When XXL released its 2014 Freshmen Cover last month, one of the biggest talking points among hip-hop fans was the strong presence of Chicago rappers. With Chance The Rapper, Lil Bibby, Lil Durk and Vic Mensa all making our list this year, it marked the first time in the cover’s seven-year history that a single city was rewarded with four XXL Freshmen, and brought Chicago’s total Freshmen tally up to six (Chief Keef in 2013, Lupe Fiasco in the cover’s inaugural year), with five of those in the past two years.
Historically, the mainstream has regarded Chicago hip-hop as the home of Common, Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, with Twista held up as another of the city’s hip-hop legends, though not on the scale of the other three. But the recent explosion of Drill Music, as well as the moves made by Chance and Vic’s SAVEMONEY crew, have shined a new light on the up-and-coming rappers that are bursting out of the city limits. In addition to the lesser-known old guard of Crucial Conflict, Psychodrama, Do Or Die and Bump J, there’s a young crop of artists moving boldly into the future: Fredo Santana, Lil Herb, King Louie, Lil Reese, Alex Wiley, Rockie Fresh, Tink, Sasha Go Hard, Joey Purp and a slew of additional talented rappers.
The city has its well-documented problems, of course, particularly with gang violence and public education, but through music and the city’s fresh spotlight, other avenues are opening up for artists on the rise. New studios are becoming hotbeds of fresh music; young producers are crafting newer and different sounds, and the city’s rich musical past permeates much of what will come in the future. With our Freshmen rollout just about complete, XXL takes a closer look at hip-hop in the city of Chicago, its past, its current landscape and a sampling of its history within the genre. —Eric Thurm, Mario Gage, Jake Krzeczowski and XXL Staff