Is Chicago the most impactful intersection in hip-hop history? Draft your own team in our new Bracket Competition!
The following is the second installment of a new series, The Hip-Hop Olympics Bracket. Throughout the next several weeks, we will be examining several of hip-hop’s most prominent locales. Historical context, musical aesthetic, key players, and prominent themes will be analyzed. Once the series is complete, there will be a vote to decide which region reigns supreme.
We need your involvement for this one. In order to find a winner, we invite our readers weigh in with their ideal roster for each region: six players, two producers, and two coaches. The comments will be tallied, and once the final vote comes to pass, fan-voted teams will be pitted against one another in order to crown a single champion. We've already covered California, New York,, Toronto, Atlanta and Florida.
For this week’s installment, we shall be examining Chicago.
VOTE FOR YOUR IDEAL TEAM IN THE COMMENTS SECTION
Players: Your rappers. The ones you know will murder a track. Maybe it's flow, maybe it's lyrics, maybe it's straight up charisma.
Coaches: Now that you've picked your rappers, you need somebody to keep them in line. To oversee the whole thing. You gotta make sure you've got some OGs holding it down.
Producers: You've got your lineup, but who is going to bless them with the beat?
From Chess Records to several iterations of Dixieland jazz, Chicago is the ideal candidate when tracing a historical middle point for hip hop. The question of geneology in hip hop is hotly debated, with many historians choosing to look further back than its introduction in the South Bronx. You wouldn't dare play contrarian, say in a Bushwick Barbershop where occupants wait for a point of argumentation.
Nor would you think off-hand to include a hidden trajectory. The secret history of hip hop in Chicago begins well before the floodgates open in NY, or in a state of flux long before the "blues" became the distinguishable quality known the world over as an inexhaustible often parodic feeling of suffering and platitude. Chicago now the third most populous city in America, is widely known as the birth place of Gangsterism and as I mentioned before, the migratory destination for the "blues," where it became essentialized as the linchpin for all music in the United States, hip hop included.
For starters, Chicago generally had a hand in the early sketch work of many hip hop trends before they progressed elsewhere. Due to its central Midwest position, groups such as Crucial Conflict and Doe of Die played the role of regional influencer before they sought National recognition for themselves. Doe or Die for example came out unfazed by comparisons to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, authors of a "chopper-style" arguably popularized in Chicago. Twista for one, took offense to the misappropriation, their subsequent "beef" became emblematic of the cultural stronghold Chicago possesses over neighboring states, namely Ohio. Chicago was at the very least, at the heart of a cultural movement which shaped the harmonization of hip hop, on an evolutionary curve. In some circles, Twista is irreverently referred to as a novelty act, but in Chicago his spastic style is something no one would dare emulate out of deep-felt thanks.
Another sprightly fellow by the name of Grav pushes his way onto New York radio in 1996, off the stregnth of a since forgotten debut LP Down To Earth. A little known producer then going solely by his first name, gave him six hard hitting beats within an earshot of "The New York Underground." That producer was none other than Kanye West, a rapper who paid his dues behind the boards at Roc-A-Fella, returning to cultivate a grass roots scene in Chicago the likes of which helped jumpstart the careers Bump J, Lupe Fiasco, GLC, among others.
Among the rappers Kanye helped revitalized somewhere down the line, Common is one that fared better with a chip on his shoulder, typically becoming reprensatative of Chicagoans reluctantly playing second fiddle to New York. If you look closely, no city in America is better positioned to bridge the southern Delta with values in the North, and it certainly comes across in the cultural exchange Chicago often takes part in with states in the South. One rapper in particular, Da Brat was born out of rubble, but took her talents to Atlanta where she became an instrumental part of Jermaine Dupri's production house So So Def. The cultural exchange invoked a passing channel which was used countless times by Chicago artists. Shawnna signing with Ludacris' imprint DTP whilst maintaining a presence in the Chicago scene through endeavors with Doe or Die and Kanye West, who as you'll see was once very much ingrained in his hometown.
Two musical trends of darker persuasion also came to "life" in Chicago, one of which is so imperative to the development of trap & post-trap music today. The Drill scene native to Chicago, would be unidentifiable if it weren't inseparably tied to language and local customs. The scene took off by accident by sheer hyperconcentration of videographers and rappers putting out content at a blistering rate. Before Akademiks made an anthropolical mockery of the scene, and its inherent connection to gang violence, it was the single most viable thing going in hip hop. No movement or cultural subgenre has done a better job of shedding light on the social concerns of young Americans, a few years before the conversation on social inequality reached its current state of upheaval. The other musical trend cultivating a darker but less suggestive note, was horrorcore, although Chicagoans never received the accreditation they deserved for its invention, namely a trio called Psychodrama which went to sign with Rap-A-Lot records, furthering the cause for a cultural exchange between Chicago and the existing states.
Nowadays names like Chance the Rapper, BJ the Chicago Kid, G Herbo, Famous Dex, Mick Jenkins, Lil Durk, Montana of 300, Tink, Jeremih, Saba and Vic Mensa are left to pick up the pieces. Unlike in other regional hubs, where formal instruction in hip hop feels too limiting, Chicago rappers have several exemplars from which to sample, and a vernacular completely synonymous with their social conditions. There's a reason "Bop" died off and replenished itself. Adamn Killa and ZMoney have a post-trap aesthetic is singularly different, and even Gospel influences enter the formal discussion depending on whom you ask. Chicago is by far the only major intersection where the correctly ordered segments of hip hop culture converge. Never bare, never at a loss for words, the Chicago scene is well informed.
Once again, don't forget to vote for your roster.