Chicago has music on every busy street corner, at every L-train stop, in every donut shop that has enough space to hold an amp, and even in the pizzerias that don’t. Music is in Chicago’s snow-covered core.
Whether these musicians have already carved out a name for themselves, like Wild Belle, or are just beginning to take off, here our some of the young artists to watch in the (ahem) greatest city in the world.
She’s an 18-year-old knockout with attitude-laden lyrics that complement her catchy, thick rhythms. She just happened to share a stage with Sleigh Bells at SXSW. Her rap about Ferguson stole the heart, and wallet, of Timbaland, who has equated her music with an act of divine intervention. And in the Chicago Reader, she’s been called “Chicago’s answer to Nicki Minaj.” Need we say more?
2. OJ Tropicana
Omar Jimenez is a Northwestern University journalism student and Wildcats point guard by day, but a rapper on late night talk shows by night—winner on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’s Battle of the Instant Rappers in 2013. The young artist spins raps about getting through college, yet keeps the moods of his songs light. Like on “Say My Name”: full of mentions of McDonald’s sweet tea and the Chicago L train and Tonka trucks, the song’s underlying theme explores trying to make it as a young rapper in the dog-eat-dog music world.
3. Mount Salem
They might be living in 2015, but Mount Salem’s music wades seamlessly through the downy haze of ’70s-minded metal. Think Black Sabbath but in psychedelic doom overdrive and with clean lead female vocals. The group formed in 2012 and signed to Metal Blade Records after gaining attention from their hit debut EP, Endless.
4. The Lemons
The Lemons shot to local acclaim after the recent release of its 2013 debut album Hello, We’re the Lemons, and has just put out a four-track EP, Everybuddy’s a Lemon this month. The sticky-sweet, ’60s-era bubblegum pop crew is known for producing songs about ice cream and jellybeans, mostly in under-90-second tracks. Their tracks are happy and vivacious enough to plague listeners with a good mood, regardless of their original disposition. It’s music idyllic for the score of an avant-garde rom-com.
Main photo by Emily Quirk
5. Elle Casazza
Casazza’s voice is sultry and chilling, her wheelhouse a mix of soul and jazz. But her songs are set to the rhythm of a pop vibrato. All of these elements concoct Elle Casazza’s style, and her sound—the folky violin, the bouncing ivories, bluesy guitar trills—projects the kind of richness that lassos listeners off the street and ropes them into her show.
6. Wild Belle
Booked to play Lollapalooza this summer, the brother-sister duo hasn’t lost any steam since its 2013 debut album, Isles. A healthy blend of reggae and psych-pop, Wild Belle employs a strong lead sax over jazzy, upbeat chords and African-inspired drumbeats. And that African influence comes as no surprise when you learn that 25-year-old lead vocalist Natalie Bergman took an African dance class while at Berklee College of Music, and her much-older brother, 33-year-old saxophonist Elliot Bergman, had previously come from an Afro-pop band, NOMO.
7. Workout Music
Their motto is Dance.Sweat.Rock—and they follow through. After winning Chicago TV station WGN’s Breakthrough Band in 2010, Workout Music kicked off their success with a $10,000 recording deal, and since then, has been throwing confetti-blanketed, dance-party rock shows at Chicago venues like the House of Blues. It’s high-octane rock and roll with poppy twinges of techno, a combo that makes this impossible not to move to, on the treadmill or in your car. We dare you not to dance to the ’60s-rock funk of “Back Seat Lover,” off their forthcoming album, Every Other Time.
8. Rockie Fresh
At 23, this Chicago native is already signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group and Atlantic Records. He’s known for lacing his smooth, message-centric raps over a sloomy, synth-generated beat.he released a 38-track mixtape, sharing tracks with the likes of Skrillex, 2 Chainz, King Louie, and Rick Ross.