[image-1]Chicago singer Zarif Wilder found his calling by humming. Wilder, a member of local production collective ThemPeople, told Noisey earlier this year that his colleagues in ThemPeople nudged him into singing after they overheard him in the studio humming along to Mick Jenkins‘s “Shipwrecked” while the rapper recorded it. In August 2014, when Jenkins dropped his breakthrough mixtape, The Water[s], it included vocals from Wilder under the name the Mind (he prefers to style it “theMIND”). His voice is the first that rings out on the mixtape, comforting and inviting—he appears on opener “Shipwrecked” and later on “Dehydration.”

Since then Wilder has joined an informal crew of local singers frequently recruited by MCs who want to add something special to a track. Recently Wilder contributed to a couple cuts on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book—the knockout single “No Problem” and “Finish Line/Drown”—and his gentle, contemplative coo augments Joey Purp‘s electrifying “Cornerstore.” Wilder also has ambitions of his own, like many vocalists in his position, and on Wednesday he dropped his debut full-length mixtape, Summer Camp.

The mixtape is loosely about a tryst that takes complicated turns. Throughout Summer Camp Wilder edits in audio clips of conversations between himself and an unnamed woman. They feel intimate, in part because Wilder’s voice is barely above a whisper, and they sometimes partake in a kind of dialogue with the songs. He drops one of these private chats into the middle of the cosmic, floating cut “Sa Ve Thewo Rld,” and the sampled conversation ends with the couple quietly arguing. As the music swells back to the foreground, Wilder sings, “I feel like I’m falling apart at the seams.”

For the instrumentals on Summer Camp, Wilder recruited producers and musicians with a knack for melting speakers, and the mixtape sounds huge. ThemPeople handled the majority of the production, with some help from Save Money utility player Knox Fortune (among others), and there’s some guest rapping from Towkio, the eccentric Save Money MC whose clothes are as loud and envelope-pushing as his music. The best parts of Summer Camp, though, are when it feels like Wilder is sharing something private (even though he isn’t forthcoming about the details of the relationship that inspired the mixtape). He captures the light-on-your-feet feeling that accompanies a blossoming romance, and he does it with songs that invite you to hum along.
Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.