For those not keyed into rap's latest come-ups, we present a series introducing the most notable 90s babies of the moment.
90s Babies Rap by Christopher Alley
Six Chicago Rappers to Watch
Lil Herb – (19) Chicago, Illinois.
Lil Herb is one of the most interesting kids to come out of Chicago’s south side. Back in 2012 he and Lil Bibby released “Kill Shit”, a video that took the price for most backyard posturing up until “Hot Nigga” came out. Bibby was a low-key, Z-Ro-like presence on the track, leaving Herb to steal the show with something like 32-bars of surprisingly dexterous rapping.
That track was a lot of rote gun-talk, but Herb’s recent output is a bit more contemplative. There’s a rationale to the violence in his music, something that seems to go with radio rap's recent return to acknowledging that shit’s fucked up. Herb confirmed his position with the remix to “Fight or Flight”, which featured guest verses from Common and Chance the Rapper, two esteemed Chicago rappers who tend to be particularly thoughtful about the human experience. Here’s to hoping it rubs off.
Lil Bibby – (20) Chicago, Illinois.
Bibby started getting a buzz about a year after Keef, mostly from his Al-Qaeda training camp-quality videos with Lil Herb. Last year's Free Crack 2 was a standout release, with Bibby's surprisingly deep, world-weary voice anchoring a consistent, although boilerplate, trap rap mixtape. If you like your trap joyless and orthodox, then Free Crack 2 is a must-listen. He doesn't do anything outstanding, but he sounds extremely comfortable in the lane he's made for himself so far and, for what it's worth, doesn't inspire the “our teenagers are out of control!” fretting that Keef does. Seeing him in a supergroup with Freddie Gibbs and Kevin Gates would be interesting.
Chance The Rapper – (21) Chicago, Illinois.
After school music program rap, Coachella rap, Kanye-meets-Kendrick with Wayne doing ad-libs, Chance has a lot going for him. For one, he’s a legitimate songwriter in a climate of memes and mixtape singles. And yes, that means the traditional, album-oriented, structured idea of songwriting. Every motif has a purpose, every line has a meaning, every tic has a function. Sensitive, self-aware, funny, vulgar, and passionate, he's probably going to have the best career and most interesting releases of everyone of recent mention. His second tape, Acid Rap, channeled the soulful flourishes, smart-assness, and frankness of early Kanye, but featured a who's who of 2013's blog favorites and a thoughtful take on being young in Chicago that was a refreshing alternative to the garbled, stoned nihilism of the drill scene.
There’s an idea that we’re comfortable with substance being secondary to style, and that’s true, but Chance’s version of “lyricism” is more pithy storytelling and less run-on indulgence. It’s a throwback, but to something a lot less cool than Joey Bada$$ or Spaceghostpurrp's 90s references: Arrested Development. There’s a lot of “Tenessee” and “Mr. Wendell” in Chance's approach, which colors his autobiographical tracks with the kind of universal humanity that somebody like, say, Drake lacks. Or rather, Chance is endearingly human, while Drake is one of the least likable characters in his work, which makes Aubrey's three-years-after-the-fact diss on “Trophies” that much more perfect. Drake's great at what he does, but really, wouldn't you prefer a squawking cigarette-addicted acid-head who has tracks with Action Bronson and Justin Bieber?
Vic Mensa – (21) Chicago, Illinois.
Like Chance, he's a very Nickelodeon-esque (These two would've killed on “All That”), sing-songy rapper with a penchant for live bands, jazzy samples, and an enviably skillful flow. Unlike Chance, it seems like he's still figuring out his lane, despite allegedly being the former's rap mentor. There's less of an urgency or grand sense of “meaning” to Vic's music, which is why he's probably more likely to tour with Pro Era than guest on a Justin Bieber single, but he does have the kind of savvy knack for melodic songwriting and approachable vibe that suggests that he should be popular. Recent singles “Feel That” and “Down on My Luck” have seen him switch up his approach, with the tracks bearing respective Southern and hip-house influences that are much more pop-minded than the mellow, almost West Coast smoker's music he dropped on The Innanet Tape. It’s positive music, but it’s not hampered by the hokeyness people associate with hip-hop outside of the radio/trap mold.
Lil’ Durk –(21) Chicago, Illinois.
Chicago’s Rich Homie Quan. He’s a former Chief Keef associate who’s now signed to French Montana’s Coke Boys Records and mostly makes heavily auto-tuned pop rap. Sometimes he delves into the drill scene’s requisite bare-chested posturing, but the bulk of his material is pretty much cliché-filled club tracks. It’s music designed for selfies, two-stepping with overpriced drinks, and carpooling to the mall. If you were going to film a PSA about teen sexting, this would be the background music. There’s nothing hard about Lil’ Durk’s tracks, despite what his lyrics would try to portray, but damn is it ever catchy. However, if singing rappers ends up being a fad rather than an industry sea change, expect Lil’ Durk to be one of the first casualties.