I don’t believe in End of the Year Best Lists; Emily and I solemnly swore to never do one, a pledge I had an itch to subvert when I realized I’d never written one ever.
I’m not arguing with anyone over what the best albums were this year, or songs, or singles or mixtapes. It’s so subjective. All you can talk about is your own opinion and feelings, and that’s what I’m trying to do here.
I’ve collected six hip-hop songs that came out of Chicago that have stuck with me throughout the year. I’ve listened to them all too many times, and I have particular memories and feelings associated with them. For better or worse, they’re a part of me now.
Chance the Rapper – Mixtape
I’m never not going to remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Mixtape.” The night that Chance the Rapper dropped Coloring Book, my best friend Sophie and I were pregaming to go out at my house. We knew Twitter was going to be discussing everything about the tape immediately, so we threw it on the second it came out to keep up.
Surrounded by uneasy and murky production and Thugger bird calls and whoops, Lil Yachty defiantly asserts “They told me no, they told me I wouldn’t go, cause in high school all I cared about was hoes. Well, maybe that shit was my interest.”
“Maybe that shit was my interest” killed us; we did the thing me and Sophie do when we get really excited and surprised, which is look at each other and gasp in shock and put our hands on our face and sometimes there’s a sort of junior high school girl shrieking. It’s the sort of silent paroxysms that make people type “I’m dying” online. I remember that moment every time I hear the song, which is still my favorite off the project.
For the record, we reacted the exact same way to Juicy J saying “I know what you’d do for a Klondike bar, but what would you do for a Lexus?” on his #MUSTBENICE tape this year; but “Plenty” is not a Chicago rap song.
Dinnerwithjohn – Sundress Season
So, Pivot Gang killt it in 2016, we all agree? Squeak put out an amazing single. Saba followed up his ComfortZone tape with Bucket List Project. Joseph Chilliams proved he’s damn near invincible. John had a little sundresses-encouraged shindig at Yomí’s crib to celebrate the release of this song. I don’t want to get too corn emoji here, but some of the people I met that at that party have gone on to still be in my life, and that’s pretty cool imo. Way to build community. Way to pivot.
Mykele Deville – C’est La Vie
2016 was The Year of the Glo Up for me, but the messy thing about growing as a human is how difficult it is. All those amazing, character building experiences they make movies about – sawing your arm off in a canyon, being eaten by bears, whatever – sound like they fucking suck, if I can be real with you. My 2016 sucked in a lot of ways.
One of the things about recovery is, while the burden you’ve been carrying so long gets a little lighter every day, all this shit bubbles to the surface that you never even thought about when you were subsumed in your sorrow. You stayed fucked up to avoid dealing with it; fixing yourself involves the painful process of finally confronting it. I spent a lot of this year a total anxious wreck, obsessing about my old compulsions in new ways and trying to calm myself enough to bravely carry my body around in the world each day like it belongs there.
I found myself drawn to songs with a positive message, songs that said “the world sucks sometimes, but everything’s going to be ok.” Along with a slew of sweetly optimistic Lil Yachty songs that sound like lullabies you’d sing to a crying child you wanted to grow up to get rich and flex on their haters, I got addicted to the closing track on Mykele’s album each one, teach one while writing about it for Bandcamp.
“C’est La Vie” is the album’s closing track, a clearheaded and ebullient anthem for self-determination that features Vaniya’s voice in the chorus. It reflects their real-world relationship, where he steadfastly encourages her to take her own path.
Mykele is speaking directly to his niece Vaniya in the song, but the lessons, support, and hope that he gives her is something I needed too.
Joey Purp – Photobooth
When iiidrops dropped, I listened to “Say You Do” and “Photobooth” on repeat for probably months. “Photobooth” particularly resonated with me as an aspiring big booty IG thot and because of the line “I’m just a product of integration, call immigration, all my relations are interracial” – my white mom from the Chicago burbs made me with a dude from Mexico, and as someone who kind of made up my own culture wholesale out of whatever bits and pieces I was passed on, I’m usually dating people with some sort of different background than me.
More importantly though, I entered a video of me lipsyncing the song into a Twitter contest to win Drake and Future Summer Sixteen Tour, and it turned out they were like FOURTH ROW FLOOR TICKETS, and Sophie and I got to see a surprise Kanye appearance from like 30 feet away. It was cool. Thanks, Joey. I owe you one.
— lorena mcribcake (@lorenacupcake) June 4, 2016
Famous Dex – Kanye / Call Me
Of course, he’s much more associated with “Drip From My Walk,” which plays in every Chevelle in Chicago at least four times a day. And there’s the whole messy incident where he got geeked up, smashed up and robbed an apartment borrowed for a video shoot, and was caught on camera chasing and beating his unidentified female partner.
I wrote about it, and my complicated feelings about it, and the weird thing is I still listen to the song sometimes. Every time I think about that piece I wrote. It’s not a turn up song for me anymore; it’s something totally different, something that acknowledges the complex nature of Dex himself.
Lil Bibby – You Ain’t Gang
Bibby’s voice is coarsened with a million blunts, raspy and raw, but surprisingly point blank and effective; he really enunciates every word on this song. He’s only 22, around the same age as contemporary G Herbo; unlike Lil Herb’s aggressive attack, Bibby’s more content to drawl out his invective.
I’m addicted to the straightforward delivery on this song, the maddeningly catchy and frankly unfriendly hook (“You can’t hang, you ain’t gang gang”), and the surprise bit of sweetness in the lyrics. As you can maybe tell from all the Sophie stories, my family and friends are really important to me, and these bars always make me smile.
Love my lil’ brother ’cause he always keep it real with me
If it fall down, he gon’ be right there to build with me
Right back in the field with me, robber, he gon’ kill with me
And we get into it every week, but he still with me