Cinematic / Machine Entertainment / 150 Dream Team

The soundscape of Chicago is a beautifully diverse thing right now. A city that nurtured hip-hop greats like Common, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West is once again birthing a brood of rap stars. But the common thread connecting Chi-town's drill generals, spastic savants and metaphorical wordsmiths alike is the city's steadfast street mentality. Chicago's relentless crime rate continues to pick off the city's youth before they even have a chance to see anywhere else, filling those left behind with bitterness, confusion and rage. Watching friends die before they reach 21 has become mind-numbing routine and for artists like G Herbo, formerly known as Lil Herb, the only way to cope is through the mic.

Taking listeners back to his Eastside roots, G Herbo chronicles his rise to notoriety thus far and pays homage to the ones he's been forced to leave behind on his newest mixtape, Ballin' Like I'm Kobe. Named after his friend, Jacobi "Kobe" Herring, the artwork for the project depicts the 19-year-old frosted in chains while crouching over his friend's grave. The latest effort since 2014's Pistol P Project, Ballin Like I'm Kobe exposes a more centered, sorrowful and real rapper than fans have heard before.

Herbo sets the tone off the jump with a woeful-yet-catchy hook on the opening track, "L's," rapping, "Love and live your life/Make it lavish long/And I can't right my wrongs/So I just write my songs." This feeling of repentance is evident throughout the rest of the tape. The MC raps about making good on mistakes from his youth in "Bricks & Mansions" ("Blowing smoke thinkin' 'bout my life and how I came from nothing/Not only how I came from nothing, bitch I made it something/I gave my mom the whole deposit for her pain and suffering"), takes you through the geography of a torn city in "Eastside"" ("Niggas thinkin' my lifestyle is cool/If I could, would have stayed in school any day") and even relishes the small victories in "Watch Me Ball" ("At the top smoking dope/Thinking how I started off with nothing/And ain't no nigga hand me shit, therefore I don't owe nobody nothing"). Producer Luca Vialli creates a juxtaposition between somber violins and Herb's hard-hitting narrative in "Bottom of the Bottoms" and a simple piano melody aids Herbo's "Peace of Mind": "Some my niggas got years of they life took from them/And I just wanna see all of mine/About half of my niggas they not even here/Pour a four up, it keep me from crying."

Vocalists like TheMind and Sonta add a surprisingly gospel aspect to tracks like "Remember" and "Pain." Herb and longtime collaborator Lil Bibby light one up and riff over an eerie, echoing C-Sick beat on "Don't Worry" and prove once again to be a near-flawless duo. Aside from a couple ill-fitting but cost-effective turn-up tracks ("No Limit" and "Rollin"), Herb stays in the pocket of painful yet optimistic lyricism. Even though he's employed an array of beatsmiths, singers and MCs for the project, Herb achieves one cohesive tone as the vehicle to get his feelings from mind to pen to mic.

On this tape, Herb seems to be even more raw and ferocious with his flow than ever. Now with a new label to call home, Herbo comes with an enlightened sense of perspective, Herb's Ballin Like I'm Kobe paints something pretty close to an audible masterpiece. And beauty is pain, right? —Sidney Madden