Seven years ago, XXL featured a 24-year-old The Boy Illinois on The Break after he dropped his breakout track “Right Around Winter.” Back then, the Chicago rhymer was determined to change the game with a flow unlike other Midwestern rappers, and reflective, relatable bars. He also noted his dreams of working with his favorite artist, fellow Chi-Town native Lupe Fiasco.

By 2018, The Boy Illinois has managed to do both.

“My progression and my career has been upward,” he tells XXL. “It’s been a little slow tortoise pace, but everything’s been picking up where it’s supposed to be at.”

Since his last visit with XXL in 2013 for The Come Up, The Boy Illinois (a.k.a Illi) has hit the studio with Trae The Truth, Rico Recklezz and Twista, appearing on the latter’s Crook County LP cut “Just in Case.” He also hit the road with Lupe for the 2013 Tetsuo & Youth tour, continuing to serve as Lu's opening act for a year and a half.

“He’s an interesting person; very interesting,” Illi says of Lupe with a grin. “He’s exactly what you think he would be. I learned a lot from him, just being out on the road. And that’s what kind of caused my hiatus from putting projects out.”

After a few relatively quiet years in which The Boy Illinois dropped 2015's The Yer Tape and DuSable, he's resurged with “Dancing Like Diddy” and its accompanying video at the top of 2017. Then he landed a distribution deal with Priority Records and swiftly dropped Windy, a refreshing nine-track mixtape that primarily features Chicago producers and artists. This project showcases the Chi-Town spitter’s delivery with hard-hitting production—it's tranquil, yet commanding; engaging, but fun—which is more than apparent on tracks like the R&B-tinged “Run Around” and “Cool” featuring Saba and Frsh Waters.

“King, Me,” which features Chai Tulani, has the project's most interesting backstory. Illi says he retreated to the forest with his friends to do shrooms and guided meditations during the great solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017. Violinist Windy Indie, who also appears on the track, came along for the ride as well. “She was out there while we was in the forest, and we just took it to the studio,” Illi recalls.

Now the crystal-rocking rhymer—who sports Lapis Lazuli and Moldavite on the regular—is preparing to push two full-length albums, Road Winds and Home Court Advantage. Until then, fans can enjoy his freestyles and newly-released videos to hold them over, including the visual for the Yp-assisted "90/94 Freestyle" off Windy.

Music aside, The Boy Illinois is placing his focus on Chicago's youth. The rapper goes by Baba Illi at the Betty Shabazz International Charter School, where he serves as an assistant teacher, and throws basketball camps whenever school is not in session with his brother Dale.

“We just started Pizza Fridays, where we just pull up on a high school every Friday. It’s a morale booster," says Ill, who's been thinking about founding his own school as well. “We have the resources to do stuff like this, so we just do it."

What Illi is doing for his hometown is commendable. Many rap artists from the city have admitted that trying to steer the notoriously crime-plagued city of Chicago back in the right direction has been strenuous, while others downright believe the citizens simply have to start all over. “At this point it’s too late. Cancer done got it and you gotta chop the leg off," Illi says. "It has to be a destruction for this bitch to burn to ashes so we can build it back up again, ’cause it’s fucked right now.”

He continues: "As far as Chicago goes, the way it is now, it was set up to be like that a long time ago. I think we hold a record for the most locked-up politicians ever, so that just gives you a gist of how our whole city is ran, and how dirty and corrupt it is. If you got dirty corruption at the top, just imagine what the poor people gotta do and go through." Still, The Boy Illinois holds on to a sliver of hope. "It’s a wild place, but you just gotta know how to maneuver around it. If you know how to play both sides of the fence, you ‘ll be aight.”

With 2018 just making way, stay tuned for Road Winds and Home Court Advantage from The Boy Illinois soon.

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