Chicago Westside Music Festival Credit: Kevin Stepanek

The annual Chicago Westside Music Festival brings national talent to Douglas Park while spotlighting hometown heroes. In previous editions, the free daylong event has leaned heavily on beloved mainstream R&B acts such as Bell Biv DeVoe, but the opener of this year’s festival is dynamic but not-so-family-friendly Chicago hip-hop group Crucial Conflict. The group’s members began honing their skills together at parties in the K-Town section of the west side in the early 90s before hitting the radio hard with the 1996 single “Hay,” an ode to the kind of grass you might find yourself “smokin’ in the middle of the barn,” as they sing in the chorus over a sample from the 1974 Funkadelic ballad “I’ll Stay.” Despite the rural imagery, those lyrics actually refer to the Barn, Crucial Conflict’s recording studio, storefront hangout, and community space, where they created some of the material they released later that year on their debut album, The Final Tic. The “old west” vibe appealed to their fans for its original mix of country and rap, and the group played up the western motif in their fashion and in other album singles, most obviously “Ride the Rodeo”—in some early interviews, they even described their music as a new genre, RODEO (“Rhymes of Dirty English Organization”). These days “Hay,” which eventually reached number two on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart, reliably makes me think of Lil Nas X’s megahit “Old Town Road”—I think it would be fun if Lil Nas X and Crucial Conflict collaborated on a new track. The Chicago Westside Music Festival also features ebullient west-side native and former Kenwood Academy student Da Brat as well as Monifah (a former Heavy D protege) who makes grown-up-lady R&B. Headlining is soul and R&B icon Faith Evans, whose gorgeous, world-weary, raspy mezzo-soprano could entrance a statue.   v