Thirteen years ago, Chicago hip-hop group Nacrobats looked unstoppable. A Tribune feature published shortly after they self-released their 2003 album All Ways quoted Billy Tuggle, who was responsible for bringing hip-hop into Tower Records’ Lincoln Park location: “There’s a handful of local crews upholding the Chicago hip-hop scene, and Nacrobats is at the front of the next wave.” But Nacrobats dissolved a few months later, and the five members went their separate ways.
Pugs Atomz hopped around the globe, not just touring but often stopping for extended visits. Infinito 2017 released a constant stream of solo recordings. Cristalle Bowen, better known as Psalm One, signed a solo deal with Minnesota imprint Rhymesayers in 2006, then went on to build a fascinating solo career largely independent of the label. In November she spoke with the Minneapolis City Pages just before Rhymesayers’ 20th-anniversary celebration, where she wasn’t booked to appear—an omission that sparked a fascinating conversation about her positive relationships with many Rhymesayers artists and the ill treatment she says she’s received from the label itself. (I highly recommend reading the whole interview—quoting snippets wouldn’t do it justice.)
Bowen hasn’t let her bad relationship with Rhymesayers deter her from forging ahead with her music—she’s taken on a new stage persona (Hologram Kizzie) and partnered up with Probcause to form Zro Fox. Up until a couple years ago, though, she never thought she’d become part of another full-fledged hip-hop group. As Bowen told Passion of the Weiss last year, after Nacrobats split, she “never really thought about being in a crew again. . . . Much less one that’s all female. I didn’t think it was a possibility.” But as you’ve probably figured out, the reason she was giving that interview was because she’d joined another crew—a crew made up entirely of women.
In 2014 Bowen teamed up with Angel Davanport and frequent collaborator Fluffy to form Rapper Chicks. Last week they released their debut, a three-song EP called Shitty Punk Album. It’s got the same outsize thump Bowen has favored lately in her solo material—amid hailstorms of sleek synth stabs, blasts of bass make your stomach quake. And though it’s a group effort, Bowen sounds just as charged up and fierce as she does on any of her own recordings; she plays well with her team, but she can also take it to the rim with a killer couplet (“I’m like a trip to Italy / You like a frozen pizza”). A good crew can bring out the best in all its members, and that’s the case with the Rapper Chicks.