Photo by Elevator
As the hip-hop scene in Chicago has exploded over the past two years or so since Keef, Reese and the GBE boys made national headlines with their “Don’t Like” video, the narrative coming out of Chicago hasn’t changed much. Guns, murder, death and entrapment from above are the motifs that drive the sound of “drill” music which piqued the country’s interest with its inherent street soliloquies told by teenagers reporting on the state of their environment.
The pervading constant though is that, while many artists may benefit from the sound of the time, few can actually look outside the established lane to create something wholly different, yet dealing in the same subject matter. Enter: Lil Herb. The 18-year-old MC represents a new class of gritty street rappers from the city who’s music more aptly fits as post-drill. The frenetic snares are still there, the ominous drums and frolicking samples laden with gunshots; with one difference:the kid can really rap.
Now, this isn’t to open a bag, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Chief Keef has lost his hold at the top of the Chicago rap pyramid. He’s confused on number sequencing (Bang 4 is scheduled to come out before Bang 3), his sales have dipped and it’s honestly hard to decipher his raps these days as it sounds like he has marbles caught in his jaw somewhere. Lean will do crazy things (peace to Gucci Mane). Anyway, Lil Herb is the kind of artist Chicago has been waiting for since Bump J traded his rap bars for the jail variety several years ago, an artist aware enough of his surroundings to make the connections of not just how something happened, but why, that ever important question, the one that essentially makes us human. Last year we saw Chance and Vic Mensa rise from ‘next up’ status to the kings of the city on the back of their highly conscious, macro and micro views on the world, both in and out of their hometown.It worked, certainly, but Herb brings a certain rawness that has yet to be felt as strikingly elsewhere. While the Internet can do amazing things for young artists today, it can also be a deterrent to longevity if gauged the wrong way. You’d be hard pressed to find a blog, website or publication in general that claims to have a voice in the conversation of hip-hop that hasn’t mentioned Herb or his alias ‘G Herbo’ in the past month. While that brings notoriety, fans and higher numbers on YouTube and Soundcloud, it can also lead to inflated egos, the perception of being further along than is the case. If Herb can surround himself with the right people and navigate this tricky minefield that is the music business today, his art should be able to continue taking him the rest of the way.
With 2014 underway and Herb’s Welcome to Fazoland picking up where his compatriot, Lil Bibby’s Free Crack left off, we may well see Herb become a long-standing voice for Chicago hip-hop. That he can make a track like “On The Corner,” a grisly look at the multi-layered battles that go on for drug dealing real estate and turn around and look inwards at his own issues and perils on a track like “Mamma I’m Sorry” that shows the true depth and understanding of a young man who grew up in a part of the country largely forgotten by politicians, the media and the Mayor. Be sure to keep an eye on Lil Herb, he is on his way to one of the more mature, balanced careers to emerge from Chicago.