A Chicago Police Department blue light camera sits in the upper half of the cover art for “Pray For Me,” the brand new single from S.B.E., a west-side group responsible for some top-tier bop tunes. The blue box is the most prominent image on an otherwise monochromatic cover, and it hovers just inches above a statue of the Virgin Mary. It instills a strong sense of fear and dread in the midst of unrest and documented cases of police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. The song itself is far more hopeful as the guys in S.B.E. look up even as they witness violence on the streets around them.
That’s standard fare for bop—it’s party rap that prioritizes positivity and inclusiveness, but “Pray For Me” isn’t standard bop. S.B.E. ditch lighter-than-air synths and sprightly percussion for dramatic organs and blaring horns, lending weight to lines like, “Chicago, love you, don’t let the city burn up / And we don’t need pills or drill just to turn up.” S.B.E. is capable of making doing more than make party tracks, and considering the group’s role in the bop scene, “Pray For Me” could influence the kinds of songs made with fiestas in mind.
The bop sound as a whole isn’t changing just yet. Take newish west-side group M.B.E., who understand the essence of bop right down to its Auto-Tune drenched vocals. They’re still coming into their own on their debut mixtape, last week’s Have a Party—for example, some of the hyperactive tracks show shades of Sicko Mobb. The guys in M.B.E. are young, so it’s not surprising that they’re taking cues from older acts in the scene, but part of what sets them apart is age.
Many of the bop leaders are older than the guys in M.B.E., and there’s an innocence in M.B.E. that goes right down to their decision to release tracks called “Willy Wonka” and “Neiman Marcus.” M.B.E. can’t pull off rapping about hoes as frequently as they do, but they’re charming when they drop lines such as, “Call me Willy Wonka / Bop silly at the fe fe.”
The same day Have a Party came out early bop leader Breezy Montana dropped a new track with Stunt Taylor and bop king Dlow called “Jockin’.” Breezy Montana’s been keen on forging bop with other sounds. In May he went EDM with “Strike a Pose,” and on “Jockin'” he mellows bop’s sharp-edged synths to make a soothing track.
“Jockin'” is the second recent tune featuring Dlow, but he’s the center of attention on the newer track, “Just Dance,” which also features Juman and Neil. It’s part of the latest burst of activity from Dlow, performed at Nike’s World Basketball Festival last weekend and he helped out with Chance the Rapper’s Lollapalooza performance—an estimated 60,000 attendees watched that set in Grant Park, and according to Chance more than three million people streamed it online.
Dlow has been doing quite well since he signed a deal with Atlantic Records in March behind his viral hit “The Dlow Shuffle.” But he’s also been out and about without any sign of the fellow bop king formerly known as Lil Kemo, who had been a frequent collaborator. When I reached out to Dlow on Twitter to ask about Kemo he messaged me saying, “We doing our own thing.”
Kemo’s thing of late has been a name change—he took on the title King Kemo just before dropping a joint mixtape with rapper Corn Bread called Fame Hurt at the end of July. “The reason why I changed my name was because I wasn’t really getting the recognition I was supposed to for the bop thing,” Kemo says.
Although Kemo and Dlow haven’t been working together much recently they’re both set to perform at the Olympic Theatre’s Super Fiesta on Friday. The “super” is justified—the bill is stacked: King Louie, Dreezy, Sicko Mobb, the Guys, Spenzo, Breezy Montana, and Corn Bread are going to show up alongside Dlow and Kemo. Here’s hoping the bop kings hit the stage together again—their chemistry and friendship helped make the bop scene what it is today.