Photography By: Jeremy Frank
Lili K is very much a different breed in today’s music scene. Without frills, clever marketing schemes or extravagant funding, the Milwaukee native and current Chicagoan has made a name for herself on talent and hustle, in a genre that is lacking listeners or widespread publicity.
It is hard to pin down Lili at first glance. The tattooed, blond haired white girl, occasionally sporting a hoop between her nostrils, sometimes looks better suited for a hardcore rock show than a jazz club, albeit with a sort of elegant swagger that can be hard to pinpoint.
Success can be relative for a neo-soul singer in the modern age, and a tough exterior can go a long way. Having just played an opening set with one of her heroes, Musiq Soulchild, weeks ago at The Shrine on Chicago’s near south side, the recent Columbia College graduate exited stage left, got a hug from the man of the hour, teared up a little bit at meeting one of her heroes; and retreated back to her far North side loft to prepare for the next thing on the agenda. Because, if all you have is your fans and your health, the hustle is a little more real.
Soul music doesn’t always pay the bills. But the difference between Lili and many of her contemporaries is her unwillingness to bargain with her passion, a sort of tunnel vision that has helped carve her standing amongst fellow singers across the country.
“I feel like my aesthetic and music and personality combine into this quirky, not-what-people-expect type of artist, and I love that. I sing soul and jazz music, I love hip hop so that’s always in there somehow, I like to wear weird clothes, and I love to be goofy,” said Lili. “I don’t have a gimmick, I don’t use the whole ‘sex sells’ mantra, I just make the music I love and stay true to myself. It’s not mainstream, but it’s real.”