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14 April, 2003@12:00 am

Something is stirring beneath the windy city streets of Chicago and it isn’t a bunch of back-talking mutant turtles (that’d be Manhattan). On second thought, back-talking may actually be a fitting description for the iller noise oozing out of Illinois’ burgeoning underground scene, a scene well represented by Gravel Records’ premiere release, The Chicago Project. Basically an assembly of the city’s finest Hip-Hop talent, you can rest assured that the emcees, producers, and DJ’s featured on the compilation hit a lot harder than the Foot Clan ever did (I promise that’s the last TMNT reference).

Boasting a Hip-Hop history that can be traced as far back as the late-seventies, it’s puzzling that Chicago has struggled to establish its own definitive rap identity. The early-nineties mainstream success of Twista, Common, and Da Brat seemed like it would open the floodgates for other Chi-Town artists, but instead it was acts from Atlanta, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Detroit, and even St. Louis that joined their California and New York counterparts in ruling the airwaves. At the very least, The Chicago Project provides the rest of the world with an effective wake-up call.

More than just a makeshift alarm clock though, the sixteen song compilation packs a real wallop for those not knowing what to expect from the city. Despite being a bit battle-rhyme heavy, there is still enough variety on the album to keep it from becoming boring and the energy exuded by the up-and-coming artists is highly infectious. It’s hard not to hear the hunger in the voices of Earatik Statik and Submission on “Still Got It Locked” or Babble on “Transportation”, which isn’t even to mention the hyped beats provided by The Opus and Chester Copperpot of The Insomnitracks, respectively. Standout concept joints include Offwhyte’s drug-themed “Rappers & Chemicals”, Lord360′s macabre “Burial Sequence”, and Thawfor’s tale of everyday struggle, “False Idols”. J.U.I.C.E. and Capital D, the biggest names on the album, represent lovely with the former-Scribble Jam champion performing a multi-syllable clinic on “Raise It Up” and the All Natural front-man getting cathartic on the appropriately-titled “Vent”. With so much topical diversity, the album’s only real constant is its beats, which are bolstered by multiple contributions from The OPUS and nice single offerings from The Vinyl Addicts’ Meanwhile, and the aforementioned Chester Copperpot.

It seems the time for Chicago Hip-Hop is now. With the industry in a state of transition, apparently moving away from the materialism of the late-nineties to focus more on skills and “consciousness,” new acts will have to be discovered and broken. Illinois already has one superstar waiting in the wings in Roc-A-Fella’s Kanye West, it may only be a matter of time before names like Twista, NO I.D., and The Molemen hit it big as well. The birth of Gravel Records couldn’t have come at a better time for the city; the talent is obviously already there, now we finally have a chance to hear it.

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