I first heard local singer-songwriter Lili K. on Chance the Rapper‘s breakthrough 2012 mixtape, #10Day. She played a backup singer to Chance on “Hey Ma,” and her fluttering brassy voice helped make the tune one of the mixtape’s high points. Since then I’ve noticed her name come up frequently in the local hip-hop scene, which is slightly odd considering Lili doesn’t make rap herself.
The 21-year-old is a jazz vocalist. She studied jazz, classical, and opera singing as a high school student in Milwaukee, but it’s jazz that captured her attention. After graduating high school she enrolled in Columbia College, where she took classes with Ruby Hornet’s Alex Fruchter (aka DJ RTC) and met producer Peter Cottontale. Lili and Peter became frequent collaborators and in the fall they released a neosoul EP called Metal Petals, which includes contributions from Chance, Sulaiman, and the GTW. Lili tends to blur genre lines in her solo work, which certainly helps her ability to work and connect with local MCs and rap producers.
On Fri 3/1 Lili and her backing band, the Secret Garden, will headline a concert at the Hard Rock Cafe, and the show provided a great opportunity to talk with the singer about her relationship with the local rap scene. I recently met up with Lili at the Chicago Cultural Center where we discussed J Dilla, getting a fake ID to get into jazz clubs, and her work with Peter and Chance.