Christopher Horace, aka F.A.B.L.E. Credit: Cecelia Carlson

Last year Englewood rapper, multi-instrumentalist, and studio engineer Christopher Horace, aka F.A.B.L.E., grew frustrated with his lack of progress on an ambitious full-length and released the EP (IX) The Hermit as a stopgap, throwing it together in an effort to break his creative blocks. The EP’s seven irrepressibly joyful songs have become some of my most cherished music over the past 12 months, so my expectations were high when I heard that Horace was finally about to drop the album he’d been working on when he made them. The new Duckweed (A Hermit’s Odyssey), released on his Storybook Records label, doesn’t disappoint. Horace sounds as comfortable on the mike as he does juggling different instrumental styles; on “The Pond” he half-sings his verses atop an acoustic guitar, and on “Sum Bout God” he squeezes his words into crowded lines that almost overlap. On the hook for “Ashland,” he artfully drags his voice across a sun-drenched soul instrumental in a performance so impeccable that any Chicago hip-hop playlist is incomplete without it. Duckweed puts Horace in a league with some of the great local MCs who’ve helped enrich hip-hop on an international level, and with any luck he’ll soon be recognized as one of Chicago’s strongest new voices.   v