Sterling Hayes Credit: Troy Gueno

Four years ago, Save Money rapper Sterling Hayes dropped his debut mixtape, Antidepressant, which foreshadowed the wave of Soundcloud rappers who’ve peppered their rhymes with intimate disclosures of their struggles with mental health issues. But that’s not to say that Hayes has much in common with those MCs, or with any scene around town either. On his forthcoming album, Flirting With Death (Create Music Group), he unloads diaristic raps that sometimes thrash against the beat or refuse to conform to a discernible rhyme scheme—he bends every line to the vagaries of his emotions, which makes for some engrossing passages. Hayes punches up his tracks even further by enlisting some of his Chicago friends, including R&B singer the Mind, fellow Save Money MC Brian Fresco, and ace-in-the-hole rappers Vic Spencer and Tree. But when Hayes gives himself room to roam—he’s alone atop the unstable synth and minimal percussion of “Offspring,” with no guest vocalists—he proves he’s got the grit to flourish all by himself, on his own idiosyncratic path.   v