a reference to drinking wine, strengthened by the cover art for their breakout single “Trouble”. After only a few shows in 2017, the quasi-supergroup (Grapetooth features producer Home-Sick aka Chris Bailoni and Twin Peaks guitarist Clay Frankel) have collected tens of thousands of listeners across streaming platforms which is pretty cold considering there's only one song on their Spotify account. This year they're starting out as philanthropists, giving a free show to the people at Schuba’s with The Knees, Date Night, and MTVH1N1 on January 15. The two of them have been working together for over two years, and are currently playing things pretty close to the vest. That being said, I've got a good feeling we'll be seeing a release from them soon.

Sam Glaser


Valee

 
Photo by Bryan Allen Lamb
 

Valee shined bright in 2017, starting off the year by producing the Chicago anthem “Shell” getting heavy rotation at every local event around the city. He followed it by teaming up with producer Chasethemoney for the project VTM that paved their own lane amongst rap community and rapidly gained more fans. Coming off his strong first half of 2017, Valee continued the momentum by dropping one of the craziest feature verses of the fall with fellow Chicagoan Z Money on “Two 16’s”, leaving every listener dumbfounded at his flow all over the track. His run in 2017 was so epic Valee’s dog even turned famous, sharing the spotlight while accompanying him during live performances. Overall, Valee is the total package for potential rap superstar, he has the delivery, wordplay and ear for beats makes any song he jumps on a potential hit. Couple this with the rumors swirling about him signing to GOOD Music, there is nothing out of the realm of possibilities for Valee in 2018. 

- Luis Hernandez