Chicago Hip Hop has been getting a lot of light shone its way the last couple months, with the spotlight turned onto extra bright these last few weeks.  The catalysts for this new attention have included the Treated Crew movement, Chief Keef, King Louie, YP, Rockie Fresh, Young Chop, Chance The Rapper, Kids These Days and other new artists that have made the industry finally catch onto the immense talent and creativity we have in the windy city.  For all the artists that dominate the headlines, mentions, and blog posts, there are others that humbly create dope music without that much fanfare.  Here are 7 sleepers in Chicago’s Hip Hop scene, artists who get raised eyebrows and head scratches when I drop their names at studio sessions, events or other spots when people ask me, ‘who’s dope that I might not know?’  Well, now you know.


Sl0t-A has been making beats in Chicago since the start of our city’s most recent Hip Hop surge.  Tailoring production for Add-2, Scheme, Amanda Diva, and others, Sl0t has humbly been one of the nastiest behind the boards. He’s also one of the nicest.  Literally, he’s one of the nicest dudes in a tough business, and someone that genuinely cares about the music and the culture before the dollars or the fame.  I feel like Slot-A is just one high profile collaboration from really breaking out, and is an artist that should be making beats for the rosters of Duck Down, Mello Music Group, Decon, and more on a consistent basis. 

Follow Slot-A at @IAMSLOTA


Chris Mathien:
Chris Mathien is the kind of artist that can and be should existing inside of the liner notes of your favorite albums.  He’s a skilled producer, guitar player, singer and songwriter, that can contribute as much behind the scenes as he can when leading the band.  Beyond fronting the band, Mathien, he has also collaborated with emcee Sulaiman, who together released a very dope project by the name of Local Nobodies.  Unfortunately, the name holds too much weight, as Mathien is really too much of a hidden gem in the city’s Hip Hop scene, even though his band plays regularly at the House of Blues.  I’ve heard that he’s been working with more Hip Hop artists as of late (a little birdie told me he was in the Treated Crew kitchen), and I hope those rumblings are true.

Follow Mathien at @Mathien


Tye Hill

Tye Hill:
Tye Hill is an OG of Chicago Hip Hop. He’s produced for GLC, Mikkey Halsted, Scheme, Project Mayhem, Slum Village, and most notably, Sir Michael Rocks.  Tye’s production can range from gritty and grimy boom-bap to that funky and soulful Hip Hop that makes you bounce, but still scrunch your face.  You can tell Tye’s production, even when his name is left off the credits, something that happens too often for this Chicago producer.  I’m hoping that Sir Michael Rocks’ new deal with Curren$y’s Jet Life will get Tye some Warner Bros. placements, and he’ll be off the slept-on list for good.

Follow Tye Hill at @therealtyehill


Neak Undefined:
When I posted Neak’s last album, Love Greater//The Pre-quel, I admitted that I haven’t given Neak the shine that he really deserves. If nice guys finished first, Neak would be in the winner’s circle by now.  He continually crafts really good conceptual songs and albums, and never takes to twitter airing out bloggers for not better noticing his skills.  I think the one thing Neak could improve on is simplifying his message a little bit. Sometimes being this good with this much to say can make things a little cluttered.  With a little bit of polish, Neak can go from Undefined to one of the most checked for.

Follow Neak Undefined at @Neak_Undefined

Zak Jablow

Zak Jablow:
Zak Jablow aka Professor Fox is another triple threat. He can play a variety of instruments, and excels the most when he’s one on one with an artist or band, and given the chance to shape their sound from front to back.  Jablow moved here from Florida, and started working with the Internz, learning valuable knowledge and lessons from Kosine and the rest of the crew.  He’s making moves in his own right these days, gaining regular placements in national commercials, teaching classes at Columbia College, and even lending his hand to the Young Wonder video team.  You can find his most recent work on Chance The Rapper’s #10Day, as Jablow reworked “Hey Ma”, giving it a larger and more complex sound.  If you need a hit, Jablow is definitely on a short list of people to see.


Walter J. Liveharder

Walter J. LiveHarder:

Walter J. LiveHarder is one of the most passionate artists I know, and the dude can spit.  While his name and general vibe carries a bit of humor, don’t take LiveHarder as a joke.  Each record he releases is another addition in his catalog of solid, heartfelt, and true to form Hip Hop.  His mixtape, Greater Than,  showed his heart as well as his skill, making LiveHarder one of the Chi’s hidden gems.  He is also Chicago to the bone. He knows the city like the back of his hand, can tell you how to get from the northside to south loop in 10 minutes if you hit the right lights on Ashland Avenue.

Follow Walter J. LiveHarder at @goldperiod


The Gift

The Gift:

Even if you’ve never heard of The Gift (1/2 of The Cartoonz), you’ve heard the Gift.  The Chicago-based producer is credited greatly with honing the sounds of Rockie Fresh, producing Rockie’s breakout, The Otherside as well as Rockie’s latest mixtape, Driving 88 along with his partner L-Peezy.  New artists have taken notice, and are lining up to work with The Gift, who has told me he is not interested in cookie-cutting Jr. Rockie’s and newer versions of the same sound. The Gift aims to understand an artist, then shape their sound based on their strengths. His latest protege is St. Millie, who is quickly moving up the ranks as a new artist to watch.  If you’re smart though, you’ll also keep your eyes on The Gift, the man behind the boards.

Follow The Gift at @GiftCarToonz