Joseph Chilliams Knows "You Think You're Pretty"
Joseph Chilliams deserves a crown, even if it’s a plastic tiara. The West Side native is a key part of this decade’s Chicago rap renaissance through standout verses on Noname’s Telefone and his brother Saba’s Bucket List Project. (Not to mention his own LP.) On the mic, Chilliams is the spacey Darius to his brother’s earnest Earn. Last month, Chilliams released The Plastics. Fitting for a rapper who devoted a song to mid-millennial icon Fergie, the new 4-track EP is wholly inspired by the immortal Mean Girls.
The clear highlight from the project is "You Think You're Pretty." In the film, the title phrase is used as a dare, a conversational trap, but here it’s a statement, three minutes of oddball flirtation. The song opens with thick bass under gauzy descending synths, sounding like the elevator music in a Silicon Valley brothel. Chilliams only gets through a bar and a half before Sen Morimoto's chorus cuts in, drums in tow. He sings sweetly about a couple’s first date at a school dance. While the rest of the EP is submerged in the hormonal stew of high school, this track’s perspective is firmly post-grad. The homecoming king and queen stayed together. The Burn Book languishes in a cardboard box, leaving only the candy-coated memories.
Chilliams turns on the charm as half of the high school sweethearts made good. He drops gems like "call me daddy when we make out, like Weezy and Birdman". It's the kind of line you can only use on someone that you already know can tolerate your stoned mishmash of references, someone who's coming home with you anyway. Chilliams’ delivery is relaxed like he’s mumbling come-ons right before falling asleep on the couch. The phrasing is lazy, but his writing is sharp. As if proving the point of his Mean Girls concept, he links this 2004 film to 2018: “We keep it G like Kevin, middle finger for Spacey.”
The EP is a great introduction to Chilliams' combination of pure dopamine rush punchlines and nuanced characters. He's an unfriendly black hottie disavowing R. Kelly on behalf of the whole city. He's clueless and horny on "Karen's Song," questioning the fearmongering public school sex ed. “You Think You’re Pretty” is the pastel heart of the project. The Plastics might not have enough thematic depth for a full album, but at 4 tracks it’s easily replayable.
After The Plastics dropped, Chilliams appeared onstage for both Saba and Noname’s Pitchfork sets, and he played his first festival set at Mamby on the Beach. Of course he’s more popular after fucking with the clique.