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It's been a tremendous year for hip-hop by Chicagoans: we've had Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap, Kanye West's Yeezus, Lucki Ecks's Alternative Trap, and Tree's Sunday School 2, just for starters. But there are plenty of talented local acts who don't get the attention they deserve. In no particular order, here are my picks for the five best overlooked Chicago rap releases of the year.
Martin Sky, Time(less)
MC and producer Martin Sky makes music for kids in tie-dyed bucket hats playing Xbox in basements thick with pot smoke—on his debut mixtape, Time(less), Sky makes it pretty clear he's one of those kids, or at least used to be. His dreamy, gauzy instrumentals and loopy, zonked-out rapping are hypnotizing even if you're stone-cold sober.
Netherfriends, New CHI-t
Nomadic indie-popper Shawn Rosenblatt (aka Netherfriends) is no stranger to hip-hop: 2011's Netherfriends Does Nilsson includes a wobbly, funky tune called "Full of It" with local MC ShowYouSuck. That track also appears on New CHI-t, a rap-centric collection of Netherfriends collaborations featuring local hip-hop acts such as the Whoevers, Fess Grandiose, and Impolite Society. Rosenblatt molds his psychedelic-tinged pop—sometimes peppy, sometimes wistful, sometimes both at once—into the foundation for fun hip-hop tracks. The Sublime-sampling "Summertime" in particular makes me yearn for warm-weather adventures even more than I usually do.
Inebriation is a luxurious-sounding record, fit for high-rise lakeside penthouses designed by interior decorators into Apple, the XX, and Peter Saville. Lungz's tracks have color beneath their pristine, chrome-and-glass surfaces, and his sturdy flow cements Inebriation's polished prime-time sound.
S.B.E., The Bop-umentary
West-side trio S.B.E. use the title of this mixtape to nod to bopping, an infectious, playful dance style born in Chicago—and their happy, party-ready tracks are just the sort of thing people like to bop to. The Bop-umentary has all the crackling percussion and eight-bit synths you need to get a fiesta turned up, and the Auto-Tuned crooning on "Whole Block on FeFe" and "Go Hard" flows as smoothly as a Benz on an empty Lake Shore Drive.
Black A.G. & Quicksilver Cooley, Fame Goes to Your Head
Black A.G. is a largely forgotten figure from 90s Chicago rap, but Milwaukee microlabel Dope Folks is helping get his tracks back on the market—in August it put out a six-song EP version of the MC's 1991 single "Fame Goes to Your Head." It's a great song, and it makes for a good excuse to check out an even more obscure release: a couple years ago Black A.G.'s DJ and frequent collaborator Quicksilver Cooley (or someone using his name) uploaded an unreleased album from 1992 to mixtape site DatPiff. With its thick, heavy funk and soul samples, The Lost 1992 Album (which includes a couple songs featured on the new EP) takes me back to early-90s Geto Boys and Native Tongues stuff. Black A.G.'s street-life rhymes are raw, and his gritty lyrics are especially grim when he raps about his neighborhood on "Concrete Jungle"—a place "where your best friend is a TEC-9."