by • Pedro Gonzalez & Jake Krez
Ah, ok it’s January, we missed the end of the year. Oh well. While we hate to get caught up in the brash ridiculousness of telling people what the best music in the city for a year is, we did want to collect some projects and sounds that we were digging throughout the hellhole that was 2017. There’s no ranking, we’re not claiming to know a ton more than anyone else, but shit, this is what we thought was pretty great out of Chicago, and also what has been trending over at Mild Sauce Radio for the last few months. We just got started in 2017, expect plenty more (on time) posts moving forward. For now, enjoy what we thought were some of the best albums of the year.
Supa Bwe • Finally Dead
Leading up to Finally Dead, Supa slowed down his frantic release tempo and relied on his passionate fans to keep the hype alive. In turn, the Chicago emcee reciprocated with his best project to date and the culmination of years developing and mastering a style that enthralled millions and bred just as many copycats. Billed as his debut album, the songwriting and ear for production found here are unrivaled even by the best imitators. Yes, Supa easily disposes of those who benefited from his relative silence with a bar in the first track, but Finally Dead isn’t fixated on snatching back old flows and waves. In fact, the title alludes to Supa’s attempt to kill his ego in order to fulfill his potential and find happiness. This is not an easy task and throughout the project, he attempts to exhume his demons with sincere conviction and a cathartic vocal range.
Titles such as “Thot Goddess (Sailor Moon),” “Numbers & Colors (Stoic Cosmic Me),” and “Stolen Hearts (Thanos)” are a direct continuation of past releases, while “Down Comes the Spaceman” gives listeners his origin story growing up in the west side of Chicago. Earlier projects were rife with worlds where magic abounds and goddesses walk among titans. Here, the multi-faceted artist calls back on these mythological beings and motifs, but also comes home and provides an even more inward look at his life. — Pedro
Mfn Melo • Melodramatics
When MfnMelo raps and his gruff voice delivers anecdotes from out west, you can hear Chicago’s blue-collar attitude emanate from his records. He resonates with the go-getters and for this very reason, Melodramatics had been long awaited by fans. It took a few years, but when the project finally dropped, expectations were simultaneously met and exceeded. At just 11 tracks, mostly produced by Saba, we find Melo in his pocket packing bars on top of bars with conviction and tactfully relying on guest appearances for added dimensions to his songs. No other moment in the ‘tape hits me harder than John Walt’s cathartic outro on “Lately,” but everything that happens in the ‘tape is in service of Melo’s overlaying vision, so I can’t help but assume that he purposely made it that way.
The Pivot Gang member took on a challenging 2017, in which he had to the deal with the passing of his friend and the task of raising his nephew, and gave us a mature body of work full of game and motivation. — Pedro
The Juju Exchange • The Exchange
Nico Segal has made a career of being in the middle of excellent company able to bring his ideas to life, and in his latest endeavor, he went directly back to his roots. Teaming up with high school friends, Lane Beckstrom, Julian Reid and his younger brother Everett, the foursome brought jazz to a new generation with their creative ensemble work that explored new horizons of the genre in their surprise debut, The Exchange. The seven-track project is an easy listen and an obvious outgrowth of the work Segal has been involved with since his days alongside his new bandmates at Merit School of Music in the city’s West Loop.
The project also spurred a series of live performances that kicked off over the summer with their show at Park West. That set, and those that followed have served to underline the sheer musicianship of The JuJu Exchange as a true creative interplay between it’s members. While its often difficult to capture the essence of such performances on recording, they achieve it with this impressive debut that easily sits atop our favorites of the year for both it’s current impact, and what will come from it moving forward. — Jake
Joseph Chilliams • Henry Church
On Henry Church, Joseph Chilliams captures the essence of his live set on record. Charismatic and humorous, it’s a singular mix of nuance, self-awareness, and proud nonconformity inspired by stand-up comedy, global pop superstar Fergie and Crime Mob. Chilliams can speak against toxic masculinity (“Shake My Ass”), coping with death (“FN-2187”) or the shadiness behind record labels (“Kale”) and drop a pop-culture reference in the same breath without undermining the importance of his statements.
An open invitation to one of the most inventive minds in music with a penchant for breaking barriers and norms, Henry Church blends difficult conversations with hilarious soundbites that allow even the most averse skeptic to understand different perspectives and a welcoming space for those who are marginalized. — Pedro
Knox Fortune • Paradise
This year saw the long-awaited emergence of one of Chicago’s better-kept secrets, as Knox Fortune stepped out in a major way with his debut project, Paradise. After peppering the summer with singles ready-made for the repeat button, the full-length release didn’t disappoint one bit. Combining new-age production sensibilities with a penchant for tapping into the most nostalgic of tones, Knox proved he can operate beyond the production side in a multifaceted manner few may have expected prior beyond friends and collaborators.
While his spot on Chance The Rapper’s “All Night” off his Grammy Award-winning Coloring Book album brought his name to the forefront, Paradise proves beyond a doubt that he has plenty ability to blaze a trail of his own in the years to come. — Jake
LEGIT • Maudlin EP
To say that those of us close to the scene had been waiting for LEGIT’s follow-up to 2014’s Thief In The Night project that was a favorite locally, and we finally got it in 2017 as he offered up the 11-song collection, Maudlin EP.
One thing that’s always been refreshing about music that has emanated from Chicago over the course of the last half-decade or so is that fact that it never seems overly forced. In an era where it literally pays to pump out content at a fever pace, the artists I tend to look up to most around the way focus on artistic intent, well-thought themes and the general need to say something before putting pen to paper or rhyme to rhythm. It’s with that in mind that LEGIT returns from his full-length hiatus with plenty to say. His first release properly titled an album, LEGIT proves what many of us have been murmuring for years. Singles like “Come2DeathRowRecords” stresses his ability to pick up varying rhyme schemes underlined by his careful handling of subtle jazz vibes, creatively utilizing his own voice and sample choices to build the larger theme of the track which serves as a welcome entrance into a project that is one man’s proof he can do it his way as long as he likes. With the spell broken, we’re looking forward to hearing more from LEGIT moving forward. — Jake
Kiara Lanier • Tongues & Teaspoons
While a newer name than many others on this list, Kiara Lanier is much-deserving of the attention that may (or may not ) come with the inclusion. If you aren’t in tune already, it’s understandable. Long one of the most consistent, eclectic and wide-ranging of talents operating around Chicago, Lanier has taken her time finding the sounds and messages she wanted to channel into a debut project, which manifested itself this year in her EP, Tongues & Teaspoons.
A five-song collection, Tongues & Teaspoons is a expressive joy of a project that traces the lines of relationships, growth and the scattered realizations that happen to arise within. Far from just a musician, Lanier is deeply involved in natural healing, nutrition and being in touch with the world and finds a way to show that off to the world in a subtle, sinewy way that is uniquely her throughout. With a big move towards the coast in her rearview mirror, there should be plenty more from Lanier soon. — Jake
Mulatto Beats • .22 Summers
Mulatto Beats quietly had a terrific 2017. Not only did he drop the excellent Space Jam EP with longtime partner in crime Qari, but he also released his debut album smack in the middle of the year. .22 Summers is a compact listen –only one of the ten tracks is longer than three minutes–but the producer maximizes his time and brings his vision to life with the help of established acts and exciting up-and-coming talent. Warhol.SS, King Louie, Lucki and Mick Jenkins cover a big chunk of the city’s wide rap spectrum, yet there’s an ambiance to Mulatto’s production that allows rappers with different styles to come together under a cohesive sound.
The low, thudding bass is the ideal template for these artists to explore concepts they probably wouldn’t have done in their own projects. Drawing inspiration from the hot Summer days in Chicago, .22 Summers presents a concealed sense of uneasiness and borderline paranoia that the city’s youth often deals with during the popular season. — Pedro
Ravyn Lenae • Midnight Moonlight
Man, what else can you really say about Ravyn Lenae? The 19-year-old songstress has taken the world by storm before even being legally allowed to drink and, while we didn’t get a true full-length this past year, her early-2017 release Midnight Moonlight packed enough into its six tracks to hold us over until that does arrive.
Working out of the same camp as Smino, Jean Deaux and Montre Booker, Ravyn catapulted herself to the forefront of both Chicago and the country-at-large’s music scene with a busy year that saw this welcome follow-up to 2016’s eye-opening Moon Shoes as well as ads in major magazines, a prominent spot amongst the Chicago Red Bull 30 Days, going on tour with SZA and Smino and NoName. Midnight Moonlight’s standout is easily the single “Spicy” which proves growth for the young artist across several mediums and continues to position her as one of the most-interesting vocal ranges and writers anywhere. Ravyn is going to be a name you’ll hear for a long time. Don’t miss this one. — Jake
Ne Hi • Offers
The city has been pretty rap-heavy over the last few years, to say the least. While the prevalence of rappers in the city is undeniable, one band in particular took some big steps forward as Ne-Hi firmly established itself as a rock band for a new age with their standout 2017 release Offers, dropped at the top of the year and served as a welcome entrance into a larger arena.
One of the biggest gripes against genres like rock established before the prevalence of the internet is the lack of ability to create an online following, or craft singles that keep listeners in tune between projects. This year, Ne-Hi was able to do both and much more while creating an exciting spike from the undergrowth of the local DIY scene alongside the likes of Twin Peaks and others who are emerging as a fresh voice for those frequenting the enclaves throughout Logan Square and beyond. Ne-Hi doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon, and Offers serves as a perfect entrance into one of the city’s best bands. — Jake
KAMI • Just Like The Movies
With the contingent of SaveMoney taking on 2017 in sections, it was only a matter of time before we saw the re-emergence of KAMI, who most listeners had last heard from as Kami De Chukwu, one half of the vaunted Leather Corduroys duo with Joey Purp. While long recognized as one of the premium voices in town, KAMI’s Just Like The Movies and Superstar releases served to break down the wall of misunderstanding in terms of what the 24-year-old Chicago native represents as an artist.
Leading up to last year, KAMI’s career could best be described as a series of experiments that he found successes and failures in variety. While a talented wordsmith in his own right, the multifaceted beats, schemes and patterns he adopted, created and tested out over the year alongside Purp and his SaveMoney compatriots came together in a powerful new way with his 80s-inspired, aptly-titled Just Like The Movies. Arriving with synth-heavy production provided by perfect collaborator and fellow breakout artist Knox Fortune, the entire project is a well-heeled complement of past aesthetics and new-age understandings that birthed some of the years most interesting singles, including, “Home Movies”, “Payload” and “Right Now” (Ft. Vic Mensa). The quick follow-up, Superstar, proves that KAMI has plenty more in the pipeline and we’re very much ready for it. — Jake
Smino • Blkswn
Two years ago Smino was known to the world as Chris Smith Jr, a St. Louis transplant to Chicago who seemed to forever be in the studio at Classick’s on west Chicago Ave. Quite literally living in the production room for days and weeks at a time, it was apparent he was on to something. While 2016 showed the potential of Smino, it was definitely 2017 that proved that he can do just about anything he wants to moving forward, and he has blkswn to thank for that.
The project itself, released in February, became an immediate hit as it showed a distinct evolution from what fans heard on his previous release, blkjuptr. The time in between benefitted him and frequent production collaborator Monte Booker who made sure their ability handling singles was on full display with tracks like “Anita”, “Netflix & Dusse”, “Father Son Holy Smoke” that served to make his at-times abstract art come more easily digestible while retaining its unique style. Honestly, blkswn has become one of those projects that is hard to ever skip a track on, going down as one of the classics of the renaissance almost immediately. Oh yeah, and getting the tour and feature from T-Pain was a pretty big flex as well. Big congratulations to Smino, who proves hard work still has a place today. — Jake
Elton, Burns Twins & Bedows • Summer Shower EP
Bernie Levv • House of Levv EP