Joshua Virtue Credit: Reilly Drew

Ever since COVID-19 seeped into every detail of our everyday lives, I’ve struggled to articulate the mental gymnastics I go through just to remember to brush my teeth twice a day. Thank goodness for Chicago rapper Joshua Virtue, who does it for me on his new solo album, Jackie’s House (Why?). On “Fenti Face,” Virtue (aka Alex Singleton) captures the surreal mishmash of tension, anxiety, and confusion that passed through him as Illinois skidded toward its current state of limbo; his poised, serene performance collides with the distressing subject to give the song an emotional slipperiness that captures this moment’s specific feeling. Virtue wrote and recorded Jackie’s House during the first couple weeks of Governor Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order, and though he vents plenty of frustration and anger (at the way COVID-19 disproportionately harms the most vulnerable, and at the capitalists exploiting it to fill their coffers), he ultimately fuels this music with love. The album is an homage to his mother, the titular Jackie; Virtue has pledged to give her all proceeds from the Bandcamp-only release while she looks after his sister and grandmother in her Florida home (the Jackie’s House Bandcamp page also includes Venmo and Cash App handles for Virtue’s mom, in case folks want to give more). Jackie’s House is an act of kindness—the joy Virtue expresses here can help people find ways to heal themselves during an ongoing tragedy—as well as a reminder of what can be lost. Virtue’s anger is likewise an act of empowerment: when Ruby Watson and Malci join him to tear into our corrupt political and economic systems on “12 Billion Wulong!,” they wield their serrated barbs on behalf of the people they love.   v