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Chicago Singer Lili K. Is Making 2015 Her Year

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 4, 2015 8:00PM

Photo credit: Dakota Harper

If you're any kind of local music fan in Chicago, you've heard Lili K.'s voice. You just might not have realized it. The wispy melodies backing up Chance The Rapper on his Acid Rap smash "Pusha Man." The soulful temptress singing harmony on Vic Mensa's "Hollywood." The jazz cover of Disclosure's "Latch" with vocals well beyond the owner's years that floated around the Internet late last year. It's all Lili.

Though she's teamed up with plenty of big names in Chicago's local hip-hop community—other names include theWHOevers and producer Thelonious Martin—2015 is the year Lili K. will step out on her own. She's preparing for the release of her first full length album, what she described to Chicagoist as her "official debut," this April.

"It's kind of weird because obviously there are big names involved and so that exposes me to a fanbase that otherwise wouldn't be familiar with me," Lili said to Chicagoist of her high profile collaborations. "I do think I was being heavily associated with hip-hop—and I love hip-hop—but I'm not a hip-hop artist. I've kind of reached the point where it's like, you know what? It's my turn."

Ruby is the name of the local singer's forthcoming album and it leaves no question as to where her true musical allegiances lie. Lili embodies a classic jazz singer with her voice and emulates the golden age of Motown and soul with her style. She's as refreshing and wholesome as the television sitcoms we associate with the same era. The video for (not to mention the sound of) "Tommy," Ruby's lead single, is a throwback in more ways than one.

Even the title of Lili's debut traces back to the past.

"I called the album Ruby for a few reasons. I was born in July so my birthstone is a ruby. And one thing my mom did as I was growing up was she'd give me a ruby ring whenever I reached a huge accomplishment. She's a vintage clothing and jewelry dealer so they're these really awesome, old, art deco rings. I have three of them now...high school graduation...really big things that I made it through. Since this is my first solo project and I produced it and I'm so proud of that, I thought it was fitting to call it Ruby."

Aside from some help with distribution from Freshly Baked, Ruby is Lili K.'s project through and through. The album was written, produced and recorded by the budding artist and her backup band, a band that differs from her previous act The Secret Garden (which featured current Chance The Rapper and The Social Experiment member Peter Cottontale).

Lili might draw from the past for her influences but her career goals are quite progressive. She's just as content to play a mixed-bill show at the Metro or Bottom Lounge as she is tackling a jazz club audience.

She currently curates a monthly jam session at South Loop club Refuge Live. There's no set date for "Saturday Sessions," no expectation or pressure placed on the artists and no strict format. It's a lot like Lili K.'s career thus far: not stuck to one course, but open to many. Not disorganized and random, but embracing of whatever gets the talent flowing.

Before the release of Ruby on April 21, catch Lili K. playing direct support to Sidewalk Chalk this Saturday at the Metro for the band's album release show. Tickets are still on sale for $12.