Credit: Dennis Thompson

Emerging Chicago rapper Christopher Horace charmed me a couple years ago with the first EP he released as F.A.B.L.E., (IX) The Hermit. His downy voice makes his playful raps sound more intimate than he can spell out with words, lending them the air of a confession shared between friends–and his gentle performances fit into his humid, laid-back, soul-influenced instrumentals like puzzle pieces. Horace intensified that magnetic aesthetic on his 2021 full-length, Duckweed, and the new Green Room (Storybook) adds a new wrinkle by incorporating a grab bag of musical styles. When Horace sings a melancholy hook over a faint, gleaming synth melody, cannon-fire bass, and strands of electronic percussion on “Debt,” he replicates the outsize grandeur of big-tent pop rap. Green Room also experiments with kitchen-sink beats, full-band fusion, and sultry R&B, and the album’s skits help hold it together through these zigzags—in part because Horace uses them to get bracingly honest. He plumbs his grief at the loss of his grandfather (“BTW I’m Sorry”) and confronts the mental hurdles he’s set up for himself by seeking other artists’ acceptance (“I’m Not Really Shit”). He delivers those bits quietly, like he’s recording a voicemail, and throughout Green Room he often speaks at that restrained volume—another way this diverse album feels like a coherent whole.

F.A.B.L.E.’s Green Room due at the end of July, and release details should be available via his Instagram.