Long gone are the days where MCs were expecting to stick to rapping in their music. Kanye West's 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak
, where he made the divisive decision to sing—in a voice submerged in Auto-Tune, no less—signaled a shift in hip-hop's aesthetic that was already under way. That choice, though it was treated as radical at the time, feels prescient in retrospect. Drake and Future have become household names (even in houses that aren't filled with hip-hop heads) by effacing the boundaries between rapping and singing. Rae Sremmurd half-sang their way to the top of the Billboard
Hot 100 last year with "Black Beatles."
A new class of young MCs have started tagging songs they upload to Soundcloud as "alternative rock,"
and the affection that artists such as Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Peep show for early-2000s guitar bands makes their blurring of vocal styles feel like a natural extension of their aesthetic. These days it almost feels like singing is de rigueur for a new rapper.
Singing is vital to two of the biggest new Chicago hip-hop releases of this month: Kweku Collins
's EP Grey
and Kami's Just Like the Movies
. Collins dropped Grey
last Friday, and Just Like the Movies
will go on sale this Friday. Kami exclusively rapped on his debut mixtape, Light
, released in 2012 under the name Kami de Chukwu, and as half of eclectic duo Leather Corduroys (with Joey Purp
) the Save Money member started to sneak singing into his songs on 2014's Porno Music Vol. II
EP and 2015's Season
mixtape. He veers much harder toward singing on Just Like the Movies
, but rapping remains central to the album's glossy, cinematic, 80s-inspired feel. Kami's swooning cadence on the hook for "Home Movies" and his near-robotic monotone on "Scene Girl" suggest that at any moment he could break into a hard 16 bars—even when he goes full-on pop, he struts like a rapper. Rapping is also the heart of the massive title track, which features Joey Purp, Towkio, Vic Mensa
, and Knox Fortune (the album's executive producer).
Kweku Collins hinted that he'd be do a little more singing when he dropped "Oasis2: Maps" in February—it's a wistful cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 2003 breakthrough single, "Maps." The original peaked on the Billboard
charts at number 87 in May 2004, when Collins was seven years old. He performs the song like he's known it all his life—and as though rendering an indie-rock hit in solemn whispers is a natural extension of hip-hop. The track feels right at home on Grey
, particularly alongside two of my favorites, "Lucky Ones" and "Aya." Collins injects hopefulness into both songs' minimal, woebegone instrumentals, slipping and sliding between dropping bars and singing with a hint of Auto-Tune. He speedily raps through chunks of "Aya," controlling his flow with a singer's sense of melody. It's often hard to definitively say whether Collins is rapping or singing, which seems pretty standard for new rappers, but his wide-eyed gratitude and openness to new paths make him sound like no one else.