Roy Kinsey Credit: Diana Delgado Pineda

Chicago rapper Roy Kinsey has long known how to make it feel like his voice is the most important in the room. When he appeared on “Loverboy,” a track on Big Dipper’s 2013 Thick Life mixtape that’s anchored by a perfect Sade sample (an idea that came straight from Kinsey), his persona radiates so strongly that while he doesn’t exactly steal the spotlight, I think he comes pretty close. With February’s Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey (self-released), he asserts himself as an impeccable, observant lyricist. A librarian by day, Kinsey strove to tell his maternal grandmother’s story after she died in 2016, and with Blackie Kinsey drew upon his family’s history, starting in Mississippi before his mother and grandmother moved north as part of the Great Migration and opening up the larger conversation of historical racism and how it continues to plague black communities around the U.S. “I knew that on paper my life would look beautiful,” Kinsey recently told Vocalo host Jesse Menendez. “I went to the best schools that Chicago has to offer, I am around a very loving community. . . . I do feel as though I have some privileges and some freedoms that a lot of people that I have grown up with don’t have. But inside I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t feel as happy as felt like I should be, and I wanted to know exactly what that was—I had to figure out what that was and be able to move past it.” And so Kinsey emerged with a novelistic story about a young black man trying to make sense of a system designed to crush people who look like him; Kinsey’s trenchant prose, immersive storytelling, and powerful voice gives me hope that we can dismantle that system for future generations.   v