Chicago rappers

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There’s that scene in Love Jones where Darius Lovehall recites a poem, which was an ode for Nina Mosely at the Sanctuary, the poetry and jazz club that the two met and frequented often with friends.

As soon as Pieces of A Man was in my earshot, it was as though I could see and smell the clouds of smoke in the club, waitresses taking countless orders from those fortunate to get a seat at one of the few tables in the big room filled with those with the proclivity for bohemian vibes.

Depending on the performer, the entertainment value in poetry sessions can be equal to that of a simple book club. But this album is a gesture to Mick’s days as a poet in the poetry collective, Young Chicago Authors.  He opens with a sonnet on Heron Flow setting the scene for the whole album, then the joint takes a soulful funk twist with some singing by Julien Bell.

Pieces of A Man displays Mick’s evolution as a young black man as well as an artist which excites me, that he’s only 27 years old creating such rich music.  His bars pack the same truth as a Dave Chappelle joke.

From the jump, I built a connection with the song Ghost, one because of the beat that break so nicely on Mick’s flow and two, the content and his brash delivery. He hints at being a recluse who isn’t too concerned by superficial stuff that come with the fame because ultimately, he knows his worth.

N define worth to me,

’cause I won’t win the trophy

I been watchin’ it closely,

All that glitter’s just garnish

And I’m more partial to Parsley,

And all the medals will tarnish,

You played your hardest

And they ate your heart out

I found these lines particularly interesting because at age 27, most artists still harbour dreams of winning an award and receiving recognition from dubious industry gatekeepers. But Mick shows that in his isolation and in finding himself as a man, he’s made peace with the fact that he won’t be a celebrated kat like a Kendrick Lamar, not for lack of skill, but because of industry red tape.

One thing that most of us struggle with as we get older, is growing apart from friends that we’ve known for a years. This could be because they aren’t on the same level with you socially, financially and otherwise. He talks to that discomfort in Pull Up.  He could’ve done without Grace & Mercy on the project-listening to the song was the equivalent of going to the lavatory during a great show for about a minute and 51 seconds, and then coming back for the enjoyment.

I find Corinne Balley Rae’s music insipid, it’s not about her talent. Her music simply doesn’t stick on me. But I found the Brit quite sexy in this song Consensual Seduction. It was like hearing a singer from my church doing sensual music, and actually finding her attractive. She’s a great feature and a surprising one too. If I had heard the song before she recorded her part, I would bet my life that Mick was gonna rope in a Ravyn Lenae. Soft Porn is another joint I enjoyed, the beat reminded me of Mick’s Get Up Get Down joint from his Waves project. Soft Porn is slower and raunchier.

Mick’s writing is enjoyable to listen to and even read through- listen to Barcelona to get what I mean. I disagree with a friend of mine though, who called me in excitement after the album dropped, to say Mick Jenkins is the lyricist of our generation. He’s an astonishing writer who perfectly puts his vocabulary into good use, but I don’t know who or what that doesn’t allow me to agree with that outrageous statement that he’s the best of our generation. To which includes, Kendrick Lamar, Joyner Lucas, Tobe Nwigwe, J.I.D, Lupe Fiasco and Acidrap Chance The Rapper among the long list. My definition of “this generation” is from around 2006 when the mixtapes went from spittin’ on popular beats, to actually creating bodies of work that can stand next to albums.

Fittingly titled Reginald, Mick displays his pen game and perspective. He places himself as a ruler and one to gives sound counsel on a few things, staying in pocket on the lazy beat, delivering poignant rhymes.

Don’t spend too much time in mirrors,

Reflections will get you cought up,

Connections will get you brought up in conversation,

You basing everything you know about me from moments,

I’m more a compilation of composition, it’s complicated,

I’ve contemplated so many perspectives,

Accommodated my vices, exonerated emotions,

And then I’m copin’ Macaulay Culkin,

I’m trappin’my demons over Bohemian Rhapsody

The theme around poetry is palpable, but Pieces Of A Man is quite complex. Poetry plays the role a conduit in the piecing together the man’s narrative . Gwendolynn’s Apprehension is based on African American poet, Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1959 poem We Real Cool. That Brooks’ words still carry weight as they did when her piece came out almost 60 years ago is telling of how youth, despite era, think they’re beyond reproach and just too cool for school.

BadBadNotGood’s working relationship with the Chicago rapper is a great match. The album’s last track, Smoking Song was sitting alone with Mick, sharing a joint by the corner of the club after he just gave the packed room himself.

Love Jones was a classic film that transcended the time, but unfortunately did not do well in the box office. Pieces Of A Man shares that sentiment of timelessness, I just hope it doesn’t get slept on.

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“Being slept on, is when not a lot of people have heard your material but once they do, they’ll admit that you’re dope. Being underrated on the other hand, is when your material is out there and everybody sees you, but no one considers you dope enough to be in the top five or whatever,” said a friend of mine breaking down the difference between the two.

I picked her brain on this matter after watching Saba’s Tiny Desk Concert NPR. With a band made up of individuals who played an integral part in the creation of his second studio album, Care For Me which came out on April 5th this year; the band included producers, DaeDaePIVOT and Daoud, with Saba’s father, Chandler on the backing vocals.

Special music projects have been dropping like manna this year, more so in Hip Hop. Saba’s album is one of them and every time I listen to it I can’t fight the thought of how much slept on the Chicago rapper is. On NPR he performs songs from Care For Me, but short as it is, the performance draws you to appreciate the album even more. Its production, musicality and most importantly, its narrative. Like German online music platform COLORS SHOW, you always think you know which is your favourite NPR episode until they release something as potent, yet different but similar because the performers feed off the same vibrations.

I was subjected to nit-picking certain tracks in Saba’s previous work. I can literally listen to Care For Me from beginning to end- it’s cohesive and lets you into the artist’s life before he became a globally recognisable rapper, till now. It sticks like original rezla.

In an interview with Sway, he said he also believes this is his best work (but which artist doesn’t think that about their art?) “…This is the first time where I was like hundred percent confident that I’m making something undeniable and in the last five days, the results seem to be in my favour,” he said. He was on Sway’s Universe five days after Care For Me was released and charted #45 on Billboard.

Chicago is blessed with young talented individuals who have touched the world with their art. From Chance The Rapper, Noname, Mick Jenkins, Ravyn Lanae, Monte Booker and a sea of other gifted creative souls. But Saba’s name isn’t as familiar to many as his peers’-the same peers who feature him on their projects.

With the 10 track Care For Me, he reached a much bigger audience by being emotionally vulnerable-Saba’s rap skills have never been questionable, his musicality was just in deficient of assertiveness. Hence it’s uncomfortable juxtaposing him to the likes of  Joey BadA$$ and GoldLink.

So Saba was fairly slept on, but thanks to the brilliance of his last album people have woken up to Tahj Malik Chandler’s music.  With more eyes on him now, I’m curious to see what will follow Care For Me because only then, do I think we’ll see where the game will rate him. But that NPR performance raised his stock.


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