From the first global pandemic in more than a century to climate change, civil unrest and a contentious election, 2020 was a year that posed an array of challenges — and material for local musicians.
With uptempo beats and classic hip-hop storytelling, Chicago artists like Polo G, Brittney Carter and Joel Q tackled everything from self empowerment to uplifting the next generation.
For help breaking down the year’s best tracks, we turned to Vocalo morning host Stephen Bekoe. (And if you’re craving more Chicago music, he’s got you covered. Tune in to The Windy City Music Hour weekdays at noon on 91.1 FM.)
From “Prove Em Wrong” to “Honey,” here are a few of his favorite local songs of 2020.
“Wishing For A Hero” by Polo G (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)
On his second studio album, The GOAT, Chicago’s Polo G argues he’s on his way to becoming one of the greatest rappers ever — and listeners must agree. In May, the record peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
The project features appearances from Lil Baby and the late Juice WRLD, but the standout track pays tribute to a legend of the past. “Wishing For A Hero,” the album closer, remixes Tupac’s “So That’s Just The Way It Is.”
“To me, it’s one of the best songs on the project,” Bekoe said. “He speaks on it a lot of what’s going on around the world, and he speaks positivity.”
“Found In Me” by Flex
Emerging Chicago rapper Flex hit his stride in 2020 with the release of Separation, which Bekoe calls his best project to date. On “Found In Me,” Flex talks about facing his fears and tapping into his own potential while encouraging others to do the same. “I pray these shorties find in them what I found in me,” he raps.
“He just breaks down how he found something in himself that unlocked greatness that he wants the youth to find as well in themselves,” Bekoe said.
“Prove Em Wrong” by Brittney Carter
With her debut album As I Am, hip-hop artist Brittney Carter shows off her storytelling chops — and holds herself to high standards.
“I always want everything to be perfect, and I’m understanding now … it’s really all in my hands,” Carter said in an interview with Vocalo. “I don’t really need to go by anybody else’s rules.”
Perhaps no other track encapsulates that attitude better than “Prove Em Wrong.”
“The title itself speaks volumes,” Bekoe said. “When you’re in a position where people feel like you’re an underdog, you just got to get out there and prove ‘em wrong.”
“Honey” by Ausar
Ausar didn’t make it very far on Netflix’s hip-hop competition Rhythm and Flow, “but in my book, he made it where he needed to make it,” Bekoe said. Since then, the Chicago musician has been making a buzz with his new EP Flight Of The Bumblebee, which addresses the role honey bees play in our ecosystem and how we can protect the endangered species.
“How many artists do you know that can really put a story together about honey bees and make it into a project? He literally took himself and he put himself in another mindframe to create something that’s very unique,” Bekoe said.
For a dose of something sweet, don’t miss track four: “Honey.”
“Off Top” by Joel Q
Last but not least is Joel Q, who serves as a mentor for local students when he’s not busy making music. His latest EP, Life’s Amazing, provides a refreshing dose of positivity during difficult times.
“Don’t ever think that you ain’t a star because you never glow,” he raps on LA-inspired track “Off Top.”
If you’re a fan of Vocalo, Joel Q might sound familiar: He’s the voice behind Bekoe’s intro to The Windy City Music Hour.