Hip-hop music has been a vital part of Illinois’ music scene for decades. Illinois has produced several influential rappers and hip-hop groups that have shaped the trajectory of the genre over the years. In this article, we will delve into the history of Illinois hip-hop, its pioneers, contemporary artists and collectives, its impact on the national scene, and what lies ahead for the future of Illinois hip-hop.
The history of Illinois hip-hop
Hip-hop culture has been present in Illinois since the early days of the genre. While New York is often cited as the birthplace of hip-hop, the roots of the genre can be traced back to the 1970s, when pioneers like DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash were creating a new musical style that would eventually explode into a global phenomenon. By the 1980s, hip-hop had taken root in Chicago, where local DJs and MCs were innovating with the genre and creating a sound that was distinct from what was happening in New York.
Early beginnings and influences
The early years of Illinois hip-hop were heavily influenced by New York’s hip-hop scene, with DJs playing breakbeats and MCs spitting rhymes over the top. However, Illinois hip-hop soon began to develop its own unique flavor. One of the earliest groups to emerge from the scene was The Boogie Boys, who blended elements of funk and R&B with their hip-hop sound. Another group, House-O-Matics, drew inspiration from Chicago’s house music scene, fusing electronic beats with rap lyrics.
The rise of Chicago hip-hop
By the 1990s, Chicago’s hip-hop scene was in full swing, with artists like Da Brat, Do or Die, and Crucial Conflict making waves nationally. Chicago’s sound was characterized by its gritty, street edge and rugged lyrics, and it quickly gained a reputation as one of the most authentic hip-hop scenes in the country. At the same time, a new generation of Illinois rappers was emerging, including Twista, Lupe Fiasco, and Common, who would go on to achieve great success in the industry.
Notable moments in Illinois hip-hop history
Throughout the years, Illinois hip-hop has been punctuated by a series of notable moments that have helped to shape the genre. In 2003, Kanye West emerged as one of the most innovative and influential producers in the game, with his debut album “The College Dropout” setting a new standard for hip-hop production. West’s unique sound, which combined soulful samples with clever wordplay, helped to push the boundaries of hip-hop and inspired a generation of artists to experiment with new sounds and styles.
In 2012, Chief Keef burst onto the scene with his viral hit “I Don’t Like,” putting Chicago’s drill music on the national map. Drill music, which originated in Chicago’s South Side, is characterized by its ominous beats, violent lyrics, and raw energy. The genre has been controversial at times, but it has also been credited with giving a voice to young people from marginalized communities and shedding light on the harsh realities of life in inner-city Chicago.
Another notable moment in Illinois hip-hop history came in 2016, when Chance the Rapper became the first independent artist to win a Grammy for Best Rap Album. Chance, who hails from Chicago’s West Side, has been praised for his positive, uplifting lyrics and his commitment to giving back to his community. His success as an independent artist has inspired a new generation of rappers to take control of their own careers and pursue their dreams on their own terms.
Illinois hip-hop continues to evolve and thrive, with new artists emerging all the time. From the early days of breakbeats and rhymes to the current era of trap beats and Auto-Tune, Illinois hip-hop has always been at the forefront of the genre, pushing boundaries and breaking new ground.
Pioneers of Illinois hip-hop
When it comes to Illinois hip-hop, there are a number of artists who are widely credited with pioneering the genre and pushing it to new heights. Here are just a few of the most influential:
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., is one of Chicago’s most iconic and influential MCs. He first gained national attention in the early 90s with his debut album “Can I Borrow a Dollar?”, and he has since gone on to release over a dozen critically acclaimed albums that have solidified his place in hip-hop history. Known for his intricate rhymes and socially conscious lyrics, Common remains one of the most respected and revered MCs in the game.
Aside from his music career, Common has also dabbled in acting, appearing in films like “Selma” and “John Wick: Chapter 2.” He is also an activist and philanthropist, working with organizations like PETA and the Common Ground Foundation, which aims to empower underprivileged youth through education and mentorship.
Twista, born Carl Terrell Mitchell, is a rapper from Chicago who is widely regarded as one of the fastest rappers of all time. He first gained notoriety in the mid 90s with his debut album “Adrenaline Rush,” which showcased his lightning-fast flow and intricate rhyming schemes. Since then, he has released several successful albums and collaborated with countless other hip-hop artists.
In addition to his music career, Twista has also made appearances in films like “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” and “The Wrecking Crew.” He has also been involved in various philanthropic efforts, including the Twista Foundation, which aims to provide educational and recreational opportunities for young people in his hometown of Chicago.
Lupe Fiasco, born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, is a rapper, producer, and activist from Chicago who rose to fame in the mid 2000s with his critically acclaimed debut album “Food & Liquor.” With his sharp lyrical ability and socially conscious messaging, Lupe quickly became one of the most celebrated rappers of his generation, and he remains a prominent voice in the hip-hop community to this day.
Outside of his music career, Lupe has been involved in various philanthropic efforts, including the Lupe Fiasco Foundation, which aims to provide access to education, healthcare, and other resources for underprivileged communities. He has also been an outspoken advocate for various social causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement and Palestinian rights.
Crucial Conflict is a hip-hop group from Chicago that rose to prominence in the mid 90s with their debut album “The Final Tic.” With their unique blend of street-smart lyrics and soulful production, Crucial Conflict helped to define the sound of Chicago hip-hop and paved the way for future generations of Illinois rappers.
Since their debut, Crucial Conflict has released several more albums and continued to tour and perform. They have also been involved in various philanthropic efforts, including the “Stop the Violence” movement, which aims to reduce gun violence in Chicago’s most vulnerable communities.
Contemporary Illinois rappers and groups
Illinois hip-hop is still going strong today, with a new generation of rappers and groups making waves both locally and nationally. Here are just a few of the most notable contemporary artists:
Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper, born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, is a rapper and singer from Chicago who rose to fame in the early 2010s with a series of popular mixtapes. With his upbeat, positive messaging and eclectic, jazzy production, Chance quickly became one of the most beloved and celebrated rappers of his generation, winning multiple Grammy Awards for his music.
Chance the Rapper is not only known for his music but also for his philanthropy. He has donated millions of dollars to Chicago Public Schools and various other charitable organizations. In 2017, he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
Chief Keef, born Keith Farrelle Cozart, is a rapper from Chicago who helped to popularize the city’s drill music sound in the early 2010s. With his menacing flow and streetwise lyrics, Chief Keef quickly gained a large following and became a controversial figure in the music industry.
Despite his controversial image, Chief Keef has also been involved in various philanthropic efforts. In 2013, he donated $10,000 to the family of a six-year-old shooting victim in Chicago. He has also been involved in anti-violence campaigns and has spoken out against police brutality.
G Herbo, born Herbert Randall Wright III, is a rapper from Chicago who first gained notoriety as a member of the hip-hop collective Welcome to Fazoland. With his gritty, hard-hitting rhymes and intense delivery, G Herbo has become one of the most respected and sought-after rappers of his generation.
G Herbo is also known for his activism and community involvement. He has been involved in anti-violence campaigns in Chicago and has spoken out against police brutality and systemic racism. In 2020, he launched the Swervin’ Through Stress initiative, which provides mental health resources and support for young people in underserved communities.
Saba, born Tahj Malik Chandler, is a rapper and producer from Chicago who has gained critical acclaim for his introspective, soul-baring lyrics and innovative production style. With his unique blend of hip-hop, jazz, and neo-soul influences, Saba has become one of the most exciting and original voices in the genre.
In addition to his music, Saba is also involved in various community initiatives. He has worked with the Chicago-based organization Young Chicago Authors, which provides writing and performance opportunities for young people, and has also been involved in anti-violence campaigns in the city.
Noname, born Fatimah Nyeema Warner, is a rapper and poet from Chicago who first gained attention as a featured artist on Chance the Rapper’s “Acid Rap” mixtape. With her poetic, insightful lyrics and understated, jazz-inflected production, Noname has become one of the most beloved and unique voices in contemporary hip-hop.
Noname is also a vocal activist and advocate for social justice. She has been involved in various campaigns and initiatives, including supporting the Movement for Black Lives and advocating for prison reform. In 2020, she launched the Noname Book Club, which promotes reading and discussion of books by authors from marginalized communities.
Illinois hip-hop collectives and labels
Illinois has a rich and diverse hip-hop scene that is home to many talented artists, but it’s not just about individual artists. The state is also home to several influential hip-hop collectives and labels that have helped shape the sound of the scene. These groups have made significant contributions to the genre and continue to inspire and influence new artists.
One of the most notable hip-hop collectives and record labels in Illinois is SaveMoney. Based in Chicago, SaveMoney includes Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Towkio, and other notable Illinois artists. The collective is known for their innovative, genre-blurring sound and DIY ethos that has made them one of the most exciting and influential collectives in hip-hop today.
SaveMoney’s impact on the hip-hop scene goes beyond just their music. They have also been vocal advocates for social justice and community activism, using their platform to raise awareness and effect change. Their commitment to making a positive impact on their community has made them one of the most respected and admired collectives in the genre.
Another prominent hip-hop collective from Chicago is Pivot Gang. The group includes Saba, Joseph Chilliams, and other prominent Illinois rappers. Pivot Gang is known for their emotive, introspective lyrics and soulful, jazzy production that has garnered them critical acclaim and a dedicated following.
Pivot Gang’s music is deeply personal and often explores themes of identity, family, and the struggles of everyday life. Their honest and vulnerable approach to songwriting has resonated with fans and made them one of the most respected and celebrated collectives in the genre.
Glory Boyz Entertainment
Glory Boyz Entertainment is a record label and collective founded by Chief Keef that has played a significant role in popularizing Chicago’s drill music sound. Though the label has had its share of controversies over the years, it remains an important part of Illinois hip-hop history.
Glory Boyz Entertainment’s impact on the hip-hop scene cannot be understated. The label’s success helped bring attention to Chicago’s drill music sound and paved the way for other artists to follow in their footsteps. While their legacy is not without its flaws, it’s impossible to deny the impact they have had on the genre.
Closed Sessions is a Chicago-based independent record label that has worked with a number of notable Illinois artists, including Chance the Rapper, Kweku Collins, and Vic Mensa. The label is known for their commitment to fostering emerging talent and championing independent voices.
Closed Sessions has played a key role in shaping the sound of Illinois hip-hop by providing a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talents. Their dedication to supporting independent voices has helped to create a diverse and vibrant hip-hop scene in the state.
These are just a few of the many hip-hop collectives and labels that have helped shape the sound of Illinois hip-hop. Their contributions to the genre have been significant and their legacies continue to inspire and influence new artists today.
The impact of Illinois hip-hop on the national scene
Illinois hip-hop has had a significant impact on the national hip-hop scene over the years, shaping the sound and style of the genre in a number of ways. Here are just a few of the most notable:
The influence of Chicago drill music
Chicago’s drill music sound, popularized by artists like Chief Keef and Lil Durk, has had a profound impact on hip-hop in recent years. With its stark, menacing production and gritty, street-level lyrics, drill music has become one of the most important sub-genres in hip-hop today.
Drill music originated in the early 2010s on the South Side of Chicago. It was a response to the city’s high levels of violence and poverty, and was often used as a way for young people to express their frustration with the world around them. The sound of drill music is characterized by its heavy use of 808 drums, aggressive basslines, and dark, ominous melodies.
Despite its controversial subject matter, drill music has become increasingly popular in recent years, with artists like Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign carrying on the tradition in New York City.
The rise of conscious rap in Illinois
Illinois has also been home to a number of socially and politically conscious rappers over the years, including Common, Lupe Fiasco, and Chance the Rapper. With their incisive, thought-provoking lyrics and commitment to social justice, these artists have helped to push hip-hop in a more positive and progressive direction.
Common, for example, has been a vocal advocate for issues like criminal justice reform and gun control, using his platform to raise awareness and inspire change. Lupe Fiasco, meanwhile, has been praised for his complex, multi-layered lyrics, which often touch on themes like politics, race, and religion. And Chance the Rapper has used his success to give back to his community, donating millions of dollars to Chicago Public Schools and other local organizations.
The rise of conscious rap has helped to broaden the appeal of hip-hop, attracting new fans who are drawn to the genre’s socially conscious messaging and positive outlook.
Collaborations with artists from other regions
Illinois hip-hop artists have also been active collaborators with artists from other parts of the country and the world. Chance the Rapper, for example, has worked with everyone from Kanye West to Justin Bieber, while Lupe Fiasco has collaborated with artists as diverse as Jill Scott and Guy Sebastian. These collaborations have helped to broaden the reach and influence of Illinois hip-hop and have helped to cement the state’s place in the national hip-hop canon.
Collaborations between artists from different regions and backgrounds have been a staple of hip-hop since its earliest days. These collaborations have helped to break down barriers and create new sounds and styles that might not have been possible otherwise. In the case of Illinois hip-hop, collaborations with artists from other regions have helped to bring the state’s unique sound and style to a wider audience, cementing its place as one of the most important and influential hip-hop scenes in the country.
The future of Illinois hip-hop
Illinois hip-hop is constantly evolving, with new artists and sounds emerging all the time. Here are just a few things to look out for in the years ahead:
Up-and-coming artists to watch
The Illinois hip-hop scene is full of exciting up-and-coming artists who are poised to make their mark on the genre. Keep an eye out for names like Femdot, Mick Jenkins, and Joseph Chilliams, who are all making waves and gaining critical acclaim for their unique styles and innovative sounds.
Femdot, for instance, is known for his introspective and socially conscious lyrics, which tackle issues like racism, police brutality, and mental health. His debut album, “94 Camry Music,” was praised for its raw honesty and emotional depth, and established him as one of the most promising new voices in Illinois hip-hop.
Mick Jenkins, on the other hand, is known for his intricate wordplay and dense, metaphorical lyrics. His debut album, “The Water[s],” was a critical and commercial success, and showcased his ability to weave complex narratives and social commentary into his music.
Joseph Chilliams, meanwhile, is a member of the Chicago-based collective Pivot Gang, and is known for his playful, irreverent style and off-kilter sense of humor. His debut album, “Henry Church,” was praised for its eclectic mix of genres and influences, and established him as a versatile and boundary-pushing artist.
The role of social media and streaming platforms
Social media and streaming platforms like SoundCloud and Spotify have played a huge role in shaping the Illinois hip-hop scene in recent years, providing a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talents and connect with fans. As these platforms continue to evolve and become more ubiquitous, they are likely to play an even bigger role in the future of Illinois hip-hop.
For example, SoundCloud has been instrumental in the rise of artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname, and Saba, all of whom gained significant followings through the platform before signing major label deals. Similarly, Spotify’s curated playlists and algorithmic recommendations have helped to expose listeners to a wider range of Illinois hip-hop artists, and have helped to break down barriers between underground and mainstream music.
As social media and streaming platforms continue to evolve, it’s likely that they will become even more important in shaping the sound and direction of Illinois hip-hop, and will continue to provide a platform for emerging artists to make their mark.
The evolution of the Illinois hip-hop sound
Finally, the Illinois hip-hop sound itself is likely to continue evolving and changing in the years ahead, with artists pushing the boundaries of the genre and experimenting with new sounds and styles. Whether it’s through collaborations with artists from different genres or the incorporation of new technology and production techniques, the Illinois hip-hop scene is sure to remain a vital part of the hip-hop landscape for many years to come.
One trend that has emerged in recent years is the blending of traditional hip-hop sounds with elements of jazz, soul, and funk. Artists like Noname, Saba, and Chance the Rapper have all incorporated live instrumentation and jazz-inflected melodies into their music, creating a sound that is both innovative and accessible.
Another trend is the increasing use of technology and production techniques to create new and unique sounds. Artists like Kanye West, who hails from Chicago, have been at the forefront of this trend, using everything from autotune to sample manipulation to create music that is both futuristic and experimental.
As Illinois hip-hop continues to evolve and change, it’s clear that the only constant is innovation and creativity. Whether it’s through new artists, new platforms, or new sounds, the future of Illinois hip-hop is sure to be exciting and unpredictable.