The 100 Best Chicago Rap Songs of the Decade, 2010-2019

Selected after much debate by Cam Jackson, Chimeka, David Drake, NayrCreates, & Chill. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Charne Graham, who was involved in an original draft of this list awhile back.

It can be frustrating to discuss the impact Chicago rap had in the 2010s. On the commercial side, its arrival was less about establishing a new center for the genre–as some had optimistically hoped–than it was a rupture in the old order: YouTube, social media and, especially, the rise of smartphones inverted the way previous generations of music fans interacted with art, as it went from a top-down, industry-driven system to a lawless, chaotic, crowdsourced one. The streaming economy geared up in the mid-10s just in time to miss Chicago’s big bang. When Chicago first arrived, the biggest rapper was Rick Ross, then in his 30s after years hustling up an industry chain of command. Adele was the album-sales-exception-that-proves-the-rule. Nicki Minaj’s biggest hits were orchestrated by Stargate. Spotify had 5 million users (it has 248 million now, with 113 million paid subscribers); Apple Music (60 million paid subscribers today) didn’t exist. YouTube, which dominates as the streaming service for teenagers, had 800 million users per month in 2012; as of February 2019, it had 2 billion.

Yet Chicago’s movement in the 2010s had an undeniable cultural impact that shifted the zeitgeist of the genre to the Midwest. This could be seen partially as an accident of timing–the Bay area were early adopters to YouTube as a distribution platform in the late 00’s, just before smartphones became omnipresent. Likewise, articles at the impact point argued it was the outsized influence of certain bloggers that triggered a brief wave of buzzy media interest in the city’s hip-hop scene. Some pointed to the news stories fixated on violent headlines, though they neglected to notice how the music had drawn attention to the violence rather than vice versa; Chicago’s gang culture existed for years prior without making stars out of anyone. But now, approaching a decade’s worth of stylistic aftereffects, these efforts at undercutting Chicago’s cultural import feel overdetermined.

Rather than marking a new reign of bloggers and before playlisters could reassert industry control over the cultural spigot, Chicago’s arrival marked the moment existing tastemakers were undermined by an audience that decided it could determine for itself which artists it was interested in. And those artists, making affordable videos with local teams, could generate attention and connect with audiences before a label was even involved, develop in front of an audience before having an investor, market-test songs and videos with low overhead, and create leverage for themselves in negotiations.

Not that this is a story of idealistic small business winning out over corporations in the long run — as in Moneyball, the Oakland A’s only have an advantage for a short time before the big money teams take advantage of the same strategies innovated at a ground level. And that’s exactly what the commercial industry did for much of the 2010s, as the innovations developed by artists in Chicago as a matter of course were transformed and adapted into strategies used by artists in the streaming era as a whole. It was the platforms driven by Chicago artists–DGainz-inspired YouTube channels like Zae and Laka and DJ Akademiks and Cole Bennett–that became the platforms for the industry as a whole post-streaming.

When Chicagoans point to the widespread adoption of their lingo across the country, the popularity of Lil Reese and Chief Keef’s flows, the rhythms of DJ L’s beats, the shift toward off-beat rap styles as a marker of authenticity, it’s not a claim of territoriality, to get off our yard; lingo and cultural ephemera are always re-adapted, which is how the music evolves, just as Chicago’s movement owes a debt to Atlanta, Memphis, Texas, and even New York. (Dipset was a much larger presence here than it was in the South). But these indicators do point to a way in which Chicago’s cultural impact was marginalized by an industry that wasn’t ready for it; of an organic scene and sound, and the many scenes and sounds that arose around it, in response to it, its impact wasn’t just one of many, but one of one. Cardi B didn’t say it was her favorite music, she said it was her era. Chicago transcended regional status to become a decade; the city’s music was *central* to the story of the hip-hop’s 2010s, influencing everyone from Blueface and Roddy Ricch and Post Malone and Playboi Carti and A Boogie to XXX and 21 Savage and Tekashi and Uzi Vert and Cardi B. Its spread was not regional, but national and international.

David Drake

100. Chief Keef – Bang
99. Zz – El Racka
98. Rooga – Blickathon
97. MIC – Same Shit, Different Day
96. Chief Keef – Text
95. Prince Glo and Jackboy – Glockies
94. King Samson – Turn Up
93. SBE – Killin Shit
92. Phor – Chi Town
91. G Herbo – Swervo
90. DLow – DLow Shuffle
89. Memo 600 – Exposing Me
88. Ebone Hoodrich – Why U Lyin
87. Leekeleek feat. Edai and SD – Neva Get Boring
86. Ty Money & Chimeka – Sibley 16
85. Chance the Rapper and Noname – Israel
84. Lil Durk – Home Body
83. Chief Keef – Everyday
82. Lil Bibby – You Ain’t Gang
81. Katie Got Bandz – I Need A Hitta
80. Johnny Maycash and SD – Where I’m From
79. Lil Zay Osama – Changed Up
78. Hurt Everybody – 2K47
77. Queen Key – My Way
76. Leather Courderoys – Irie Trill Vibes
75. Memo 600 – Steppers
74. El Hitta – Aww Yea
73. Lil Durk – Jackboy
72. Chief Keef – 3Hunna
71. Saba – Butter
70. G Herbo – Who Run It
69. Edai – Gucci
68. The Guys – Flee
67. Lil Durk feat. Jeremih – Like Me
66. Chief Keef feat. Young Jeezy – Understand Me
65. Lil Reese feat. Fredo Santana and Lil Durk – Wassup
64. Polo G feat. Lil Tjay – Pop Out
63. Boss Baka – Drugz R Us
62. Giftz feat. Tree – Nino
61. King Louie – To Live and Die in Chicago
60. G Herbo – At the Light
59. Tree – Probably Nu It
58. Ty Money feat. Bump J – Yes or No
57. Chance the Rapper – All Night
56. Lucki – More Than Ever
55. Young Pappy – Faneto Freestyle
54. Polo G – Finer Thingz
53. Lil Jojo – Have It All
52. Joey Purp feat. Chance the Rapper – Girls @
51. Chief Keef – Hate Being Sober
50. King Von – Crazy Story
49. Lil Mouse – Get Smoked
48. CalBoy – Envy Me
47. Lil Durk – I’m A Hitta
46. Chris Crack – Cuts
45. Vic Spencer – Legitimate Ignorance
44. LEP Bogus Boys – Going In For the Kill
43. Chief Keef – Macaroni Time
42. Lil Bibby feat. King Louie – How We Move
41. Supa Bwe feat. Chance the Rapper – Fool Wit It
40. CupcakKe – Deep Throat
39. Famous Dex – Drip From My Walk
38. Mick Jenkins – Jazz
37. LilJay and Billionaire Black – OSOARROGANT
36. FBG Duck – Slide
35. Dreezy and Mikey Dollaz – Break a Band
34. G Herbo – I’m Rollin
33. Chief Keef – Earned It
32. Lil Mister – No Lackin
31. Shady – Go In
30. L’A Capone feat. Rondonumbanine – Play for Keeps
29. Fredo Santana feat. Chief Keef and Lil Reese – My Lil N*****
28. Vic Mensa – Down On My Luck
27. King Louie – Kush Too Strong/Man Up Band Up Remix
26. Sicko Mobb – Fiesta
25. Chance the Rapper – No Problem
24. ZMoney feat. Valee – Two 16s
23. Chief Keef and Lil Durk – Decline
22. Young Pappy – Killa
21. ZMoney feat. Kevo – Want My Money
20. Valee – Shell
19. Lud Foe – Cuttin Up
18. Lil Reese – Us
17. Saba – Prom/King
16. Chief Keef feat. Lil Reese – Don’t Like
15. Noname – Diddy Bop
14. Famous Dex – Hoes Mad
13. Juice WRLD – Lucid Dreams
12. Stunta Taylor – Fefe On the Block
11. Lil Reese feat. Chief Keef – Traffic
10. Lil Durk – Bang Bros
9. Katie Got Bandz feat. King Louie – Pop Out
8. Lil Reese, Fredo Santana and Lil Durk – Beef
7. Spenzo – Wife Er
6. Chief Keef – Faneto
5. P. Rico – Hang Wit Me
4. Chance the Rapper – Paranoia
3. Lil Herb and Lil Bibby – Kill Shit
2. King Louie – BON
1. Chief Keef – Love Sosa

Chimeka FKA Chinchilla Meek AKA the original unicorn is a recording artist from Harvey who also owns and operates Don’t Do Coke LLC and the Camp Smokey Bear Festival, Chicago’s only all-hip-hop cultural festival.

Cam Jackson is a Chicago-based music exec born & raised on the South Side. He worked with King Louie in 2009, helping conceive early tapes like More Boss Shit, and has worked with DJs and producers DJ Oreo, DJ Victoriouz, and C-Sick. He and partner Elz the DJ recently co-founded Fair Taste Co., working with LilJuMadeDaBeat, the producer behind Megan Thee Stallion’s “Cash Shit” & “Big Ole Freak.”

NayrCreates is an independent Chicago A&R who has worked with a wide variety of Chicago artists.

Chill engineered the So Many Shrimp Radio podcast; prior to that, he interviewed many of the Chicago artists who went on to have an impact both locally and nationally for WBC Magazine and Dead End Hip Hop, including Lil Durk. He’s also worked at WGCI-FM and is a photographer.

David Drake made this blog a long ass time ago. He used to be a music journalist and critic but now he works behind the scenes, though not currently with anyone from Chicago.

2 responses to “The 100 Best Chicago Rap Songs of the Decade, 2010-2019

  1. Pingback: Saying Goodbye to the 2010s: My Favorite Songs of the Decade, 2010 – 2019 | PINK CHARDONNAY

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