Chalk it up to something in the water. The past five years have seen a creative renaissance in Chicago, with the charge led largely by a web of mostly 20-somethings—musicians, producers, poets, visual artists—who frequently collaborate on projects. They’ve been called “the young creatives” by Chance the Rapper—and the fact that many of them have worked with Chicago’s 23-year-old breakout hip-hop star is one of their unifying traits. But their ties date further back—to the Whitney Young supergroup Kids These Days (which also birthed rap star Vic Mensa), the poetry incubator Young Chicago Authors, even grammar school. “I’ve been asking myself for years now, What are the chances we all ended up here?” says rapper Joey Purp. “This was supposed to happen.”
Dubbed the first lady of the Social Experiment, this Detroit transplant made her name singing stirring hooks on other artists’ songs—including Prince’s “Baltimore”—before dropping a pair of stunning EPs earlier this year.
UP NEXT: Performing at Fourth Presbyterian Church on November 25
His splashy 2015 debut, .Wav Theory, earned Towkio (Preston Oshita) an invite to Rick Rubin’s famed Shangri-La studio.
UP NEXT: Fine-tuning the Rubin-graced album WWW., due out next year
The latest to break out of Savemoney—the crew that launched Chance, Vic Mensa, and Towkio—Purp (Joseph Davis) released a critically beloved mixtape, iiiDrops, this spring.
UP NEXT: Touring
Singer, rapper, and producer, 27
A part of the production collective ThemPeople (see Chance’s 2012 debut, 10 Day), TheMind (Zarif Wilder) has emerged as a coveted vocalist. “I started out just mumbling on friends’ tracks, and people were like, ‘Dang, can you do that on my song?’ ”
UP NEXT: Touring to support his recent mixtape, Summer Camp, and guest spots on Mick Jenkins’s The Healing Component
Known for his labyrinthine lyrics and 6-foot-5 frame, Jenkins is poised to become Chicago’s next global export, starting with his two-month European tour this fall.
UP NEXT: Performing at Thalia Hall on October 20 behind his new LP, The Healing Component
If you happen upon a photo of anyone in this group, there’s a decent chance this Indiana native shot it. A scroll through his Instagram feed (@bryanallenlamb) reads like a who’s who of Chicago’s young musicians.
Nick Hennessey: Keyboardist, 26
Maceo Vidal-Haymes: Singer, 27
Hennessey (left) and Vidal-Haymes (the latter blessed with a set of affectingly raspy pipes) are the core songwriting duo behind this self-proclaimed rock ’n’ soul outfit. Their credits include four mixtapes and EPs and guest spots with the Social Experiment and L.A. rapper Ab-Soul.
UP NEXT: An as-yet-untitled album due out in November
This Milwaukee-born jazz singer’s first three EPs, produced by Peter Cottontale, were among the earliest to come out of this microcommunity. “I’m lucky to have found a scene, especially with so many women I admire—Eryn, Macie, Sima, Jamila,” says Lili K (Lillianna Kryzanek). “Women are kind of running shit around here.”
UP NEXT: Finishing an album, Planet of Flowers, due out in early 2017
“Aside from Lupe [Fiasco], we don’t have any West Side superstars,” says this heady Austin native. Saba (Tahj Malik Chandler) hopes his new album, Bucket List, due out this fall, will propel him to that level. Inspired by the death of an uncle, the project is about embracing life while you can. “This shit will be over soon,” Saba says.
UP NEXT: Touring for Bucket List
A young Jeff Tweedy? That’s not far off for this mellow-voiced wordsmith. When Kazar isn’t fronting the indie band Marrow (with Macie Stewart), he and his sister, Sima, have toured with the Wilco frontman and his son Spencer.
UP NEXT: A 2017 release for Marrow’s already-mastered sophomore album
Macie Stewart: Singer-songwriter, 23
Sima Cunningham: Singer-songwriter, 26
Composed of Whitney Young grads Stewart (left) and Cunningham, this indie-rock duo is gaining traction (they played Pitchfork and opened for seasoned jazz-rockers Tortoise at Millennium Park this summer) with their ghostly two-part harmonies and matching guitarmonies.
UP NEXT: Polishing two new albums
UP NEXT: Wrapping his first feature film, Slice, a horror comedy about a pizza delivery guy, starring Chance and scored by Macie Stewart and ex–Marrow bassist Lane Beckstrom
A protégée of Jamila Woods (below), this Louder Than a Bomb poetry slam champion was named Chicago Youth Poet Laureate for 2016 by Young Chicago Authors. “Poetry was always just the thing that kept me from being bullied,”says the 2015 high school grad. “YCA taught me it could be a career.”
UP NEXT: Her debut book, Commando, due out in November
Singer and poet, 26
Before she ever laid down a track as part of the soul duo M&O or for the Social Experiment (below), this Brown grad earned a Pushcart Prize nomination for her poetry. Her divine July debut album, Heavn, puts those potent rhymes to a beat.
UP NEXT: Performing at Chop Shop on September 23
Nate Fox: Producer, guitarist, and keyboardist, 29
Donnie Trumpet: Producer and trumpeter, 23
Peter Cottontale: Producer and keyboardist, 25
Individually, they’ve earned their stripes as producers (Fox’s and Cottontale’s fingerprints are all over Chance’s 2013 Acid Rap). Together, from left, Fox, Trumpet (Nico Segal), and Cottontale (Peter Wilkins) are the nucleus of the Social Experiment, the backing band for Chance and for Trumpet’s 2015 album, Surf.
UP NEXT: Performing with Chance at his Magnificent Coloring Day Festival at U.S. Cellular Field on September 24