Updated Wed 6/26 at 2 PM: This preview has been edited to reflect the addition of Gucci Mane and Famous Dex to the Summer Smash bill (and the removal of Kodak Black).
The Summer Smash, presented by Chicago hip-hop blog turned cultural powerhouse Lyrical Lemonade, is already the biggest rap festival in the city—and it’s on track to be one of the biggest in the country. After debuting in August 2018 as a one-day event with two stages, the Summer Smash has expanded to two days, with three stages and 51 acts. If anything demonstrates how important Lyrical Lemonade has become in hip-hop, it’s that histrionic young rapper Juice Wrld—who’s had albums debut at number one and number two on the Billboard 200 in the past eight months—is headlining the Summer Smash and not Lollapalooza. The site and its festival have become synonymous with “Soundcloud rap,” partly because Lyrical Lemonade founder Cole Bennett has directed videos by some of the best-known MCs in that ill-defined scene. The Summer Smash bill is stacked with rappers who’ve worked with Bennett, including flamboyant Florida wordsmith Ski Mask the Slump God, Seattle crooner Lil Mosey, and mischievous LA personality Blueface. You could also see the bill as a fascinating cross section of current rap, represented by some of its most notable success stories—among them Charlotte spitter DaBaby, ferocious Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion, and New York crossover darling A Boogie Wit da Hoodie (whose recent Hoodie Szn became the lowest-selling album to hit number one). Among those rising stars is Chicago’s Taurus Bartlett, better known as Polo G. Raised in Old Town’s Marshall Field Garden Apartments project, he’s leading a new wave of local rappers who’ve adapted drill’s hard-edged aesthetics to melodic, pop-forward songs. The gravitas and raw emotion in his performances—including the breakout “Finer Things” and the smash “Pop Out”—make his recent debut, Die a Legend (Columbia), a lock for one of the year’s best albums. Polo G is part of a small army of great locals on the Summer Smash bill, including the Cool Kids, Supa Bwe, Queen Key, and Femdot. Unfortunately, the fest also features Famous Dex (a late addition to replace East Saint Louis rapper Comethazine), who’s admitted to beating his girlfriend in a video that leaked in September 2016. At least the festival has replaced Kodak Black, who’s awaiting trial on allegations of sexual battery in South Carolina and was arrested last month in Florida on weapons charges—and it’s replaced him with none other than reborn trap legend Gucci Mane. v