Ones to Watch from The Chicago Squad that Brought You Vic Mensa
One of the stark realities of rap in the Internet age is that crews don’t collectively blow up the way they did in the ‘90s and early 2000s. The breakout solo act (think Drake or Tyler, the Creator) almost always comes first, and eventually, through savvy label bargaining or a constant pummeling of name drops and features, the secondary players begin to get their shine. Such is the case with Chicago’s Save Money, a squad of high school friends whose members include universally beloved gospel golden child Chance the Rapper, outspoken activist and Kanye acolyte Vic Mensa, and summer 2016 breakout star Joey Purp.
It’d be fair to expect that the other Save Money rappers are at least a step below their A-list counterparts, but in fact the other six MCs (producers Nico Segal, Papi Beatz, and Smoke Ono are also affiliated) each have their own distinct sound and swagger, as well as impressive bodies of work. What follows is a primer to bring you up to speed on the crew’s lesser known members, so when one of them inevitably blows up in 2017 (it’s like clockwork with these guys), you can say you saw it coming.
With a successful mixtape last year and a quality EP in 2016, Towkio (formerly Tokyo Shawn), is well positioned to be the next Save Money rapper to permeate the rap scene. His Chance collaboration “Heaven Only Knows” racked up 28 million SoundCloud plays and his album, Community Service 2, is a raucous collection of electronic-tinged club tunes. He isn’t an all-world lyricist like Chance or Purp, but he’s clever and clearly the group’s resident free spirit.
Essential Track: “Heaven Only Knows”
Kami de Chukwu
Joey Purp’s partner in the Chicago-based hip-hop group Leather Corduroys and 50 percent responsible for “Irie Trill Vibes,” a turn-up anthem so devoid of givable fucks its vocals distort multiple times due to screaming, Kami de Chukwu’s solo discography is actually quite brief. Still, his track “I Say” proves that he’s a top-flight lyricist with a knack for internal rhymes. He hasn’t put out a solo mixtape since 2012, but his no-frills style is perfect for purists.
Essential Track: “I Say”
In contrast to de Chukwu, Sterling Hayes’ focus is less on technical skill and more on translating emotion. He’s Save Money’s wild card, a vocalist who can embody Vince Staples-level nihilism on “Fuck It” (“What is my GPA? Fuck it / Pop me a Xan I’m like fuck it”) and then spout powerful socioeconomic commentary on “I Ain’t Shit” (“They say my momma not a millionaire / So I can’t be a millionaire”). His latest mixtape, “Antidepressant,” was a bit bloated, but his rawness is a true asset.
Essential Track: “Fuck It”
Brian Fresco’s “Casanova” is one of 2016’s most underrated rap releases. The production on the mixtape is diverse and pristine, with Fresco flipping between Kanye-indebted chipmunk soul, druggy drill, and introspective instrumentation that recalls early Chance, all with ease. Fresco is a smooth, effortless storyteller who isn’t afraid to take a step back and inject some humor (an entire verse on his single “Bae” is sung to the tune of “99 Luftballons”). He’s perhaps the most diverse member of Save Money (including the newly minted stars), and could be the next fast-riser if he drops another project soon.
Essential Track: “Lonely”
Dally Auston presides over his tracks with an icy sense of poise. His 2014 “WestsidEP” mixtape showcased the rapper’s unflappable delivery over an assortment of melodic instrumentals that blended smoky jazz with skittering percussion. His recent single “All Dogs” is perhaps the best track of his career, filled with hard-earned, street savvy aphorisms and reminiscent of fellow west sider Saba’s acclaimed mistape “ComfortZone.”
Essential Track: “All Dogs”
Rapper-producer Caleb James has been pretty quiet on the solo front since dropping the 2013 mixtape “The Jones.“ His delivery is laid back and confident, and there’s a clear throwback tint to his flow. “The Jones” opener “Mr. Jones” utilizes a squirmy G-funk synth, and “No Go” flips Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message.” His latest single, “All Black,” is a my-goons-got-goons street rap anthem that suggests he could be taking his sound in a different direction.
Essential Track: “All Black”
Images via DJ Booth and Pinterest.
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