Malcom London Credit: David Huzieran

Chicago’s Malcolm London juggles more roles at once than some people can list on their entire resumés: he’s a poet, activist, rapper, and educator. How does he do it? “I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to be my whole self at all times,” he told the website DJ Booth in January. “When I’m onstage and I’m a rapper, I don’t forget that I’m an educator and that there’s young people watching me.” That mind-set is part of London’s appeal, and part of what makes him great as as an artist and performer; he can move an entire crowd while connecting with every single audience member on an individual level. In his songs—which deal with topics such as black positivity, community-centric activism, and the frustrations of societal constructs of masculinity—he gives each word a distinctive texture as he shapes it. At times it feels as if he holds on to his phrases a little longer than other artists would to ensure that any listener can fully grasp the weight of his message. It’s an intimate gesture that creates the sense that London is engaging with the listener one-on-one and for the moment the only thing that matters is that connection. On January’s Right Away Series (Savantry), he occasionally ignores his songs’ soul-inspired musical frameworks in a rush to get every last word out—perhaps because he started working on the EP with the intention of writing more poems. The results don’t always jibe with what’s expected of rappers today—from Chicago or elsewhere—and that’s just another part of London’s charm.   v