Zarif Wilder admits he’s a bit of an overthinker. You might’ve guessed that from his stage name, TheMind, inspired in part by a fascination with psychology he inherited from his dad and in part by a crazy LSD trip a few years back. “I was like, ‘We’re all baby universes walking around, man!’ ” Wilder says with a laugh. “I came out of that like, ‘Yo, I’m no longer just me — I’m TheMind.’ ”
Born in Philadelphia, Wilder, 30, spent his childhood in foster care before, at 16, moving in with his adoptive father, a school principal who championed his son’s budding passion for music. A chance encounter with Lupe Fiasco at a Philly airport persuaded Wilder to attend Columbia College Chicago. Soon he’d linked up with the artist collective known as ThemPeople and the Young Chicago Authors open mic scene. The same year that he dropped his debut (2016’s Summer Camp), his name started popping up all over the place, from Mick Jenkins’s The Waters to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book.
Wilder has an as-yet-untitled EP coming out this fall, but consider that just an appetizer for his second full-length album, Don’t Let It Go to Your Head, expected out early next year. It promises to establish him as one of the city’s foremost talents. Few people can rap and sing with equal grace the way he does — his lush, jazzy melodies showcase his musical intuition, and his intricate bars demonstrate his background in youth poetry.
He’s been working on the project for nearly three years, its title a reminder to chill on the overthinking and focus on the present. It helps that Wilder hits the studio early — he and his engineer call themselves the 8 A.M. Boys, which means that by midafternoon he can be out in the world, taking it all in. “I get why babies wake up crying out of nowhere: They’re like, ‘You let me go to sleep? I just discovered this whole life thing!’ ” he says. “And I feel them.”
Five More Things to Hear
1 The Black Madonna’s House Reunion
Half a decade ago, Marea Stamper was working as Smartbar’s first-ever creative director; today she’s playing transcendent DJ sets across the globe. She’s based in London these days but returns to the place where it all started.
2 Chance the Rapper’s Big Night
He called July’s The Big Day his “debut album,” which might be the understatement of the year — he’s been Chicago rap’s spiritual center for half a decade. The hometown stop on his corresponding 35-city tour marks his first time headlining the United Center.
3 Wilco is Back to Spread the Joy
Jeff Tweedy and company have been pillars of the local rock scene for the better part of a generation. Does it get more Chicago indie than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s Marina City cover? The group’s back with its 11th album, the folksy Ode to Joy.
4 Angel Olsen Goes Deeper and Darker
The folk-rock luminary, who recently left Chicago for Asheville, North Carolina, follows up 2016’s stellar My Woman with All Mirrors (October 4). Olsen’s described it as “owning up to your darkest side,” though you can see for yourself at the Riviera Theatre.
5 The Twin Peaks Dudes Abide
Chicago’s favorite once-boys band has established itself as the Midwest’s preeminent garage rockers during recent years. Celebrating September’s Lookout Low, they’ll be joined at the Riviera Theatre by rising local art rockers Ohmme. — M.G.