By Holden Caplan
If there is one mantra everyone can get behind, it is that everything is better when done with friends. “Ace” the new collaboration by Noname, Smino, and Saba, three of Chicago’s top up-and-coming artists, is a perfect example. Through this bubbly vessel of positivity, the three friends flex their chops side-by-side on the standout track of Noname’s new album Room 25. More than just a banger, “Ace” highlights different trajectories of the Chicago music scene while expressing an emphasis on the collaborative effort the city holds so dearly.
Each artist is heading to be top of their style within their city. Noname is the shy, introspective queen of spoken word rap, while Saba’s drill-esque sound is changing the narrative of the “hard” scene of Southside Chicago. A newcomer to the city, but definitely holding his own, Smino is challenging what it means to be a rapper-singer through the master manipulation of his vocal chords (which seems to do ever-so effortlessly). On this track, the three styles mesh together in a way that is reminiscent of feel-good lunchtime freestyles. As Smino rings addictively on the hook, “Whiskey with the team, got it bubblin” one can’t help but get the vibe that he really is with his team on this song. The cohesiveness brought on this track just showcases what happens when great artists with the same drive come together to make something great.
The Chicago rap scene is no newcomer when it comes to collaborative efforts. Kanye is known for his albums full of features. There would be no G Herbo or Lil Bibby if it weren’t for their brother-like collaborative efforts, and you might as well forget about Acid Rap as a project if you are just calling it a Chance mixtape. On “Ace” each rapper puts the heart of Chicago in every line, in spite of their current displacement from the city. In a contrast fashion, they rap about their anxieties, personal defeats, and share a rare openness that is hardly seen in Chicago’s current hard drill-music exterior. By carving this new niche for themselves, they aid each other in the creation a new sound that is as fun-loving as it is daunting. All of them sound as if they had a huge grin on their face in the booth.
More than being just a great example of collaboration, this song just smacks. Since it has came out, I’ve listened to it at a minimum of three times in a day. Trying to decipher Saba’s rapid fire ballad of his never-ending tour woes is still on my to-do list. My only excuse is that I am still in awe of how well Noname simultaneously demands attention while expressing a commonly felt anxieties like her new change of residency from the midwest to Los Angeles. It’s hard not to smile when she acknowledges, “If Smi rolling, I’m sorry, I’m tapping out.” It just shows a bond exists between these artists that overcedes their musical interest. Something that can only be born out of a love for one’s city and spiritually similar mindsets. If “Ace” is an indicator of anything, it’s that Noname, Smino and Saba are all on the same wave, and we should hope we can catch the wake before it’s too late.