2016 was rough, there’s no denying it. Nationally, we lost some of music’s biggest icons and innovators and the country hopped the fast-track to fascism while locally there was a record number of shootings and violence prompting numerous (and necessary) acts of protest and civil disobedience. But 2016 also happened to be an amazing year for music –particularly for Chicago artists.
Aside from Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book,” Whitney’s “Light Upon the Lake” and other locals who had serious breakthroughs this year –we at Local Loop compiled our favorite, *cough* the best *cough,* local releases that you might have missed.
- Noname — “Telefone” If you caught SNL last week, you saw Chance make way onstage for Noname for a stellar performance of “Finish Line/Drown.” But Noname’s “Telefone,” released in July, is deserving of its own high praise (and damn, was it received). Unassuming yet self-assured and direct, Noname a.k.a Fatimah Warner tackled black womanhood, economic stature, spirituality, aspiration, experimentation and the trials of adulthood in the most poetic way. Featuring the likes of Eryn Allen Kane, Saba, Raury, Smino and others, Noname’s stories were reflected in the voices of her collaborators set to minimal jazz flair. The gentle reverberation of the piano keys across “Telefone’s” 10 tracks captured the fleeting innocence of adolescence against the more forceful nature of the beats directing her towards the future. That future is bright.
- Café Racer — “Café Racer” The best rock debut of 2016, Café Racer captured restlessness by way of indifference with Britpop melodies and scuzzy guitar riffs that would make Keith Richards proud. There’s a seamlessness to the record that keeps you coming back to listen again and again, ready to discover a frill you may have missed or possibly a new favorite track, like an insatiable, sonic wave. Not since Wavves’ 2008 self-titled debut has the everyday discombobulation of youth sounded so good, sunny California base not needed.
- Beat Drun Juel — “Suppressor” Beat Drun Juel has steadily become one of LL’s favorite acts to watch. While we anxiously await the trio’s new full-length, we happily blasted “Suppressor” throughout the year everywhere we went. The electric rage captured across eight tracks was actually cathartic for those who prefer relief to come with a side of heavy guitar riffs and ear-drum shattering vocals. Completely unhinged post-punk, that’s what the world needs now.
- Jamila Woods — “Heavn” Let’s not let the impending doom that is the Trump administration make us forget that 2016 was full of black excellence and Black Girl Magic, from Rihanna to the Knowles sisters. But Jamila Woods’ “Heavn” was the definition of Black Girl Magic in Chicago. Featuring the likes of Noname and Chance the Rapper, Woods’ soft soul wrapped itself around you and refused to let you go. It was honest and celebratory in its revelations on womanhood, occupying spaces, love and loss no matter how bleak it may seem. “Heavn” gave us hope that it, heaven, is real and that’s powerful.
- Malcolm London — “Opia” The poet and activist’s debut took him to both Chance the Rapper’s ‘Parade to the Polls,’ “Windy City Live” and his own, nearly sold-out record release show at Chop Shop in Wicker Park. Proving that the work (making America a better place for marginalized lives and endlessly reiterating the fact that Black Lives Matter) can never really be “done,” London tackled everything from police brutality and expectations of black masculinity to sexual consent and the need to celebrate while we’re still here. Teaming up with other talented locals Vic Mensa, Jamila Woods, Donnie Trumpet, Femdot and others, London powerfully captured the uncertainty, vulnerability and beauty of being both young in Chicago and black in America.
- Mick Jenkins — “The Healing Component” Much more than THC, Jenkins’ mission of spreading love, drinking water and living by his truths picks up where 2015’s “Wave[s]” left off and catapults it to another place entirely. “When people talk about love, you really only think about the pretty parts, the romantic parts. People don’t think about things like loving themselves and what that takes and that you have to know yourself to love yourself and how difficult of a battle that may be,” Jenkins says during one of the album’s many interludes. He wants to have the conversation, he’s initiating it –something black men are often deterred from doing, through accessible rhymes, validating and emphasizing the spectrum of black identity, and ‘90s era R&B grooves. “The Healing Component” is a reclamation of his journey, as hard as it is soft, as a rapper, man, son, spiritual being, all of the above.
- Saba — “Bucket List Project” Saba of the west side’s Pivot Gang, a collective of young rappers and artists out of the Austin neighborhood, had one of the biggest glo-ups of 2016 as far as due recognition is concerned. His long-awaited LP “Bucket List Project” dropped in October and it’s an unabashed love letter to his neighborhood and crew, in spite of the systemic struggles that come along with both. With features from Noname, Twista and others, Saba’s youthful exuberance and love for the Chicago he knows pours from the speakers.
- Chris Crack and Vic Spencer — “Who The Fuck Is Chris Spencer??” A collaboration between Chris Crack and Vic Spencer, a concept album that’s more of a time capsule, “Who The Fuck Is Chris Spencer??” proves you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going. Musically, you have to know the roots of your genre before taking it into the future. Both Crack and Spencer spend the entirety of the record rapping over hooks that sound straight out of 1995. Bridging the gap between battle style and freestyle, the duo seems blissful in removing themselves from the mainstream, free from the pressure to reinvent and experiment. If you like rap music for its contents rather than its packaging, “Who The Fuck Is Chris Spencer??” is for you.
- The Avantist — “Avantist” The Arias brothers gave us an advanced listen of their self-titled LP back in September and it was explosive. Everything on “Avantist” was amplified, from the rage of “Conquer” to the stunningly intimate “Solita Soledad.” The band’s genre-bending worked in its favor, making way for a much more expansive sound and technical intricacies that are often overlooked in favor of power chords and jangling melodies. Thematic in nature, “Avantist” took us on one hell of a journey (much like 2016 itself).
- Ganser — “This Feels Like Living“ After some new additions, Ganser released the follow-up to February’s “Audrey” EP in November. “This Feels Like Living” is fully realized post-punk done in a way no other act comes close to. It’s crushing, with Charlie Landsman’s guitar sounding like it’s dueling against itself. The heart of Ganser remains vocalists Nadia Garofalo and Alicia Gaines, whose haunting harmonies heat rumbling bass grooves and nu-wave keys. The EP’s grand finale “Strategies for Living” is nearly-six minutes of all-out confession, explicit, unapologetic and unrelenting in showcasing the band’s skill. “This Feels Like Living” sounds like a band that finally knows itself.