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Bekoe//Photo by Visuals by Zuria

Chicago is chock-full of music festivals all summer long. But how many of those festivals truly cater to new local artists, the ones still grinding at their day jobs while working tirelessly in the studio all night to become a household name?

Not many, says Bekoe, Westside rapper and founder of urban media and events brand, Illanoize.

“We don’t see a lot of platforms provide things for up-and-coming artists on a major scale with a big concert feel – like, lights and animation on the screen,” explains Bekoe, whose birth name is Stephen Bekoe. “A lot of artists would never get to experience that.”

So Bekoe created his own music festival, called ILL Fest, for rising Chicago hip-hop, R&B and reggae artists to take their talent to the next level. The annual show, now in its second year, starts at 7 PM on Friday at The Wire in Berwyn, a western suburb of Chicago. Ty Money, the Harvey rapper who has been crowned the next Chicago star by legends Twista and Bump J, is headlining the festival. Also on the bill is Chimeka, a member of Ty Money’s Sibley camp, soulful rapper-producer Ausar, rappers Bianca Shaw and Tae Hunna, and Bekoe himself.

“Last year went well, but of course it was our first year,” Bekoe says. “With Illanoize growing on social media and our audience growing globally, I thought it would be dope to do [this year’s] festival where we put dope up-and-coming artists beside a dope headliner, like Ty Money, that we feel is next to blow out of Chicago.”

Though Bekoe’s Illanoize brand is seeing success in audience growth and social media reach, he believes his connection with the city’s rising stars is really what’s been the most influential component in growing artist interest and participation in ILL Fest.

Chicago rapper-producer Rick Stevenson performing at ILL Fest in 2016//Photo by Kelly Kameras

“Our genuine relationship with artists is what’s bringing a bigger crowd because a lot of our audience knows that we support up-and-coming artists,” Bekoe says, “and when an up-and-coming artist sees that, they support more.”

As he strives to build ILL Fest into a bigger and more innovative stage for emerging artists each year, Bekoe hopes he’s creating a memorable show that both attendees and artists benefit from.

“I want to continue to see people happy,” Bekoe says. “[I want] to give artists something to remember while giving the audience something they can remember, too.”

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