The cover of 99 B.U., by Englewood B.U. Credit: Courtesy the artist

Chicago’s Englewood B.U. is as much an alchemist as a rapper, combining elements to create effects that defy easy explanation. On his new debut, 99 B.U. (Matthew Mason Music), the mature grit in his lilting voice gives his dusty instrumentals a worldliness that’s difficult to manufacture. He loves storytelling, and as his lyrics saunter casually atop checkered soul samples and sinewy percussion, his narratives gain extra dimensions as if by magic. On “Jabba,” B.U. juxtaposes brief anecdotes of youthful joy with painful snapshots of present-day loss, and when he mentions close childhood friends who’ve died, his voice tenses up as if he’s grieving all over again. “Nobody gave a fuck about how we feel,” he tersely raps, suddenly sounding a shade hoarse. B.U. understands how isolating it can feel to lose a close friend in a society indifferent to Black death, but he can express empathy with enough poise to make anyone feel a little less lonely.   v