Rich Jones Credit: Katie Levine

In the past few years Chicago rapper-singer Rich Jones has increasingly softened his delivery and drawn out his vocals. These days, it can be difficult to trace the strains of rap DNA that remain crucial to his work, but they’re still there in the way he paces himself, the way he ends each verse with a definitive verve, and the way his singing is inflected with a swagger that suggests he could turn and rattle off 12 bars on a dime. He’s not trying to be the greatest singer in the world; he’s figuring out the best way to wring out every emotion within his vocal capabilities. On his new self-released album, The Shoulder You Lean On, he pulls off the task with a nonchalant poise, showing he’s able to stir up sweet melancholy, sanguine sensuality, and effervescent joy, often in a single song, without ruffling mellow flow. Producer J. Kelr (of Blended Babies) gave The Shoulder You Lean On a relaxed soul sound. The record carries a sense that Kelr evolved it over the course of several decades, which makes Jones sounds more seasoned by proxy. The album is definitive of Chicago hip-hop, but I imagine it could go over well in circles obsessed with boogie’s new twist on throwback postdisco dance music—what The Shoulder You Lean On lacks in synthesizer melodies, Jones makes up for in everyman smoothness.   v