Chicago hip-hop fans used to speak strictly in terms of rappers, beat makers, and DJs, but over the past few years we’ve also started celebrating saxophonists, guitarists, band leaders, backing vocalists, and poets. As a listener, I get a lot of joy surveying this sprawling world and finding musicians who enhance my understanding of what Chicago hip-hop—and, by extension, Chicago music—is and where it can go. And this fall I’m particularly looking forward to new releases from rapper Roy Kinsey and singer-songwriter Tasha Viets-VanLear, who performs under her first name.
In October, California indie label Father/Daughter Records will release Tasha’s debut album, the genre-blurring Alone at Last. On the record Tasha plays tiptoe guitar melodies and delivers her tender, earthy vocals at a volume that suggests she’s leaning in close to whisper her lyrics in your ear; she exudes not only empathy but kinship. She opens the album with an intimate spoken-word poem about finding self-love in the face of racism, and the piece glows with detail—a quality apparent throughout the rest of the album.
Tasha grew up working in theater, playing guitar and violin, trying her hand at freestyling with friends, and participating in Young Chicago Authors, the creativity hub that’s produced some of the best young poets and rappers in this city. She understands the importance of community, and if it isn’t obvious in her odes to young women of color, it’s evident in the album’s vinyl version: $1 from every sale will be donated to No Cop Academy organizers, and each record includes a poetry zine featuring contributions from black Chicago women including Imani Jackson, Stella Binion, and Jamila Woods. Tasha wields a revolutionary spirit that’s as vital to her work as it is to that of some of the city’s best rappers.
Roy Kinsey dropped one of the best Chicago hip-hop albums of 2018 back in February, a deeply affecting observation of American racism titled Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey. Roy made the album while researching his family history following his maternal grandmother’s death in 2016. His storytelling takes the spotlight on Blackie, but his new EP, More Roy, spotlights his impeccable rapping—his seasoned cool, silken flow, and preternatural sense of how his voice can alter and augment the mood. It’s a victory lap, and Roy will be celebrating with an afternoon release show at Sleeping Village on Sunday, September 23. Hardcore-punk label Not Normal will release the cassette version—another example of Chicago hip-hop’s ability to cross over into different communities. v