As I mentioned in my Year In Review piece on “the best things about Chicago music,” the hip-hop scene’s empire is full of exciting, vital music. It often feels excessive, and there’s stuff that always falls through the cracks. With that in mind here are five great local hip-hop releases from 2014 that I thought were overlooked in one way or another—this isn’t definitive, but these five definitely deserve your attention.
Supah, South Side EP:
Supah’s a fiery Chicago rapper who can hold his own with talented local MCs like Lil Herb, who appears on the South Side EP. The real draw here is the title cut, a remake of a 90s number by ghetto-house legend DJ Deeon; Supah’s version was produced by DJ Slugo and Xcel. The MC drops just enough bars to complement the driving beat without overdoing it, and he pulls it off with enough style to make this song his own.
Precise, Ladies Love Mixtapes: The EP:
Old-school hip-hop head Eddy Lamarre, aka rapper Precise, doesn’t dedicate just one song to the ladies but an entire album-length EP. Ladies Love Mixtapes features skits about romance and woe sequenced between plenty of low-key, soul-funk hip-hop cuts that are smooth enough to make Lamarre’s sensually verbose lyrics glide by with ease. Lamarre busts out a track for steppers (plainly titled “The Steppers”), and the whole EP is filled with charming lines such as, “Cause you are a masterpiece that’s hanging in the Guggenheim.” Now that’s classy.
Hellsent & Batsauce, Bat Outta Hell:
This full-length collaboration from south-side rapper Hellsent (sometimes stylized He.llsent) and Berlin-based producer Batsauce is a fine display of all work, no fuss hip-hop. Hellsent’s got a great partner in crime in Batsauce—the latter marries the MC’s sturdy, punctual raps with the right touch of boom-bap drums and cinematic samples that sound like they were yanked from your dreams. This pairing came together under Galapagos4, the long-running local hip-hop indie with a reputation for hip-hop with good taste.
A Billion Young, Glenwood:
Glenwood is one of a couple other projects local production duo A Billion Young released this year: February’s Randomwork is an EP featuring contributions from bizarro Save Money rapper Towkio (then known as Tokyo Shawn), whom they partnered with for his Hotchips N Chopstix EP (released in May). On Glenwood A Billion Young pluck from cosmic R&B, soul-dapped footwork, and buzzing electronic pop for a rich, complex, and largely instrumental tapestry.
Death By Icon, Trybecca:
The three guys in this shape-shifting group take genres and throw them together like they’re splattering paint on a canvas. The resulting colors are interesting more often than not, and rapper-singer Victor Birriel and rapper-singer Anthony Amponin have the puckish verve to try odd gestures—like a sudden swing at something resembling patois “Kismet”—and make them work atop ever-evolving party-rap tracks.