Every year, artists hailing from Chicago prove exactly why this is a city that belongs in the upper echelon of music, and this fact grows more abundantly obvious with every release that is put out. Whether a musician is world renown or locally recognized, there is never a shortage of creativity, effort, or innovation, and whether the rest of the country notices this or not, local fans are well aware of the goldmine that we are sitting on here in the Midwest.
Our goal here at Lyrical Lemonade has always been to shine a light on the remarkable sounds coming out of the city every single year, and even when we go in with certain expectations or presumptions, our minds are absolutely blown once we realize just how much dexterous and unique music was brought to life in the span of 12 short months. One thing that is inimitable within the local scene here is simply the sense of community because whether these talents are teaming up with one another or on entirely different levels of fame, everyone seems to show love to each other, ensuring their awareness of the eye-opening and head-turning styles that are being generated across the board.
This year’s list seems to be the most complex catalog yet considering it features some new names, diverse genres, and inventive creations, but even with such a wide spectrum of sounds, every project has one thing in common: They’re all extraordinary pieces of art. Whether you’re a fan of drill, pop, rock, neo-soul, R&B, or any other genre, there is definitely more than one enjoyable project on this list for you, and there’s plenty of marvelous music to go around.
All of these artists worked their hardest to put out astonishingly great projects for you all year long, so while we want to thank them for their hard work and dedication, we also can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves as we look upwards and onwards in 2022! With that being said, we’re beyond pleased and excited to share Lyrical Lemonade’s Top 50 Chicago Projects of 2021 and we hope you enjoy listening to each and every project as much as we did!
Honorable Mention: Goldenboymnny • Bet On Me
Honorable Mention: Lil Blessin • Go
Honorable Mention: Angry Blackmen • Reality EP
Honorable Mention: Frank Leone • Sundrop
Honorable Mention: Blake Saint David • Be Your Own Celebrity
50) D2X • The Color Blue
Kicking off our list this year is D2X, who dropped a super solid project earlier this year called The Color Blue. This tape dropped back in March and it was an early year standout for me, it displayed D2X’s lyrical ability and I feel like it encapsulated the man that he has grown into at this point. I love this project because it finds D2X questioning many different things about his life and his future, which I feel like many young adults struggle with, I believe that piece of the tape resonated with his listeners a ton. I have been familiar with D2X for a couple of years, and I strongly believe that this was some of his best work yet, props to him and I am eager to see what he does from here.
49) Senite • The Hallway EP
Chicago is obviously full of so many different talents, sounds, and styles of music, but few artists are able to reveal themselves quite like Senite. The singer/songwriter is still amassing a following, but her natural talents are abundant and it’s only a matter of time before she takes things to the next level. Throughout her various releases, she has taken us on a tour of her home with EPs like The Guest Room, The Living Room, and others, using her home as a way to reveal herself and her innermost thoughts to the world.
This year, she continued her streak on The Hallway, another home-related EP that boasts only 4 songs but shares so much more than you could ever even imagine. Although the production is typically pretty simplistic and bare-bones, this allows her unbelievably pure voice to shine bright as well as the introspective, personal narrative she shares to be ingested and experienced without any distractions or impotence. Considering there are 49 other projects to get to, I don’t want to write too much because I could go on for days praising Senite’s aptitudes, so just make a point to get in tune with the unbelievable sonic abilities she brings to life on her indescribable EP The Hallway.
48) JAMS TFC • Made With Love
Every year, I’m put onto some amazing and promising new talents in this city, so when I see one of these artists not only thrive but find a spot on this list at the end of the year, I can’t help but feel proud of all the hard work they’ve put in to get themselves here. JAMS The Flava Child is one of these artists, and even though I have only been hip to him for a year or two, I knew he was someone that was going to do something special.
When he released his album Made with Love a few months back, he was able to showcase his various talents in one place, never wasting a single second he was given and making sure to give us something truly special on every single one of these 11 songs. JAMS is someone who has a very unique sound, blending classic boom-bap rap sounds with a funkier, almost jazz-inspired style that he always thrives on, making him someone that is only going to continue to progress within his young yet blossoming career. With a couple of sold-out shows under his belt and a super loyal fanbase, JAMS isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so make sure you get familiar with him on Made with Love before he totally blows up.
47) Joyfriend • Scratch Sailor
Joyfriend is one of the biggest new musical blessings within Chicago’s music community, he differs from a majority of this list sonically, but he is landing on our list here at number 47 with his project Scratch Sailor. This tape is a ten-song, just over forty-minute long effort that finds Joyfriend experimenting over his own production. I love Joyfriend’s music because it just feels free, it feels like he’s just creating anything that comes to his mind and having fun while doing it. Not to suggest that he is creating aimlessly, because that’s not the case, but it gives me the feeling of it being a pure expression of creativity. Some of Joyfriend’s music is upbeat, and some of it is feel-good, but Scratch Sailor leans more toward a sadder type of sound. This project is honest, it’s pure, it’s vulnerable, and it deserved to be highlighted here on our year-end list.
46) Jaas • Unavailable
One of the newcomers on our Top 50 list is Jaas, a Chicago native who dropped an impressive new project earlier this year called Unavailable. During the interview I did with Jaas a couple of weeks after the release of this tape, she explained that this body of work was created during the fallout of a prior relationship of hers. She used her music as the vessel to speak about what was going through her mind and in turn, she created a solid project that will prove to be the foundation for her budding music career. If you’re into R&B music, there’s no better project on this list than this one, tap in below and you just might find your favorite new artist.
45) Semiratruth • Mira
Although lyrical rap might be something that way too many people take for granted in the current day and age of music, there are so many local artists that are making a strong case as to why this is the future, and not a thing of the past. If you’re familiar with some of the more localized names in the Windy City, Semiratruth shouldn’t be a new name because she is literally the embodiment of what Chicago hip-hop truly is, and I think that deserves so much credit in and of itself.
This year’s project Mira makes this more apparent than ever, and she offers something new and captivating on every single one of the 9 songs on this album. In the same breath, she made sure to carry the entire heft of this project on her own shoulders, not leaning on any guests or features to assist her but rather seizing every opportunity she has to demonstrate everything she brings to the table, and it must be a massive table considering how deep and complex her skillset truly is. Simply put, Mira is a project that ties in so many different local sounds with new, inventive styles that only Semiratruth seems to be able to pull off as effortlessly as she does, making it a must-listen for any fan of the local, up-and-coming scene here in this magnificent city.
44) Ro Marsalis • Space(s)
Some of the names that we include on this list might not be the biggest or most recognizable artists in the entire music industry, but I feel like that makes it even better. Every year, fans come to this list to not only find out about what our top favorite projects are, but to find out about immense talents that deserve much more credit, and artists like Ro Marsalis definitely deserve so much more recognition than they receive. The perfect example of this is his project Space(s).
While this might’ve been my introduction to the Chicagoan, I was truly amazed at the dexterity that he obviously brings to the table throughout these 10 songs that run just short of 25 minutes long. When listening from start to finish, as this project should be played, there is a melting pot of sounds ranging from soul to r&b to neo-soul and even sprinkles of hip-hop, making this an album that you simply can’t define with one word. I just think that Ro’s versatility is truly one-of-a-kind and the fact that he is able to show this so eloquently on Space(s) this early on in his career makes me realize just how much of a hidden gem he is in this constantly evolving city.
43) CP • Made For Big Speakers
I’m not entirely sure as to how many of the projects included on this list are under eight minutes long, but I’d say that CP easily has the hottest EP that’s under ten minutes in length. Made For Big Speakers was the only tape that CP dropped in 2021, but that’s all that he needed because it did what it had to do. Although each of these four songs is really good, the highlight of the EP is without a doubt his collaboration with the DCG Brothers, it was an all-around great offering that I believe is the pinnacle of CP’s music so far. CP has been building something special with his music career for the past couple of years, but I am excited to see CP grow as an artist, I challenge him to attempt to create his first full-length project in 2022 and I also challenge him to tap into the introspective bag that he has yet to attack yet. Congratulations to CP on a great year, keep in tune with him moving forward by giving him a follow on Twitter here.
42) Flex Sinatra • Beyond Measure
Even with an entirely new wave of sonic styles being created throughout the entire music industry, drill music has always been a trademark sound for Chicago. Ever since the early days of Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Bibby, and G Herbo, Chicago’s name was forever solidified in the heart of the rap world, and I’m forever grateful for this fact. Nonetheless, every year there seems to be a new up-and-comer who comes out of the woodwork and shows us that this genre is anything but dying, and this year, Flex Sinatra caught my ear and captured my attention more than most other artists in the Windy City. He might be a relative newcomer to the scene, at least in terms of deserved recognition, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a piece of the pie, or better yet, the whole thing.
If you’re unfamiliar with Flex but enjoy acts like Lil Bibby, this will be an easy transition for you, and the perfect place to start is his EP Beyond Measure. In this project, the instrumentals contain classic drill-inspired percussive elements while incorporating some unique and uncharacteristic melodies. Due to this boundary-pushing nature, Flex is able to show off his bars, ruthlessly attacking the microphone with his words as he shows off his calm, cool, and collected disposition at all times. Despite the fact that Flex Sinatra is still on the rise, he made a point as to why he isn’t someone to be overlooked for even a second, making Beyond Measure a must-listen for any fan of the Chicago drill scene.
41) Mother Nature • SZNZ
Mother Nature seems to be a regular on this list because even though they might not drop countless projects every single year, as long as they release one, we here at Lyrical Lemonade are definitely going to tune in. Considering they’ve dropped off some smaller, shorter projects over the years, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that their collaborative mixtape with producer Boathouse entitled SZNZ was a bit more substantial, running 15 songs that span just over 42 minutes long.
I don’t care who you are, what kind of music you listen to, or how picky you are, I can say with the utmost confidence that once you listen to this tape in its entirety, there is no denying these two emcee’s skills, and they’re spitting some of the most well-thought-out and composed bars in the entire industry, not just in Chicago. Considering the length of this project, it wasn’t a surprise to see a few guest features from awesome artists like Sir Michael Rocks, Valee, Brittney Carter, and various other talents, but no matter who joins them on a track, they make sure to maintain their position in the spotlight while also having a blast throughout the entire mixtape. Mother Nature is a duo that has worked hard to become local legends, and SZNZ is just another showcase of all the wonderful and abundant skills that they bring to the table in every new release.
40) KAI • Steve’s Demo EP
One of my personal favorite gems that I discovered this year from Chicago is Kai, who released a sensational four-song EP called Steve’s Demo. Honestly, this EP might be a top 5 in terms of which projects that I listened to the most, there’s just something infectious and addicting about it. When I listened to this EP throughout the year, I heard not only a skilled lyricist with an ear for creating beautiful melodies, I heard an artist that possessed a whole lot of untapped potential. The future is bright for Kai, I am eager to see him grow into the successful artist that I know that he will become, and to move even higher on this list in years moving forward.
39) NNAMDï + Lynyn • Are You Happy
Although we find out new up-and-coming acts every year we work on this list, there are definitely some mainstays that seem to pop up year after year. This is thanks to their tireless efforts in the music scene here in the city, and out of everyone, NNAMDï seems to be a name we’ve grown super familiar with. He’s definitely not new to the music scene here in Chicago considering he has been releasing music for the better part of a decade, but he’s one of the more unique talents we are aware of, and that has become abundantly apparent over the years we’ve covered him.
It can be hard to follow up such a strong project like Brat proved to be when it was released last year, but we saw a new NNAMDï in 2021 after he teamed up with Lynyn for a collaborative project entitled Are You Happy, and he’s definitely at the top of his game. In this one, he proves to be beyond dexterous after tuning in, because the beat selection he makes on this project is unbelievable. Just the way he mixes his smooth, serene vocals with the faster-paced, upbeat instrumentals gives us another opportunity to truly ingest and appreciate the multifaceted talents that NNAMDï has become known for throughout his years in the music industry. Are You Happy is a lowkey project that is full of all-out hits, making it an EP that you need to check out before moving on to some of the other remarkable projects that were released this year.
38) Qari • I Got Problems EP
There might be multiple mainstays and recognizable names on this list, but one of the all-time great underground artists here in the city is definitely Qari. As for most people, I was first put onto the local legend through his group Hurt Everybody, and although I still wish that they stayed together on a daily basis, I think all three artists are doing remarkable things on their own. This year’s EP IGOTPROBLEMS might only be 4 songs long but knowing just how talented this Chicagoan is with his words makes it feel like you’re listening to a full body of work that spans much longer than its actual 9-and-a-half-minute runtime.
This is a very peaceful EP full of tranquility and harmony, but don’t let that distract from the fact that Qari is one of the greatest lyricists in the city because even if this does slip your mind, he’ll remind you with every chance he gets. Whether he’s singing soothing melodies or spitting consistently eye-opening and thought-provoking bars, Qari reminds us that he is at the top of his game on his IGOTPROBLEMS EP, making it a short but perfect offering to highlight his seasoned and flourishing career that’s stronger than ever right now.
37) Kiraly Payne • For the Fun EP
One of my favorite things about the seven years that I have been with Lyrical Lemonade so far is the relationships that I have built with artists, especially from the Chicago/Chicagoland area. Kiraly Payne is someone who I met shortly after I started working for LL, he was a common attendee at our cyphers that we would host back in the day, and even then, I knew that he had superior rapping ability. When it comes to witty flows, unique rhyme patterns, and the mixture of melodic/straight-up rapping, not many can compete with Kiraly. Earlier this year, Kiraly Payne released an EP called For The Fun, and it has been on repeat in my rotation since its release. This was an all-around solid project that left me hungry for more music from him, so I am looking forward to how he moves in 2022, but I have a good feeling about his future. I believe Kiraly will agree with me when I say that this was the best year he’s ever had musically, let’s sit back and watch him capitalize on 2022.
36) Tatiana Hazel • And the World Will Turn
Tatiana Hazel might be a newer name to me just because I predominantly listen to hip-hop music, personally, but when an artist with her amount of natural talent and skill releases the sounds that she worked long and hard to perfect, it’s simply impossible to ignore and I’m not sure why anyone would want to ignore it in the first place. Although she has been releasing music for years and years, the project that she released this year entitled And the World Will Turn was something that I couldn’t stop listening to.
Throughout these five songs, Tatiana discusses some of the things she’s been dealing with throughout life, focusing mainly on the struggles that she has endured after a move to Los Angeles during the pandemic and finding herself alone in a new city that was pretty much shut down. What’s most inspiring about this EP, even with all of the unbelievably flawless sounds that she delivers, is the fact that no matter what she’s going through, she seems to look at her cup as being half full and tries to find the good in every situation, even the tough ones. Tatiana Hazel is not only talented as hell, but an all-around inspiration for her fans, so no matter what you might be going through or struggling with, And the World Will Turn is a project that can make you feel even a little better on your darkest of days.
35) Rockie Fresh • Slid Thru Part 2
I’m sure by the time you finish perusing through this list, you’ll have found out about a handful of young, up-and-coming artists full of promise and capability. Of course, there will be names you’re familiar with and artists you bump regularly, but I can almost guarantee that almost none of these talents have the history or potency that Rockie Fresh has. Rockie has been in the game for almost a decade and a half, beginning with his debut mixtape Rockie’s Modern Life back in 2009. A few years (and projects later), he dropped Electric Highway which was something that shaped me into the massive Windy City music fan that I am, and the rest was history.
He never seems to go quiet no matter where his career takes him, and this year’s Slid Thru Part 2 is another remarkable display of the fact that he’s at the top of his game, even with the veteran status that he has worked toward. With a few assists from artists like Vic Mensa, Tobi Lou, and 24hrs, amongst others, Rockie brings in some friends but never gets overshadowed or shown up, and that’s saying a lot with the strength of talent he recruits. There isn’t a single sound that occurs more than once throughout these 10 songs, proving that Rockie is not only unbelievably talented but also as versatile as can be, making Slid Thru Part 2 a mandatory listen no matter who you are or what you enjoy listening to.
34) Smba • Claustrophobic
Smba is a newcomer on our Top 50 list, but deservingly so, as earlier this year he released an awesome project called Claustrophobic. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this tape, not only was it packed with amazing music, it was packaged in a nice way with some eye-catching cover art and I liked aspects of his rollout. There are a few different sounds on this project that Smba provided, he’s one of those rare artists that I believe could make a straight boom-bap hip-hop project or an alternative tape and they would both be excellent. Smba is a great young man who has a special musical talent, please keep an eye on him for years to come, cause he has the potential to make some serious noise.
33) SoloSam • Principles to Die By
The talent pool here in Chicago seems to be deep and complex, but I never fail to be amazed by exactly how talented some of these artists can be. Most of them might have a few go-to producers they work with in order to help craft their sound, but for SoloSam, he has a background in production as well, and I think this has paid immense dividends as he has honed in on his personal sound over the years. After garnering attention from various outlets like Pigeons & Planes, the Chicago Reader, and especially us here at Lyrical Lemonade, it goes without saying that Sam is on the perfect path to make something of himself and his music, and his foundation is already built, getting sturdier by the day thanks to this year’s project Principles to Die By.
On this one, he really explores his range, sometimes spitting ruthless lyrics that pierce through to your core while other times sharing his eloquent melodious vocals that glide right along with the instrumentals he utilizes. He even recruits some like-minded guests like Daniyel and Michael Christmas to join in on the fun, leading to some unbelievable guest features that definitely elevate this project. I hate comparisons, but if you aren’t familiar with Sam and need a little push to check him out, I get very similar vibes to Mick Jenkins who is one of my favorite Chicago emcees, so that’s high praise coming from me. Principles to Die By is just another project that is going to boost SoloSam into the spotlight once again, and I couldn’t think of a more deserving artist to receive this recognition after all the years he has put in perfecting his craft.
32) Baha Bank$ • Big Bank
Women are the best rappers, and it’s here to stay. This is something that I’ve been excited about for a while, but it’s always that much better when someone from your home city is making waves the way Baha Bank$ is. She might have only been making music for a year or two at this point, but from her very introduction into the music scene, it was obvious that she was here to stay, and she was going to do everything in her power to make this fact known. At the same time, she is one of the hardest working individuals in the game right now considering she’s not only a mother, but a college graduate and also an independent artist, so despite labels flocking her way, she knows her worth and isn’t going to undercut it by any means.
This past year, she released her first cohesive project called Big Bank, and as you listen throughout this entire tape, there isn’t a single moment of boredom or dullness, and that speaks volumes about Baha as an artist considering it’s her very first complete body of work. If her name sounds familiar, it could be because of the project’s hit single “Shake Dat A$$” which features Chance the Rapper, and even though these two artists’ styles vary wildly, Chance stepped into her world and brought his own flair to this unapologetic and energetic offering. Big Bank gives us so much more than this single alone, though, making it an obvious and easy addition to this year’s list.
31) oddCouple • Reflections
oddCouple is a producer out of Chicago who has played a pivotal role within the city’s music community for damn near a decade now, he has produced hits for many of your favorite artists, and today he is landing on our Top 50 list with his 2021 project called Reflections. This was the first project release that oddCouple has provided us with in over three years, from what he told me, a large part of this hiatus was to re-create his sound and come back with something totally new. It’s safe to say that it was well worth the wait because oddCouple stepped up to the plate and really delivered one of the top Chicago projects of 2021. One thing I have said before and will say again about oddCouple, he brings the best out of the artists that he works with, and nothing changed on this tape. I was familiar with a great majority of these creatives prior to the release of this project, and many of the contributions from these artists were some of the best material I’ve ever heard from them (in my opinion). I was extremely glad to see oddCouple make his comeback this year, let’s see how he compliments this next year.
30) Manwolves • Sleeping In
Most, if not all of the projects included on this list are from either individual artists or duos, and although we didn’t intend for this outcome, it just naturally happened. Chicago is just a city full of personalities and working on your own career seems to be a theme, so when a group comes along and breaks that mold, I couldn’t be more excited. Manwolves is a band originally from Evanston that formed in 2014 thanks to a group of high school friends coming together to make good music, and the rest is history. The 5 members all bring something different and remarkable to the table, and this has led to massive successes including tours, sold-out shows, and performances with some of the biggest names in music.
This year’s album Sleeping In is yet another wonderful addition to their discography and exploits all of the talents that each member has worked so hard to perfect. Listening throughout this project, or any of their others, it almost feels like you’re tuning in to a live performance because the vocals and instruments are just so crisp and unfiltered, but if you’re familiar with the band, you know that this is nothing new. What is new is the fact that they seem to incorporate so many different emotions into this record, sometimes providing crashing instrumentals with screaming vocals while other times quieting themselves and letting the vibe of the song carry listeners throughout. Manwolves does it all throughout the 8 songs on Sleeping in, making it a diverse yet powerful offering from the Evanston natives.
29) Kaycee Shakur • Nu Moon
There is an unbelievable amount of talent within Chicago, seemingly every day there is a new artist landing on our radar, and one creative I had the pleasure of listening to in 2021 is Kaycee Shakur. Back in April, Kaycee released a sensational new project called Nu MOON, and my older brother Eric put me onto it. It didn’t take me more than a couple of listens through the project to see that Kaycee has a special talent as well as star potential. Kaycee pieced this project together well, the production is truly next level, and when she meshed that with her angelic vocals and melodies, it was the perfect recipe for success.
Every single song on this project is really really f*cking good, but the record “IDK Yet” with St. Louis native Matty Wood$ is my favorite, they complimented each other well and created something memorable. Kaycee Shakur is still a relatively new artist, and I am going to be keeping a close eye on her in 2022 because if she has a few things fall the right way for her, she can become a superstar.
28) WastedJu • Self-Titled
As much as I thoroughly enjoy the music scene here in Chicago, it does feel like so many artists tend to box themselves into a specific sound or genre before they even get a chance to break out and try something new and exciting. At least, it seemed that way until WastedJu hit the scene, and then my entire perception of this turned out to be a huge misconception. He has been in the rap world for quite some time now, cultivating a unique sound that could never be put into a box by anyone, not even himself.
While he has been pushing the limits of what hip-hop should be for over a half-decade, I don’t know if we’ve experienced a cohesively perfect project quite like his self-titled EP WASTEDJU proved to be when it dropped earlier this year. The pop-punk inspiration behind his sound is always apparent, but there are so many different styles and genres blended together throughout these 6 songs, and it’s more difficult than ever to even attempt to put a label on his sound. No one in Chicago is making music like WastedJu is, and as much as I hope that local artists begin to expand their horizons like he managed to do years ago, I don’t know if anyone will ever be able to claim that they’ve done a better job than this iconic Windy City native has.
27) NombreKari • Children Play With Fire
NombreKari is an artist from the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago who I have been a fan of for a minute now, and just a couple of months ago he released his brand new project called “Children Play With Fire”. Earlier this year, Kari dropped an acoustic live performance of his song “Tulips” and I was extremely impressed with it, I took a deeper dive into his catalog afterward and instantly saw the potential that this man possesses. This project is ten songs in length and offers an array of different sounds, there are storytelling tracks like “LWYEC”, melodic cuts such as “73 Degrees”, and straight-up BANGERS like my personal favorite “Neon Bombs”. There’s just over a handful of features from other talents such as Serena Isioma, Sydny August, Hatesonny, WemmyMo, and more. This was a genuinely good project that I feel is just scratching the surface of Kari’s potential, this kid has a bright future, stay tuned for more.
26) Appleby • While You Were Sleeping EP
It’s sometimes weird to think that I’ve already been working in the music industry for seven years, I have met plenty of amazing people along the way, but none more special than Appleby. The While You Were Sleeping EP that he dropped in 2021 was one of the best projects to grace my headphones this year, and it’s landing on our list here at number twenty-six.
Appleby is like a hidden treasure, he’s one of those “if you know you know” type of artists, he’s what I would consider a talent where less than 1% of the world can create music as beautiful as he does. Over the last 5 years, some of my favorite music that I have consumed has been created about Appleby, and some of those songs I speak about are featured on this EP. If you are unfamiliar with Appleby, you are in for a treat, check out this project below before carrying on with the rest of this article.
25) Queen Key • Your Highness 3
Uniqueness is a quality you will find in almost every artist on this list, but some take that to an entirely different level, and I couldn’t be more excited about that. No matter what kind of music these talents are bringing to life, I think it’s not a stretch to say that Queen Key has one of the most captivating personalities in the industry in general, and although she gets some eye-opening numbers with her music, people need to start waking up and giving the queen the attention she so rightfully deserves. Despite some of her raunchier offerings over the years, she is unapologetically herself no matter who has anything to say about it, and that is more obvious than ever on Your Highness 3.
This project takes us on a journey throughout Key’s mind, and even if she boasts her wealth, body, or lifestyle often on this album, it is always delivered in such a commanding, attention-grabbing way that proves Key is the center of attention no matter what room she enters. With 25 songs on the album, it’s no secret that she recruited some friends to join in on the fun, and every single feature is magnificent, whether that’s G Herbo, Baby Tate, Tay Money, Polo G, or any of the others. Your Highness 3 might’ve been the project we decided to include on our list, but the well doesn’t run dry in terms of her releases considering she has dropped two other lengthy projects in 2021, so put this album at the top of your list, but make sure you don’t miss out on any of the other awesome projects she released earlier in the year.
24) Lil Moe 6Blocka + Rooga • Scrappers
Most of the projects featured on this list were brought to life by individual artists, but that just makes a collaborative project feel that much more special. A duo’s chemistry is clear when you hear a project with contributions from more than one emcee, and when there seems to be a divide amongst a tag team, the outcome is usually less than impressive.
At the same time, when it works, it’s truly a work of art and both artists are able to bring out the best in one another while also participating in a friendly competition to deliver the best verse, use the most unique flow, or show out more than the other. If you’re familiar with the local Chicago scene, though, you should already understand how well Lil Moe 6Blocka and Rooga work with each other, and that is more apparent than ever on their album Scrappers.
Each emcee just seems to have their own individualistic style that works perfectly with the other talent and considering they’ve been so close for so long, it’s not a surprise to hear them working so well together. Whether they’re in attack mode or opening up to discuss some of the tougher events that have happened throughout their lives, there is never a narrative that lacks substance, and I feel like that’s a major reason why Scrappers ended up being such a remarkable project from Moe and Rooga.
23) OG Stevo • Days in LA
Typically when I do these year-end reviews, I stick to talking about the music, but in the case of OG Stevo, there’s just so much more to discuss. OG Stevo isn’t only one of the hottest rising artists that Chicago has to offer, he has proven to be a leader within the city’s scene and the community. For example, he has teamed up with fellow Chicagoan femdot to provide Chicago youth with a toy + coat drive for two years straight, and that’s just scratching the surface of his charitable work.
Music is obviously Stevo’s main focus though, and his Days In LA EP that he dropped back in July was one of my personal favorite Chicago projects of the year. Stevo is special, plain + simple, he can rap with the best of them and in the same breath, switch it up and sing like an angel. His range is on full display here on this tape, he tapped into a few different types of sounds that to him, represented the time that he spent on the west coast this year.
In my opinion, the most beautiful piece of music on this EP is the introductory track “Hollywood”, it’s a touching song that essentially speaks on the people that Stevo grew up with, and their thoughts on his growth. He showed great vulnerability on the record touching on his friends that have passed away, his tendencies in his relationships, and the idea that he’s not always safe when he’s back home. Much love to OG Stevo and his entire OG collective, you guys are doing something special, keep going!
22) Bigkaybeezy • Don Juan
The rise of Bigkaybeezy is one that cannot be overlooked, the success that “Bookbag” had for him in 2020 was life-changing, and it led straight into the success he had this year. There was a ton of pressure on Beezy to follow up with a great project after his 2020 effort Bad Intentions, and he stepped up to the plate and delivered a fantastic project called Don Juan this past July.
People constantly try to box BigKayBeezy into one type of sound, but I feel like he put those allegations to rest with this project, as he showed that he can do more than critics think. Aside from a couple of features from Sada Baby + Pooh Shiesty, this project was nothing but good raps from Beezy, my favorite of the bunch probably being “Walk Down”.
2022 is going to prove to be a pivotal year for Beezy, it could likely become the year that he blossoms into an undeniable star. I am eager to see what he does from here, but if you just take a look at his rise over the past two years, it would only make sense that he takes another step up.
21) Cdot Honcho • Reloaded
It’s sometimes crazy to think that this is the sixth year that I have written this Top 50 Chicago projects article, and when I got to this Cdot article I got to thinking, he has been a mainstay on this list year in and year out. 2021 was a great year for Cdot, he continued to capitalize on the momentum that he has built up to this point, and he released an amazing project simply titled Reloaded.
Up to this point, Cdot Honcho has captured the hearts of his fans with his aggressive rhymes that are typically over hard-hitting instrumentals, and trust me, I love that sound too. However, my favorite type of Cdot music is when he slows it down and raps over a soulful instrumental, so needless to say, my personal favorite joint on this project was “Patience”. I speak for all of us here at Lyrical Lemonade when I say that we got nothing but love for Cdot, he has grown into a mega-talented artist and more importantly, a great person. The city of Chicago should be proud to have Cdot representing our city, show him some love by sharing his project below!
Top 20) Booka600 • LOYAL
As we prepare this list every single year, there are just so many projects that come across our screens that it’s almost impossible to remember to include the very best. While we give it our best shot, there are definitely projects that somehow fly over our heads, but we try our best to show all of these artists the respect that they deserve after all the hard work they put in. Somehow, when we finalized this year’s list, we totally spaced on Booka600’s album LOYAL, but it was just too damn good to go unrecognized, so we had to make an edit and ensure Booka’s spot on the list. Booka is one of the hardest working and most talented individuals in the entire industry, let alone Chicago, and this album proves that on every single song featured. With 15 songs that only last about 40 minutes along, none of the tracks drone on for too long and each one gives you a perfect taste of the raw skills that Booka has brought to life throughout the years. While Booka has shown off some more aggressive and assertive sounds throughout his career, he switches things up on this one and shows off a more introspective, heartfelt side of himself, utilizing touching instrumentals combined with truthful and revealing narratives that give us another look into his artistry, and I don’t think it could have come together any better if he tried. Although the bulk of this album is carried on his own shoulders, he does recruit stars like Lil Baby, Gunna, Lil Durk, and Lil Tjay to join him on various records which provides some different takes of similar experiences that only strengthens this project overall. Booka600 is a Chicago legend, and LOYAL is yet another flawless example of this fact, making it a project that was an essential addition to the other incredible projects on this list.
20) Silas Short • Drawing
This year’s list is unlike any other we’ve done, and it’s thanks to artists like Silas Short. While Lyrical Lemonade’s foundation is rooted in hip-hop and rap music, we have expanded our pallet to cover artists who are breaking new ground and doing things by their own rules, and when someone like Silas comes along, the only option you have is to listen up. Not only does he produce all of his own music, but he has such a specific sound that he has honed in on in order to differentiate himself from the rest of the music industry, and I don’t think anyone could recreate this style no matter how hard they might try.
Silas’ voice is just so pure, and despite the soft-spoken nature that he displays within every record he releases, there is so much power that comes across his quiet confidence, but he is never going to be one to exploit this for even a second. This year’s EP Drawing might only contain 7 songs, but they last almost a half-hour long and show just how inventive and out-of-the-box he is as a musician while also revealing who he is as a person in general. No matter what is going on in the world, Silas Short stays true to himself and the sound he has perfected over his years in music, and Drawing is the perfect example of this fact, making it a unique offering that strengthens this year’s list immensely.
19) Lil Zay Osama • Trench Baby
Some artists on this list might be worldwide phenoms, all-around hitmakers, or household names, and while those are definitely artists that deserve the praise they receive, others are undeniably talents that deserve so much more recognition than they might get on a day-to-day basis. One of these names is Lil Zay Osama, a South Sider who has never been one to shy away from subjects no matter how difficult they might be to talk about.
Throughout his music, he delves into topics like trauma, heartache, and making it through a day by any means necessary. Few people have been through a life quite as tough as Zay, yet he continues on his music grind daily and makes sure to lay a foundation that is going to pay dividends sooner rather than later. The next move in his career occurred this year when he dropped Trench Baby, a 15 song long, 39-minute effort that shows him not only at the top of his game, but it shows the influence he has on this city.
He might still be locally recognized more than anywhere else, but the fact that he recruited G Herbo, Jackboy, Lil Tjay, and various other names to join him on this album is something that can’t go unnoticed either. This even led to the release of Trench Baby 2 not too long after, proving that Zay not only has the skills as we clearly see on Trench Baby, but he also has the workhorse mentality that it takes to thrive in this cutthroat industry.
18) Alex Banin • Did I Imagine EP
Alex Banin is a star within Chicago’s music community and she’s been steadily improving since I first heard her music, and today, she is back on our website with her new EP called Did I Imagine. When it comes to unique/angelic vocals, there aren’t many that can compete with Alex Banin, her vocal abilities are straight-up jaw-dropping, and she flexed these skills on this new EP. There are four new records on this tape and the run time is just under ten minutes, and it featured some of Alex’s best music to date. The upbeat introductory record “Closure” is my favorite of the bunch because I loved hearing her attack a more uptempo instrumental, it made for a different type of song than I was used to hearing from her, and I enjoyed hearing her in that bag. Looking into 2022 and beyond, I predict that Alex Banin will become one of the standouts from this new class of Chicago music, she has starlike potential and I believe she will make the most out of it.
17) Victor Internet • Blue 2000
In my opinion, Victor Internet is one of the most overlooked artists in Chicago, if not THE most. That’s not a shot at his current fanbase, because he definitely has plenty of die-hard fans who consume his content, but with his talent, he deserves so much more. Victor Internet is a one-of-a-kind talent, he’s ahead of his time and he never lets us down when releasing a project.
Just a few months ago, Victor Internet dropped an astonishing project called Blue 2000, and it’s been on constant rotation in my Airpods since its release. This project is damn near flawless, it’s one of those rare tapes that you can play in literally any setting around any type of person. You know, the type of music you and your homies can listen to, and the type of music you can play at your family Christmas party. “Progression” is a common theme throughout this article, but it’s extremely true in Victor’s case. This isn’t the same artist that created “Tinder Song” nearly five years ago, he’s much improved all-around as a creative, and his best days are ahead of him.
16) The O’My’s • No Swimming
I have been a huge fan + supporter of The O’My’s for a minute now, they have made some of my favorite music to come out of Chicago ever, and just a few weeks ago they dropped a brand new EP called No Swimming. Everything that The O’My’s have done throughout their career has been done with a precise vision and careful intent, which is why they are so well-respected and have built such an impressive catalog thus far. It’s clear to see too, we are talking about a group that has only dropped three projects in the last decade if I am not mistaken.
When I heard the news that they were going to drop a project this year, I was ecstatic, and they certainly did not disappoint. This EP is a rather quick listen coming in at just sixteen minutes long, but it provides a plethora of great music that will be played for many years to come. The O’My’s didn’t have to look too far when it came to recruiting a couple of talented artists to help them wrap up this masterpiece, as they got fellow Chicagoans Alex Banin + femdot to assist them on the tracks “Realistic” and “Dragon”.
I really appreciate The O’My’s and the space that they are in, I really don’t know of any other musical act that can do what they do, as good as they do it. When we look back fifty years from now about this era in Chicago music, they are a duo that is going to be included in every conversation, I feel as if they are going to be appreciated more + more as time goes on. It might be another year or two before we heard another project from them, however, we know that this one is good enough to hold us down until then.
15) Vic Mensa • I Tape
It’s obvious that Vic Mensa is a mainstay in the music industry right now, and this has been a fact for the better part of a decade. Throughout the years, his sound may have switched up and he has worked on some other ventures in different industries or musical genres, but he seems to always come back to his roots, and that’s one of the best parts of the iconic Chicagoan.
He has always been someone who stays true to himself and his morals, never avoiding conversations because of the weight they hold, or the difficulty others might have discussing certain things, and this has always shined through as clear as day in his music. Last year, we received V TAPE from Vic, and this year, we were gifted the follow-up to this incredible album entitled I TAPE, and when you tune in, you’ll recognize that he is still at the top of his game 100%.
The multitude of sounds he incorporates into this 7-song album is truly mesmerizing, but I think the one thing that stands out more than the rest is his lyricism considering he utilizes clever wordplays and storylines in every single verse he included on the album, showing his intelligence while also showcasing his constantly evolving but never wavering abilities. I TAPE is definitely a wonderful project from start to finish, and considering it seems to be the second installment in a series, I can only hope that he’ll captivate us once again next year with another remarkable project, maybe one that could possibly be entitled C TAPE if you allow for some speculation on my behalf.
14) Jean Deaux • Most Wanted
Jean Deaux is definitely a favorite of ours here at Lyrical Lemonade and considering it seems like she is always releasing at least one project pretty much every year, she’s definitely a mainstay on our year-end list and has been pretty much every year since we started this tradition. She is one of the most prominent artists in the city no matter who you compare her to, and even though she is more of a local legend, she has the capability to break through boundaries and become one of the most recognized artists in the entire industry.
While last year’s project WATCH THIS! was one of my personal favorites of 2020, I was beyond excited to hear her follow-up album entitled Most Wanted, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. While she is known for her versatility and genre-bending sound, she seems to dive deeper into her r&b roots on this project, showcasing her vocal abilities while also reminding you that she’s one of the most talented emcees there is as well.
With only a few guest appearances on this album, Jean keeps things relatively individualistic in order to prove that she doesn’t need others to bring out her remarkable abilities, and there isn’t a single second on this album where she doesn’t shine, and that’s saying something huge about her capability to carry an entire project on her shoulders as well as she did on this one. Jean Deaux is only going to continue to impress as she progresses throughout her career, and Most Wanted is yet another wonderful addition to her sonic catalog, making it an album you’re going to want to listen to on repeat after you first tune in.
13) MFN Melo & Squeak Pivot • En Route
Collectives in Chicago might be few and far between, but the groups that have formed over the years have definitely changed and impacted the culture in so many different and positive ways. Pivot Gang has long been a mainstay in the Windy City, and even though Saba might be the headlining member of this collective, he has never let his counterparts receive anything less than the rightful credit and shine that they truly deserve. Earlier this year, we heard the tragic news of Squeak Pivot’s untimely passing, but we knew Heaven gained a one-of-a-kind angel.
He has been creating the foundation of the group’s very unique and dynamic sound ever since they came together, and he never failed to bring the best out in his counterparts. Thanks to his constant grind and hard work, he left us with some unbelievable music, and that is on full display with his collaborative project with MFnMelo entitled En Route. This project is yet another reminder of exactly how talented Melo is as an emcee, and with Squeak being so dexterous and remarkable behind the decks, every single moment throughout this tape is as close to flawless as possible.
Aside from this, there were multiple wonderful guest verses including an inclusion from the late Dinnerwithjohn, letting fans know that he always has a place in the Gang’s heart and his talents are still mystifying to this day. No matter what might’ve occurred this past year, MFnMelo and Squeak both reminded us exactly how special they are to the city on En Route, and Squeak’s legacy will undoubtedly live on forever through all of his fans. I would be remised if I didn’t end this by saying RIP Squeak!
12) Serena Isioma • Crying In The Club
I always have a great time watching the growth and development of Chicago-based artists, but over the past couple of years, Serena Isioma’s progress is one that I enjoyed more than most. To watch the transition of Serena going from a DePaul student making music on the side, to a full-blown artist who is on the brink of stardom has been fascinating, to say the least.
In 2020, Serena Isioma released two projects and they were so good that they both ended up in the Top 20 of our year-end list last year! The 2021 EP, Crying In The Club, is definitely different than the material that Serena’s released prior to it, but it’s sensational. The main thing that I noticed between her newer and older music is the growth in her sound, Serena is more experimental than ever, and it’s making for some of the best music of Serena’s young career.
I’m just a fan on the outside looking in, but I would guess that 2022 is the year that Serena Isioma unleashes a full-length project, and I would also assume that said project is going to have a massive boost on Serena’s career. These EP’s that have been released so far are special, but I just know that Serena has much more in store for us.
11) Lil Eazzyy • Rookie Of The Year
There’s no denying that Lil Eazzyy had one of the most prominent rises to fame last year in 2020, but this year, he was on a mission to make sure that he solidified his spot in the music world that he worked so hard to achieve. “Onna Come Up” was objectively one of the greatest songs of 2020, but it was accompanied by a handful of other hits on his debut mixtape Underrated which landed high up on our list last year, but he was still out for blood on his debut album Rookie of the Year, a project that provided 14 new songs for Eazzyy fans to take in and bump no matter where you are.
Although he had some major features including Tay Keith, Bizzy Banks, IV Jay, and G Herbo on the “Onna Come Up” Remix, it’s clear that he left the brunt of this album for him to do what he wants, typically ripping apart whatever instrumental is placed in front of him. Whether he gets more reflective on his time in the streets, shows appreciation for the success he has worked hard to achieve thus far or goes on a manhunt in some more hard-hitting, authoritative cuts, there is never even a second that falls flat on this album, making it one of the most captivating releases all year long.
Simply put, we here at Lyrical Lemonade believe that this album is one that flew under the radar way more than it should have, but true fans know just what kind of gold mine Eazzyy is sitting on. Rookie of the Year was one of the most intriguing and impressive debut albums released all year, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Lil Eazzyy is only going to continue to grow and mature as his career continues to gain traction.
10) Mick Jenkins • Elephant In The Room
Mick Jenkins has always been a favorite of ours here at Lyrical Lemonade, and that has been a constant ever since he took the city of Chicago by storm with his mixtape The Water[s]. He just had this unique style, mixing hip-hop with jazz, neo-soul, and other genres together to bring this one-of-a-kind sound to the industry, and it’s hard to think of anyone else doing it quite like him.
Since then, he has dropped off a plethora of singles, EPs, mixtapes, and even a few albums, and while some of these projects flew much more under the radar than others, he still proves time and time again why he’s a massive force in the music scene not only in Chicago but the entire country. This year was huge for him after he dropped Elephant In The Room, a 12 song, 38-minute long effort that shows him in an entirely different stage of his career. In this album, Mick is once again at the top of his game, mixing some unbelievable genres once again in the most effortless way while also incorporating some ruthless, hard-nosed tracks that you can bump cruising around the city in your car or at any function you can think of.
Although there are a few different features that assist him in EITR, Mick makes sure to stay true to himself while also pushing the boundaries that he hasn’t quite experimented with in the past, always coming out triumphant no matter how difficult or challenging some of the topics he gets into might be to discuss. Elephant In The Room is one of the easiest additions to this year’s list, and if you haven’t gotten a chance to listen to it quite yet, you’re definitely missing out on one of the best projects of the year.
9) Only The Family • Loyal Bros
Lil Durk is one of the most notable names not only in the Windy City but in the entire world. Although he has done some absolutely incredible things throughout his storied career thus far, I think one of the most significant things he was able to do was to not only bring success to himself and his individual career but to make sure to highlight the rest of OTF, a collective he founded that features some remarkable talents who might have only appealed to a more local crowd without the help of Durkio.
Nonetheless, the group is full of underrated emcees, some of whom spit aggressive bars about life in the streets while others get a bit more introspective and abstract with their lyrics, bringing the best of both worlds to their latest full-length effort Loyal Bros. Although this is their 4th album put out as a collective, it is by far in a way the most successful in terms of its position on the charts, peaking at number 12 in the United States.
As you listen throughout the extensive 23 tracks on this album, you hear a little taste of some of the impressive talents that each member possesses, and even with so many artists getting a moment in the spotlight, there were even a few outside guests brought in to make an impact including names like Lil Uzi Vert, Tee Grizzly, EST Gee, and a few others that get some moments to join in on the fun. Unsurprisingly, this project also pays homage to King Von, one of OTF’s most beloved members who was taken from this Earth way too soon, and you know that new verses from the late legend are always going to be appreciated. Loyal Bros might contain a variety of names you might not be familiar with, but nonetheless, it’s full of hits that are essential listens if you’re a fan of the booming music scene here in Chicago.
8) femdot • Not For Sale
femdot is somebody who has been a crucial piece within Chicago’s music community for some years now, he’s been on a steady upward trajectory and 2021 was a massive year for him as he blessed us with his project Not For Sale. Fem has never disappointed us with his projects to this point, The 20/20 Hour was easily one of the best tapes to come out of 2017, a culmination of four different EP’s that he released throughout the year prior. I’d argue that his 2018 project Delacreme 2 was one of the most impactful tapes to drop that year, it’s a heavy listen but the music is good and true to fem, something that can be said about all of his releases. His most successful body of work to date was 2019’s release 94 Camry Music, a tape that held some of fem’s most feel-good music that he has ever released, not to mention his biggest song to date, the title track.
Then just a couple of months ago, femdot released what I would consider his best front-to-back project to date, Not For Sale. As if you couldn’t already tell the theme from the title of the tape, fem set the tone within the first few seconds of the intro, saying: “you cannot buy me I’m already free“. A statement that foreshadowed the main topic for the new twenty-five minutes of music, fem diving deep into the idea of money, and the role that it plays in his relationships and within his life. There were new levels of transparency and vulnerability set by fem on this project too, specifically on the record “funds/broke[n]”, a deep record that you can tell he recorded when he was down bad. There were new heights set with this tape too, as fem linked up with the good people over at COLORS to do a live performance of “Bussin“, the fan-favorite on NFS. Storytelling has always been a strong suit to fem, and he provided arguably his best storytelling joint yet on the multi-layered outro “Mueen”. Overall, I think anyone who is familiar with fem’s catalog can listen to this project and see that this is the best body of work from him yet, his ability to create pleasing melodies has greatly improved, and the raps are better than ever.
femdot is the most special artist that I have ever come across, he is lightyears ahead of everyone, and most people don’t even know it yet. My favorite thing about femdot’s projects is that they are all connected to each other, and he often alludes to his future projects years prior to them coming out. I challenge any femdot fan to go back and listen to 20/20 Hour or Delacreme 2, listen deeply and carefully, you will hear references to his most recent releases and even his albums that haven’t dropped yet. Even when listening to Not For Sale, there’s a few times where femdot will allude to his future albums, and one day, he will tell the story about how they were all connected all along.
7) Lucki + F1LTHY – WAKE UP LUCKI
The evolution of Lucki has been an honor to watch over the last decade, I feel like the common hip-hop fan might have just recently found out about Lucki through his 2019-2021 releases, but if you were in Chicago or a fan of the scene, you know damn well that Lucki has been doing his thing since 2012/2013. Lucki has been a legend since his days of running around Wicker Park and it’s been awesome to see him become a worldwide star and an underground legend.
The fact that Lucki is landing at #7 on this Chicago year-end list just proves how great of a year it was for the city because it’s a good enough project to land in the Top 5 or Top 3 most years, but when Chief Keef/G Herbo/Juice Wrld/etc drops, it just made for a super-strong Top 10. Even that though, look at the names that Lucki is standing up there with, and for good reason too. Lucki is one of the most impactful artists to come out of Chicago over the last ten years, and honestly, when it’s all said and done he will be one of the most impactful to EVER come out of the city.
Lucki is a superstar, there’s nothing else to say at this point. He has worked his ass off over the years to get to this point, and I speak for everyone at Lyrical Lemonade when I say that we are so proud of him. This project was without a doubt one of the best that Lucki has dropped so far in his career, but I have a good feeling about the upcoming years for him, we haven’t even seen Lucki scratch the surface of what he’s going to become.
6) Chief Keef – 4NEM
When looking through this list, there are certain artists that may have moved away from their lives in Chicago for various different reasons, but that doesn’t mean that their roots aren’t as solidified as ever. When Chief Keef made the move to LA, it seemed like the city lost a major presence and part of its storied recent past, but that loss didn’t linger for long. After moving, Keef went into hyperdrive and put out an insane amount of music, proving that no matter how much his style might change or his life might alter, you can take Sosa out of Chicago, but you can’t take the Chicago out of Sosa. This led to a string of countless mixtapes and albums that seemed to never end, and although it seems like there was an influx of new music that was overlooked, there were so many gems spread throughout these releases that I simply couldn’t get enough of, and it was sad to hear that other “fans” weren’t rocking with him nearly as much as they used to.
There have been years where he’d drop more projects than I could count on one hand, so when this year came and went and it didn’t seem like we’d be getting any new albums, I was shocked. Luckily, Keef came in clutch right at the end of the year to drop his latest solo full-length album 4NEM, and I was speechless. I had hopes that this would be the project to bring him back into the mainstream spotlight, and after hearing so much positive feedback and raving reviews all over social media, I think it is doing just that. At the heart and soul of the drill scene in this city is where Chief Keef stands, and although he has changed things up and tried out various other styles, this is a sound that will never escape the legendary figure.
On this album, his drill roots are abundant and amazing, however, he seems to put a new twist on things by incorporating so much more enthusiasm and personality into his vocals, showing us a different side of himself that is as captivating as his innovative sound was when he first joined the scene over a decade ago as a teenager. I also loved seeing him tap into the production side of things on 4NEM, because this allowed him to truly hone in on his strengths as an emcee while also providing a dexterous and insanely appealing sound that was new and addicting. Chief Keef is always going to be a star in my eyes and the eyes of millions of other individuals, and considering how strong 4NEM turned out to be, it is only going to continue to positively impact his lengthy and storied legacy.
5) Kanye West • DONDA
Kanye is undeniably one of, if not the most prolific and well-recognized artists on this list, and that is a legacy that won’t be tainted no matter what. While some of his antics over the years have caused quite the commotion or upheaval from fans, it seems like no matter what he says or does will deter people from listening to his music. Obviously, there were a few projects in recent years that might’ve gone by the wayside due to one reason or another, but with such a strong catalog of albums throughout his entire career, it’s impossible to not listen in when he drops a new project.
This year, it was finally time that we received DONDA, a project that had been teased for quite some time, yet we didn’t know if it would see the light of day. After some antics pushed the release date back as well as Ye taking over Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to seemingly finish the album, it was in our hands, and it was definitely not what I personally was expecting whatsoever. Instead of a traditional project, we received 27 songs that lasted over an hour and 45 minutes long and included an extensive list of features including some of the biggest names in music. Artists like Lil Baby, The Weeknd, Playboi Carti, Lil Durk, Baby Keem, Young Thug, Don Toliver, Kid Cudi, and literally way too many more to list all joined in on the fun, and even after a long and mysterious wait, they all made the pause so well worth it.
Not only this, but he eventually even dropped a deluxe version that added 5 more songs and about another 25 minutes of new music, proving that no matter what Ye might be going through or pulling off, he’s one of the most entertaining and dynamic artists in the entire industry. Now, I know his position on this list might cause an uproar of opinions, but the way I looked at it was the fact that Kanye might call Chicago his home, but he has become such a worldwide phenomenon that it’s hard to place him on such a local list. Whether you agree or disagree, there is no denying the artistry and work that went into bringing DONDA to life, and I’m just excited that we’re here to witness this magnificent album.
4) Lil Durk + Lil Baby • The Voice Of The Heroes
Lil Durk is an artist whose name you will find spread throughout this list, and not a day goes by where this amazing city doesn’t recognize just how impactful his music has been throughout the years. Although he began his career creating more drill-heavy tracks that were full of anger, aggression, and vengeance, one of the most impressive things about his journey is his growth. While other drill artists might’ve not known how to grow and adapt as the years went on, Durkio made sure to change with the times and grow wherever he deemed necessary, and even with this transformation, he knew how to stay true to himself and his roots.
Although we don’t often love to include collaborative albums with artists from other areas of the country, when Durk teamed up with Atlanta’s very own Lil Baby to bring The Voice of the Heroes to life earlier this year, it was an album that simply couldn’t be overlooked on this countdown. Although they might be from different regions of the US, these two emcees work perfectly and seamlessly with one another. I don’t quite understand how their chemistry is so natural, but I think it has something to do with the fact that they’re simply two people who were cut from the same cloth, and even though they might not call the same city home, they had similar upbringings and witnessed almost parallel experiences as they grew up in the hardcore environments that pretty much raised them.
Thanks to this, they know how to connect on a deeper level than music, and although this is the medium they are best at bringing to life, their stories and narratives are just too captivating to ignore. With features from other superstars like Young Thug, Meek Mill, Travis Scott, and Rod Wave, they make sure to include some of their friends while also utilizing every single moment given to them to share their intriguing stories and inspiring thoughts that simply can’t be overlooked. Lil Durk and Lil Baby are two of the most celebrated and recognized names in music, so when they get together to talk, I’m always going to listen. Luckily yet unsurprisingly, they did their thing on The Voice of the Heroes in an effortless yet masterful way, making it a project that was essential to this list, proving once again that Durk is a king of Chicago no matter what type of album he puts out.
3) G Herbo • 25
To celebrate his twenty-five years on this planet, Chicago native G Herbo released an astounding project this past July, and it’s without a doubt one of the best projects to come out of Chicago in 2021. To be completely honest, I had a tough time ranking these top 5 projects, because, in reality, you can damn near flip-flop them any which way, and it would make sense. G Herbo could easily be #1 on this list, and so could Kanye, Durk, or Juice Wrld. It’s safe to say that G Herbo had a remarkable year, and he is landing on our list here at #3!
To me, this project finds G Herbo sitting at the top of his kingdom and getting introspective, thinking about the tough journey that he’s traveling to get to this spot. Think about it, G Herbo wasn’t just lucky enough to become one of the hottest rappers in the world, he worked his ass off and grinded for years to get to this point, and he more than deserves to enjoy the fruits of his labor. I always say that Herbo doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being one of the best pure rappers in the world, and if anyone had any doubts before, this album was sure to make them eat their words. Some of G Herbo’s best songs are on 25, some of his best verses are featured on this tape, and I’d say this album displays the best melodies he has created yet!
When we look back on 2021 and the music that came out of Chicago that year, this album will be at the forefront of that conversation, and I think this album is going to age like fine wine. The crazy part about all of this is, I think when G Herbo’s career is said and done, he’s going to have a handful of classic albums and this one just might get overlooked. I feel like G Herbo is going to be entering his prime within the next year or two, and he’s going to be at the top of the game, I have a feeling that we are about to witness something special from Herb in the near future.
2) Juice WRLD • Fighting Demons
When I started to get toward the end of completing this Top 50 list a few weeks ago, the news came out that a new Juice WRLD album was going to be released, and man, it’s a f*cking instant classic. It’s no secret that Juice WRLD had some of the best work ethic that we have ever seen in music, he’s recorded an abundance of music in his time, and the thing with Juice was that everything that he recorded was pure gold. We had already received one posthumous album from Juice last year when his team dropped Legends Never Die, and just about a year and a half later, we were blessed with his latest album titled Fighting Demons.
The excitement around the release of this album was at an all-time high, the singles were performing extremely well and there was a ton of hype around the documentary based around Juice, Into The Abyss. Hell, with only a week’s notice, Juice’s team put together a listening party in Chicago at the United Center and they sold it out. The fact that an artist can have such an amazing fan base that they can sell out the United Center that quickly, and hold such a beautiful event, that’s unheard of. The energy in the stadium that day was exceptional, and once the early listen of Fighting Demons started to play, I looked around for several minutes and just watched the faces of the fans. I saw people with pure joy in their eyes, I saw people shedding tears, I saw strangers embracing each other all because of one thing they have in common, love for Jarad Higgins. That’s the whole point of music, or art in general, to make people feel and to bring people together, and that’s exactly what Juice did, and his legacy will continue to do for centuries to come.
This album could have easily landed at #1 on this list, my only gripe with it though, is that I didn’t have more time to sit with it as it was just released two weeks ago! Maybe when I look back on this list in a couple of years, I just might think that I should’ve followed my gut feeling and put Fighting Demons at #1, however, we can’t overlook the next artist featured and the MASSIVE year that he’s had. All in all, this is another terrific album from Juice WRLD, it’s only strengthening the argument that he just might have the most impressive catalog of any artist ever.
1) Polo G • Hall Of Fame
Despite all of the opinions and hot takes that outsiders might have about the inclusions or the order of this list, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Polo G is at the very top. He has always been an artist who possessed a remarkable gift, and that has always been at the forefront of fans’ minds ever since he took the music scene by storm years ago. Even though it seemed like the traditional drill scene was on a decline over the past few years, Polo made a name for himself by blazing his own trail and proving that even if he has a new take on this legendary subgenre that was popping off almost a decade ago, he knows how to pay homage to a classic sound with a very popular and appealing twist.
Whether he’s rapping ruthless bars over trap-inspired beats or singing melodious odes on more heartfelt ballads, Polo has gone from a local phenom to a worldwide star, and I think that even the most novice of music listeners could have seen this coming for years. Last year’s album THE GOAT was one of the best projects of the year in general, not just in Chicago, and I still find myself playing this project on repeat on a weekly basis. This made me nervous for a follow-up album, just because I didn’t know how someone could top such a flawless project, but if anyone could do it, Polo Capalot could.
That leads us to Hall of Fame, Lyrical Lemonade’s number one Chicago project of 2021, and I couldn’t think of a better suitor for the spot, or a better album either, for that matter. The Northside rapper has such a knack for music while maintaining a firm grasp of who he is and what his strengths are, exploiting this throughout every single second of this album. It’s not easy to put out 20 songs that last just under 55 minutes long and not have a single skip, but Polo once again lives up to the hype and shows us that he is a one-of-a-kind talent, and he means so much to Chicago’s music scene whether you’re a hip-hop fan or not.
With massive guest features from artists like Lil Durk, The Kid LAROI, Lil Wayne, G Herbo, Young Thug, Nicki Minaj, Pop Smoke and so many more, we are gifted with an influx of remarkable verses from features, but Polo doesn’t seem to be overshadowed by anyone on any song, proving that he’s second to none on this album. It was such a great project front to back, in fact, that he couldn’t help but keep the fun going on the album’s deluxe version Hall of Fame 2.0 that added another 14 songs and an additional 35 minutes of mastery.
Whether Polo G is rapping his ass off, sharing eye-opening stories from his upbringing in the trenches, or wearing his heart on his sleeve in more r&b-inspired records, there isn’t a single version of the Windy City superstar that we don’t get to enjoy on this project, and that’s something fans should be grateful for whether you’re from this breathtaking city or not. Hall of Fame couldn’t have been a better follow-up to his debut album, and at this rate, I don’t think he’ll ever release an album that doesn’t prove his dominance in this cutthroat industry. Polo G is an icon, and even though he still has so much to offer as he moves on with his thriving career, I can say with the utmost confidence and respect that he has already solidified himself a spot in the Hall of Fame, and this album seems to serve as a victory lap for the indescribably brilliant and talented legend.
Words by Elliot Montanez and Danny Adams