Ajani Jones Credit: Paul Araki

After Chicago rapper Fredrick “Ajani” Jones left the University of Iowa in 2015 to focus on music, he picked up a warehouse gig in Rogers Park to help fund what he hoped would be his real career. On “Pluto,” off his recent debut album, Dragonfly (Ajani Jones/Closed Sessions), the 25-year-old talks about pursuing his dream by working long hours at a lousy job far from home—a situation made even more exhausting by the historic structural inequality that young Black men face. “Workin’ this 5 AM shift, in Rogers Park, that’s daily,” he raps. “Takin’ the Red Line from 63rd, it would drive me crazy / Seein’ those lights gave me a spark, this ain’t LA baby.” Jones, who grew up all over Chicago’s south side and south suburbs, likes to use such autobiographical details to evoke the paradoxical love that so many Chicagoans have for a city that often seems indifferent to their existence—in its best moments, Dragonfly articulates the joy of building a space for yourself here. Jones’s muscular, agile flow is something that authenticity-obsessed hip-hop heads and casual browsers of Spotify’s “Rap Caviar” playlist can agree on. On “3D” he raps about physical and mental violence toward young Black people, with lyrics impressionistic enough for listeners to see their own stories in his.   v