Five Legendary Chicago Musicians

Five Legendary Chicago Musicians

Story: Penny Rae Hawkins

Graphic |  Emilia Batchelor

The city of Chicago is home to a pretty iconic music scene. From Patti Smith to The Academy Is… and even Johnny from NCT 127, there have been plenty of musicians to come out of the Windy City who became undoubted legends. I’ve collected five bands who remain superstars or have otherwise left a lasting impact on modern music. 

Fall Out Boy

Photo credit: Strife Magazine

Legends. Icons. Overrated. Sellouts. Fall Out Boy have been called all this and so much more over the course of their tumultuous career. They have rocked fans (Take This To Your Grave, From Under the Cork Tree, Infinity on High), lost fans (Folie a Deux), got them back (Save Rock and Roll) and occasionally confused them (Welcome to the New Administration, Mania). But, no matter the impression, there was always one made. They turned their impressions into activism, including dedicating an entire music video to fighting child soldiers in Uganda, recording a PSA about global warming and standing with Colin Kaepernick in 2017. In 2009, Fall Out Boy declared “I’m just a man on a balcony singing nobody will ever remember me.” Six years later, they demanded “you will remember me for centuries.” If this doesn’t describe the band’s legendary status, what does?

Notable tracks: “Lake Effect Kid,” “Last of the Real Ones,” “From Now On We Are Enemies”

Kanye West

Photo credit: AP Images

Love him or hate him, there is no ambivalence when it comes to Kanye West. While the hip-hop iconoclast was born in Atlanta, he grew up primarily in Chicago. Beginning as a producer for Roc-a-Fella Records, he quickly rose to fame with an obvious and often frenetic kind of genius. While he just as often seems to make headlines for his controversies, from upstaging Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs to supporting Trump before running for President himself, his impact on music, fashion and lifestyle cannot be understated.

Notable tracks: “Gold Digger,” “All of The Lights,” “Stronger”

Chance the Rapper

Photo credit: Billboard

Born and raised in Chicago’s South Side, Chance has been described as “the voice of the youth in the Chi” and he’s very much aware of that. Journalist Jessica Hopper once described Chance as “a kid who has mapped every inch of his hustle.” From his debut mixtape 10 Day to his 2019 studio album The Big Day, he has written honestly about his upbringing, his faith and his politics. At the core of his ethos is his activism, speaking up and writing about issues including Black Lives Matter and prison reform, as well creating the nonprofit SocialWorks to empower youth in Chicago.

Notable songs: “Hey Ma,” “Blessings,” “No Problem”

Rise Against

Photo credit: Viewsmag

Nearly every artist on this list has used their success to give back to their community or speak out politically, no band has made it their primary mission quite like Rise Against. The ardently straightedge, vegetarian ethos of Tim McIlrath have powered the band since 1999 and show no signs of stopping over two decades later. Speaking out about the environment, human rights violations in different countries, capitalism and Rock the Vote, amongst others. They’ve made it their mission to change the world with their music since day one, and I have no doubt in my mind they’ll continue to do so until the day they disband.  

Notable songs: “Ready to Fall,” “Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,” “Savior” 

Liz Phair

Photo credit: Kay Kurkierewicz/WFUV

Miss Liz Phair has had nothing if not an interesting career. From indie rock roots with landmark albums including Exile in Guyville and whitechocolatespaceegg, to finding mainstream success in 2003 with her controversial self-titled album and releasing whatever the hell Funstyle was, she’s always known how to shake it up. While lyrics like “average every day sane psycho, supergoddess” were derided by critics as sounding like “something Avril Lavigne would sing,” I felt that shit in my soul. Raw lyrics, deceptively sweet vocals, even in grungier earlier work, and a biting take on the world with equal parts sass and sincerity cement her place as one of the most important female figures in modern rock music. 

Notable songs: “Supernova,” “Extraordinary,” “Why Can’t I?” 

Aa a city in a garden where brilliance blooms, you should always keep your eye on Chicago. There’s no other city like it in the world that can produce talent this generous or genuine.

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