Chicago’s been on fire lately with new talent, and now 18-year-old Lil Herb is fanning the flames. Herb exploded onto the scene after releasing his debut mixtape, Welcome To Fazoland, this past February, which led to a feature on Nicki Minaj’s“Chi-Raq” in April that showcased his rapid-fire flow to a mainstream audience.
A newbie to the game, Herbert Wright’s musical heritage runs deep. His grandfather was a member of 1960s R&B group The Radiants, while his uncle Kay- Tone was one half of hip-hop pioneers D 2 Tha S. Herb would occasionally hit the studio with Kay-Tone, rhyming for fun.
In 2011, the then-15-year-old Hyde Park Academy sophomore quit his school basketball team to focus on hip-hop full time. He recorded freestyles on his Samsung flip phone over YouTube instrumentals with his friends— including fellow Chi-Town MC Lil Bibby—until he eventually got real time in the booth from a local studio owner.
Herb’s rap dreams gained traction in July 2012 when he uploaded “Gangway” to You- Tube and quickly accumulated a million views. The following month Herb and Bibby dropped “Kill Shit,” which drew fans to their truth-telling rhymes and has racked up over five million views. As the two rappers’ popularity rose in the Chicago drill scene, they began to get taken more seriously by hip-hop fans. “A lot of people in Chicago did not like drill,” says Andrew Barber, creator of Chicago hip-hop blog FakeShoreDrive. “They thought it was negative, repetitive, [with] no originality. But when Herb and Bibby came along, they kind of silenced that. They’re street rappers in Chicago that are at the top of the game as far as rapping goes.”
Now major labels are knocking on Herb’s door, but he’s holding out for the right opportunity before signing a deal. And with a new mixtape, Ballin Like I’m Kobe, in the works, plus a guest spot on Common’s Nobody Smiling, the free agent is focused on making a lasting impact. “I’m not just trying to rap to have fun,” he says. “I’m trying to make a way for me and everybody else around me to be in a better situation.” —Emmanuel Maduakolam
Welcome To Fazoland