Chicago has no shortage of young talented singers who can elevate a great rap track but who focus in their own careers on sounds outside or tangental to hip-hop. The recent EP from Eryn Allen Kane, this month’s Aviary: Act II, is steeped in soul, but the 26-year-old Detroit native has made a name for herself in part by working in Chicago’s hip-hop scene. I first heard her on Saba‘s excellent 2014 mixtape Comfort Zone, where she appears on two tracks, “Burnout” and “For Y’all,” which also features the incomparable MC Tree. Since then she’s climbed steadily in visibility, guesting on Towkio’s standout single “Heaven Only Knows” alongside Chance the Rapper and helping out with six songs on Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment’s Surf. And of course she earned a spot on Prince’s “Baltimore,” a protest song that honors Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died in police custody last year.
Aviary: Act II arrives three months after Act I, and though it’s just a little more than 20 minutes long, it leaves a mark. The strongest song is “How Many Times,” which is today’s 12 O’Clock Track. It showcases Kane’s forceful singing, and as she delivers its lyrics—about the reverberating pain of seeing young black people murdered every day—her voice grows from a tender tremble at the start to a tremendous borderline scream at the song’s dramatic break.
Kane doesn’t give details or name anyone who’s been killed, but the anguish in her singing says it all—and as she pushes her voice to its breaking point, she makes it clear that a restless desire to fight on still burns inside her. Kane celebrates the release of Aviary: Act II by headlining City Winery on Friday. The show is sold out, but you can listen to “How Many Times” below.