The Forecast is a music series, hosted by sibling duo Rome J & Morgan Elise Johnson, which predicts the next wave of Chicago artists. This episode includes rapper CDot Honcho, singer Jack Red and our featured artist, Tony Cartel.

Drill ain’t for everybody.

Though, that’s not what outsiders think. Thanks to an apparent mainstream strategy to commodify Chicago’s violence into a fetishized gangs, guns and rock ‘n roll phenomenon, Drill’s erratic flair has become somewhat inescapable. For years, it’s been the only relatable rap in Chicago for thoroughbreds – those who live and die by the streets.

That’s until Tony Cartel came along. With the second installment of his Cosa Nostra mixtape series, the South Side native is making rap for guys like himself. The ones who make moves in silence, without bragging or drawing attention to themselves. Those who still honor the OG codes, and know the street and federal laws like the back of their hands.

“Drill is more about being a savage and being unpredictable. You never know what we might do. We may come to the party and then we might shoot that motherf–ker up,” Cartel says about Drill, a genre made popular in 2012 by figureheads like King Louie, Chief Keef, Young Chop, Lil Reese and Lil Durk. Instead, Cartel makes “sophisticated trap,” a term he coined a few years ago while vaguely explaining his line of work to friends and attractive women.

“I never wanted to highlight the violence part. I wanted to highlight discipline because that’s the proper structure to making it to the next level,” Cartel explains. “That’s really what sophisticated trap is all about.”

The video for Cartel’s new single, “10 Days,” embodies the mafioso panache of films like American Gangster, Goodfellas, The Godfather and Casino. It opens with Cartel inside a laundromat, drying a load of cash. Meanwhile, a classic line from Mitch, the flashy dealer from 2002’s urban classic Paid in Full plays in the background: “Fuck around and be the George Jefferson of the ghetto, B.”

The scene draws parallels between George Jefferson, the loud-talking owner of a successful dry-cleaning business on the 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons, and money laundering. If nothing else, “10 Days,” makes it undeniably clear that Cartel is a well-rounded artist who knows how to make metaphors work in his favor.

“I did all the treatment and locations. I definitely have an obsession with film,” says Cartel, who co-directed the video shot by Chicago’s Antoinne Bryant, a.k.a. lvrtoinne. “This whole approach to ‘10 Days’ and to Cosa Nostra 2 was cinematic. I want you to be able to use your imagination. Your mind is the screen.”

As a kid growing up in Englewood and Harvey, Cartel never imagined he’d become a rapper. He was fond of music because of his uncle, who religiously bought CDs when they dropped on Tuesdays. But it wasn’t until he saw the video for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin But A G Thang” around age 10 that rap really hit home for him. It was the first time he’d seen the world and Black people he knew portrayed in a music video.

“Before that, in hip hop videos, they were just having fun,” Cartel adds. “This one showed everyday life.”

In his teenage years, Cartel noticed a decline in the style of rap he loved. Jay-Z announced that he would retire after 2003’s The Black Album, and Nas wasn’t dropping gems like he used to. For fun, Cartel started freestyling to himself over the 30-second instrumental outros at the end of songs. He also would freestyle and roast guys on the basketball court while sitting on the bench at Thornton Township High School in Harvey.

While going back and forth between the streets and college, one of Cartel’s friends – an aspiring music producer – rented a bedroom in his house. One day, Cartel wrote a hook and verse over his friend’s beat. The friend played it for some other friends and they loved it, likening Cartel’s flow to Young Jeezy. That was the start of Cartel’s rap career.

“This was like Hustle and Flow shit,” Cartel remembers. “I had a den in the house. We made that the booth. We bought all this styrofoam shit and just put it on the wall. It was totally not professional.”

Photo by Morgan Elise Johnson//The TRiiBE

In 2016, he dropped his debut tape Cosa Nostra, which is Italian for “This thing of ours.” In it, he focuses on family, structure, loyalty and secrecy – elements of the mob lifestyle. The standout track, “Trap Chronicles,” is a bluesy gem produced by LawBeatz that is reminiscent of Club Sugar Ray out of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor’s Harlem Nights. Cartel makes use of his debonair swag to out dealer whose sloppy ways can ruin the game for everyone.

Cosa Nostra came because a lot of people are thinking, ‘He trying to be like the Italians. Why don’t you look at Larry Hoover and all them guys?’” Cartel explains. “I’m pro Black like a motherf–ker, but the mob built Las Vegas. You feel me? They took their organized crime and carved out a whole section for them to be millionaires.”

Cartel returned with Cosa Nostra 2 in October with similar topics. This time around, he spent time recording in Atlanta and at New York’s Lounge Studios. It shows in his flow, which comes off very old-school East Coast at times, or too ATL trappy other times. CN2 finds Cartel struggling to find where he fits between those worlds while simultaneously keeping Chicago in his heart.

“Chicago is in two brackets. You got the Chance the Rapper, hipster vibe and then you got Drill. I feel like my music is kind of standing alone to a certain degree,” Cartel says. “We come from the blues and jazz. In a lot of my songs, you hear those melodies. So I feel at home but at the same time it’s kind of foreign.”

Words by Tiffany Walden

Rating: 3.7/4

Listen to Cosa Nostra 2.

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