Staff Pick: Best hip-hop artist | Best of Chicago 2019 | Music & Nightlife | Chicago Reader

Staff Pick: Best hip-hop artist

Polo G

Critics' Picks

TRACY J. LEE
  • Tracy J. Lee

Last month Polo G's major-label debut, Die a Legend, ranked number 46 on the Billboard 200 while Chance the Rapper's The Big Day sat at 58. Chance's "debut" album had arrived at the end of July, nearly two months after Die a Legend, but Polo G outlasted it on the charts with just a fraction of the publicity. And I understand why so many people have continued to stream Die a Legend all these months later, because I'm one of them. Polo G, born Taurus Bartlett, has a gift for distilling complicated responses to huge topics—systemic racism and violence, public-housing injustice—into blunt, lucid lyrics. His style of street rap dovetails with drill in its themes, but while Polo G is part of the subgenre's lineage, his focus on melody and the emotional nuance in his delivery won't be recognizable as drill to anyone whose knowledge of it begins and ends with Chief Keef's "I Don't Like" (and that's a lot of people, because few mainstream outlets continued covering drill after it broke out of Chicago in 2012). His music owes plenty to Top 40 hits, and he infuses his vivid, vicious quick-hit stories of poverty and broken promises with the irrepressible euphoria of pop. Even when he raps about the inescapable grip of death, Polo G sounds invincible.

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