Sen Morimoto Credit: Kaina Castillo

Chicago hip-hop thrives and continues to be special because of people like rapper, singer, saxophonist, and producer Sen Morimoto. Born in Kyoto, Japan, Morimoto grew up in western Massachusetts, where he learned to play saxophone under the tutelage of Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers, and during his teenage years he joined the brazen outre hip-hop collective Dark World. As much as anyone else in the local scene, Morimoto understands that Chicago rappers don’t need to bend their voices to fit the stereotypes outsiders have of the city’s hip-hop artists—namely, that they either make drill or sound like they could be friends with Chance, a lame bifurcation that ignores a swath of challenging, thoughtful, and eye-opening music. Even within Morimoto’s genre-blurring corner of local hip-hop, which includes ruminative MC Qari (supporting his April EP No Time to Explain), soul-pop vocalist Kaina (whose recent 4U EP was produced by Morimoto), and multi-instrumentalist wunderkind Nnamdi Ogbonnaya (who cofounded Sooper Records, a genre-agnostic indie label on the rise), Sen’s work is distinct. On his Sooper debut, Cannonball!, he smoothly veers from tender, half-whispered, soulful singing to speedy pitter-patter rapping and, atop the wobbly kitchen-sink instrumentation on “This Is Not,” corrugated verses made out of lines in Japanese and English. His instrumentals sometimes have a plastic quality, but they create beguiling moments and evoke the charm of a handcrafted piece of furniture hewn from raw mahogany—every second radiates with Morimoto’s charm and shows how someone can make sounds beautiful by taking the time to show what makes them human.   v