Chicago is known for its great strides within the Jazz and Blues industry. In today’s Chicago music scene, many up and coming artists try to pay homage to this history through their music, while adding their own unique style it. After realizing that more music exists other than what is repeated on Top 40 radio stations, I began to explore deeper into the music that’s created right in my backyard [metaphorically speaking]. Here are my top bands and solo artists [as well as my song recs] from the Chicagoland area. [Bonus: listen to all of my top Chicago music picks here.]
Manwolves has to take the cake for my absolute favorite Chicago band [and one of my favorite bands of all time]. The six-piece, which even features a trumpet, has a great mix of jazz and R&B with a sprinkle of pop in its sound. The trumpet, an essential jazz instrument, adds such an interesting flair to each song that Michael Werner plays. Werner and his bandmates, Julian Freeman [drums], Henry Wolf [bass], Eli Cohen [guitar], Ari Garfin [keyboard] and Jamie McNear [vocals]. are from a suburb outside of Chicago and have known each other since high school [where they first played as Manwolves] and have been best friends ever since. Their genuine friendship is seen both on and off stage and is contagious within the crowd. Whenever I’m home, I make it a point to go to every Manwolves concert I can. [PS: pls play in Athens.]
Top songs: “You,” “Fisherman’s Friend,” “These Days,” “Fear and Loathing”
If you ever need to feel empowered, listen to Ric Wilson. His sound is an electric hip hop that exudes feel-good vibes. At every concert, he does a ‘soul train’ which allows anyone in the crowd to show off their dance moves. He is very much into singing / rapping about the issues the Black community in Chicago are facing, like police brutality and incarceration, while also singing about black empowerment. We love a woke and empowering man.
Top songs: “Powerful,” “Hang Loose,” “We Love Us”
The Slaps are what I would consider to be a traditional “indie” band [though, what does “indie” even mean anymore?]. While two of its members originate from Kentucky, the band found its drummer, Josh Resing, when they all attended DePaul University. While in school, Resing, Rand Kelly [vocals] and Ramsey Bell [guitar] created The Slaps, thus making it acceptable for them to grace my top Chicago music blog post. Though the band is quite small, unique vocals and minimal instruments create a sound that boasts an upbeat energy [with the occasional slower songs and ballads scattered throughout its discography]. The Slaps are still a pretty small band [less than 5000 followers on Instagram] but with the help of their friends, Manwolves, they are slowly climbing up the ladder of Chicago music and who knows, maybe they’ll be selling out The Aragon and Ravinia, two of Chicago’s most iconic concert venues, before we know it.
Top songs: “Song for a Friend,” “Houses”
Tasha is a solo artist who mainly creates dream pop music. Her beautiful voice mixed with a chill, groovy type of music will calm anyone [the perfect finals week soundtrack]. While her music is amazing, her social media presence is just as important. Extremely passionate about Black female empowerment, she uses her music [much like Ric Wilson] to empower black women and talk about the hardships black women face in their day to day life.
Top songs: “Something About this Girl,” “Lullaby,” “Kind of Love”
Very similar to Tasha is another solo artist, Kaina. She exudes the same dreamy and chill pop vibe in all of her songs and definitely isn’t afraid to play around with a synthesizer. She mixes Latinx sounds with the classic Chicago Jazz and Blues sound to create a one-of-a-kind sound. As a first-generation Latina [her parents immigrated to the US but she was born in the US], Kaina sings about her cultural identity and her detachment from it since she didn’t grow up living around a good majority of her family.
Top songs: “La Luna,” “A Song to Sing” [a collab with Manwolves and Ric Wilson], “Honey”
I discovered the Burns Twins in a different way than all the previous artists. I was playlists deep on Spotify when I’d finished yet another Spotify Discover playlist. The next song that started playing was “Day by Day” by the Burns Twins. I’d heard of them through the Chicago music scene and from collaborations with Kaina, however, I’d never listened to any of their own music. Burns Twins collabs with a variety of artists, playing to their strengths in the technical side of creating music [usually a pop / hip hop mix]. With the twins as the driving force and the vocals of a talented lyricist, it’s hard for a great song to not be created.
Top songs: “La Luna” [a collab with Kaina], “Day by Day”