In a self-aggrandizing public announcement last month about the return of Lollapalooza, Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted a cringey promotional video where she played music for Department of Public Health commissioner Allison Arwady onstage at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. Early in the clip, Lightfoot changes the soundtrack from a Foo Fighters tune to Polo G’s “Rapstar,” which had debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 in April. But I don’t believe that this mayor, who violently upholds the status quo, has ever considered Polo G’s lyrics or even listened to the songs that have propelled him to international fame. If she had, she would’ve noticed him writing about a deep well of trauma stemming from decades of racist disinvestment in Chicago’s Black communities and the resulting violence. If Lightfoot enjoys anything about Polo G’s music, it must be the way it can separate upwardly mobile Lolla attendees from their money. The video says less about her than it does about the city’s biggest recent rap star, who rose to heights reached by fewer and fewer artists in the streaming era on the strength of two acclaimed albums: his vivid, commanding debut, 2019’s Die a Legend, and its forceful follow-up, 2020’s The Goat.
Polo G, born Taurus Bartlett, doesn’t need to prove himself to anyone. And yet his new third album, Hall of Fame (Columbia), seems engineered to impress a music industry he’s already conquered—and whose ranks include the people who’ve booked him for an afternoon set preceding treacly, inoffensive California pop artist Lauv at the largest music festival in the rapper’s hometown. (Though to be fair, the segues on the Lollapalooza schedule are generally a mess across the board.) Hall of Fame includes a few too many guests (among them Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Rod Wave, G Herbo, and Lil Durk), a few too many songs (at 20 tracks, it’s his longest album), and a handful of odd musical choices that clash with the star’s baseline of melodic drill (the pedestrian pop-punk affectations of “Broken Guitars”). Fortunately, Polo G’s nonchalant magnetism and high-caliber vocals are strong enough to push through some of the album’s weak spots. On “Epidemic” he addresses the fragility of Black life amid factional gang violence in succinct, plainspoken lines and a sweetly sung hook, proving his singular strength by teasing out such complexities with an emotional performance. v