Rappers like to remind you where they’re from, often by peppering their lyrics with mentions of the spots they know best. Here are five of my favorite references to Chicago locations in local rap songs this year.
Vic Spencer lets his familiarity with his gritty city surroundings seep into The Cost of Victory, and his emotive growl feels like the cracks in the sidewalk you’ve walked over enough times to memorize. On the track “Sony Walkman” he references a specific school: “Ninety-six, I was in the back of Lane Tech trying to get me some top.” It’s a crude but effective reminder that passersby rarely see as many dimensions of a place as the people who occupy it.
Anything goes on this impromptu mixtape, but Chance makes time to ask if he can take a moment to give some props. After tipping his hat to West Chatham, he says, “Can I shout out that Harold’s on 87th real quick?” Harold’s has three restaurants on that road, including one in Chatham, right by the Red Line stop at 87th Street. Harold’s lovers tend to have favorite locations, swearing that theirs cooks the best stuff, and Chance is no different—a couple weeks before recording this mixtape, he Instagrammed an order from “that Harold’s on 87th.”
Few local MCs put love front and center like Hologram Kizzie, aka Psalm One. Before she dropped Psalm One Loves You in September, she teamed up with tongue-twisting rapper Probcause to record five songs as Zro Fox. Psalm shows her grasp of Chicago history on “Might Not,” shouting out pals who earned a record deal at the Regal Theater on 79th Street; the landmark building is cherished by locals, much like Psalm.
Ty Money, “United Center”
The United Center is home to champions—Chicago will never forget Michael Jordan—but also tends to feel like a bubble that’s impervious to the horrors of the world outside. On “United Center,” a response to dashcam footage of Laquan McDonald’s shooting death at the hands of police, Harvey rapper Ty Money steamrolls through a litany of systemic injustices that have devastated minority neighborhoods. The pain he means to evoke is never clearer than when he brings his outrage right to the door of the arena that’s been home to so many celebrations: “I just saw a body outside the United Center / And they left him in his Jordans.”
Rich Jones featuring Montana Macks and Jordan Looney, “Milwaukee Ave,” Pigeons & Waffles
Rich Jones casually half-sings, half-raps about stumbling through the bars and darkened corners of Milwaukee Avenue. The song’s dreamy, twinkling instrumental and Jones’s simple, affectionate performance remind me of the many warm evenings I’ve spent walking through the bustling patchwork of diverse neighborhoods along that street. Even if you’ve never ended a night “blacked out on that Blue Line,” as Jones raps, this heartfelt tribute to a stretch of Chicago road will help you appreciate its possibilities anew.