With each passing year, Chicago’s underground rap/R&B scene seems to expand and mutate like a kaleidoscope. 2016 was a banner year, with Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book obviously leading the way, but projects by Joey Purp, Noname, Jamila Woods, Mick Jenkins, OddCouple, Saba, Kweku Collins, and theMIND blossoming at its feet, a sign of some truly fertile soil.
Now it’s time for the artists who lurked in the shadows of those less-heralded releases-- the Cam O’bis, Eryn Allen Kanes, Akenyas, Rayven Lenaes, Joseph Chilliamses, Phoelixes, and Monte Bookers-- to claim 2017 as their own.
One name that also seemed to pop up everywhere last year was Knox Fortune. The young Chicagoan lent vocals to Chance’s “All Night” and production to tracks by Joey Purp, Kami, Towkio, Vic Mensa, theMIND, and more. He has an off-kilter style exemplified by “Girls @,” the herky-jerky track he gifted Purp and Chance last year, and it’s out in even fuller force on his new solo track, “Help Myself.”
Co-written by Purp and featuring additional production from O’bi, the song is yet another testament to this Chicago scene’s co-op-style ethics, where beats, hooks, and lyrics are treated as seasonal produce meant to be shared by all. Knox has plenty of friends (five, according to the credits) throwing in base ingredients, but the dominant flavor in this recipe is his own.
That flavor turns out to be ramshackle,’60s-ish warmth, established by acoustic guitar-led funk in the song’s first half, and elaborated upon by transcendent organ and strings in the song’s coda. It doesn’t sound quite like anything else coming out of Chicago right now, coming across more like an alien version of hippie funk imagined by J Dilla. In terms of distinguishing himself from the crowd, this definitely bodes well for Knox.
If SoundCloud is to be believed, this is only his second track as a lead artist, preceded by last year’s chillwavy “Seaglass.” Keep your eyes and ears trained on Knox Fortune though-- he plans to release his debut project this year, and considering the scene that birthed him, it’ll probably kick-start a whole new wave of Chicago greatness.