My Favorite Chicago Rap of 2013

To give my avid readership (that’s you!) a sample of what is to come in a few weeks, I’m counting down my five favorite Chicago rap songs of 2013. It might seem too geographically/thematically specific, but this isn’t my fault. You see, Chicago was rap Mecca in 2013, wrangling the prize away from Los Angeles’s short-lived reign in 2012. The city itself didn’t attain the prize by focus and collectivism, instead presenting two radically opposing but equally significant styles that (should’ve) captivated the country. And Kanye released an album, so there’s that.

But my main motivation for this mini-list is this: if I wanted to put all the Chicago rap I wanted to on my end of the year list, it would make up at least 20% of the entries. That’s excessive; but don’t think of this space as overflow, instead as an equally valid way to allow more musical diversity on this humble web log’s biggest project (i.e. more Cali stuff). And if you like this list, be sure to log on by the end of the year (date tbd) to check out my 50 favorite songs of the year. I guarantee you will like some of them.

5. “Hold My Liquor”- Kanye West, Chief Keef, and Justin Vernon

When discussing Yeezus, my friend Tim told me, “there’s something wrong when Kanye can record the line ‘one more fuck and I can own you.’ Because he’s right, and he knows it’s wrong.” And that’s essentially what Yeezus is about: Kanye coming to terms with his destructive behavior through his melodic genius. The title serves as a paradoxical double-entendre, and to cause more confusion, Kanye finds a way to blend perfectly the auto-tuned raspiness of drill prince Chief Keef and Justin Vernon’s saccharine fluidity into an expression of the conflict between his sex addiction and his perpetual state of regret. To top it all off, he injects a beautiful guitar solo that only adds layers to his wondrous mania, so far away from the chipmunk soul that sparked the most influential decade of recording in rap history. And did I mention this song features Chief Keef and Bonny Bear? Who does that??

4. “Crossroads”- Mick Jenkins, Chance the Rapper, and Vic Mensa

Mick Jenkins isn’t a particularly impressive rapper, but with “Crossroads,” he just happened to rap over one of the most affecting instrumentals of the year. Backing him up is Chicago startup Vic Mensa and hometown hero Chance the Rapper, who here as on many occasions this year, raps circles around his Chi-town compatriots without sounding like he’s even trying. Over a lesser beat, it may be fair to skip over Mick and Vic’s verse in favor of Chancellor’s solid gold, but “Crossroads” is such a sob story head bopper that you’d be willing to slug through Mick’s awkward singing any day. It certainly helps that Chance carries the load (“Kamikaze Common comma Keef and comic-con/Kamehameha, Chi made have made a spirit bomb”), and even though the messengers aren’t the best Chicago has to offer, “Crossroads” still shines as cathartic through the haze and depression of one of America’s saddest cities.

3. “Citgo”- Chief Keef

I have a confession to make: I really like Chief Keef, a.k.a. Worst Rapper Alive. It could be that I have a soft spot for the young rapper’s social anxiety disorder and his willingness to make music despite his physical debilitations. It could be that I believe Chicago’s drill scene is misunderstood and should be regarded as a collective cry for help instead of as a reckless explosion of gangster porn. Or maybe it’s because when I first heard Chief Keef, I wanted to break stuff, and I haven’t felt that way listening to music since first hearing Minor Threat. “Citgo” is different, however, in that, and this is a word I never thought I would use for either punk or drill, it’s beautiful. It feels like the sun rising over Keef’s neighborhood, like the birds and the wind continue to freshen the air despite the violence and destitution that justify the “Chiraq” monikers. I’d like you to ignore the lyrics, because Keef probably is the Worst Rapper Alive, but try listening to him without feeling some emotion. That’s the definition of an artist.

2. “Most Successful”- Tree

I get it, you’re tired of the drill scene, you think it isn’t as important as blogs are making it out to be (I disagree, but understand). You also think that Kanye’s pink polo empire is a bit bougie and preachy despite it’s equal influence on top-40 and underground rap, that makes sense. Tree is here to bring the balance you desire. He doesn’t have the educational pedigree of Common Sense nor the hood rat mentality of Lil Durk, but his everyman storytelling gravelly flow over his breathtaking chipmunk gospel (“Soul Trap” he calls it) sounds exactly like what’s been missing from a genre so full of ostentatious boasting and horrific tragedy. Tree fills the hole in hearts, flossing the success of his domesticity (“I float no drama/voted Obama/and still the most successful n—- made it out my class”) as spiritual nourishment instead of a boring repose from the rapper’s lifestyle.

1. “Good Ass Intro”- Chance the Rapper

He’s better than he was the last time, better than any newcomer, heck, probably better than anybody else right now not named Kanye, Drake, or Kendrick, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you came to the same conclusion listening to Acid Rap’s opening track. On “Good Ass Intro,” we find our hero Chancellor “balancing on sporadicity and fucking pure joy!” over a Peter Cottontale production that positively perpetuates Chance’s sense of rapture and awe. Midway through the track, he has the audacity to proclaim, “this yo’ favorite fucking album/and I’m not even fucking done,” and until Vampire Weekend decided to go all “Great American Songbook” on us, this was my favorite album of 2013. It was probably every rap fan’s favorite album of 2013, because it was quite easily the most groundbreaking rap album of the year, all from the son of an Obama campaigner who has yet to reach the drinking age. We don’t require any more proof. He’s good, AIGH! 

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