What Chicago Activism Sounds Like Today: A Playlist Primer

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Chance the Rapper performs during The Meadows Music & Arts Festival 2016 at Citi Field on Oct. 2, 2016 in New York City. 

Chicago’s local activism and music scenes have long been entwined — but what does that relationship actually sound like? Below, a sampling of some of the scene’s most important current artists and songs. From Kanye to Common to Chance (plus a few you may not have heard yet), there’s something for hip-hop fans of all stripes. 

“Angels” (2015) -- Chance the Rapper featuring Saba

This uptempo, gospel-inflected love letter to his hometown helped kick Chance’s career into overdrive and previewed the Chicago-centric optimism to come on Coloring Book.

“Casket Pretty” (2016) -- Noname

“Ain’t no one safe in this happy city,” goes the breakout indie rapper’s refrain on this disarmingly frank and personal portrait of Chicago’s gang violence.

“DROWNING” (2016) -- Mick Jenkins featuring BadBadNotGood 

Jenkins is the dark to Chance’s light, but his knotty bars have earned him fans from Vic Mensa to NBA player Iman Shumpert. On “Drowning,” he pays tribute to Eric Garner.  

“Glory” (2014) -- Common and John Legend

“Glory” won an Oscar as the Selma soundtrack’s anthem, but the song cites movements from the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott to Ferguson, Mo. 

“Ultralight Beam” (2016) -- Kanye West featuring The-Dream, Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin and Kelly Price


The Life of Pablo’s soaring opening track was a return to church-y, soul-sampling form for West. It was Chance, though, who stole the show with a verse so good “there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet.”

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 26 issue of Billboard.

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