The Monday morning after the first virtual Lollapalooza, Chance the Rapper announced his favorite Chicago rapper on Twitter, surprising many with his pick. Rather than name a superstar influence like Kanye West or Lupe Fiasco, Chance named a 29-year old Roseland native who goes by the name of Fya Man. “And been that way for a while,” Chance added in a follow-up tweet, including a screengrab of the video for “Mind Ya Business,” a track featuring L.3.g.i.o.n that Fya Man released in mid-July. Fya Man raps over a trap beat in yelps reminiscent of Young Thug or Chance himself while dancing through the aisles of a store.

Fya Man had no idea this shout-out was coming. Sure, he’s known Chance for years through the Chicago music scene, and he hopes to collaborate with him in the future. But Fya Man found out about Chance’s shout-out when he noticed a larger-than-usual influx of followers and engagement on his social media accounts. 

“I just started getting messages on my Instagram from engineers and people like that, hitting me up like ‘Man, let’s do this,’ like, where are you coming from, people?” Fya Man said during a video call in late August while visiting family in southern Illinois. “I don’t remember dropping any marketing dollars today.’”

Chance’s shout out was fortuitous, but it hasn’t catapulted Fya Man to instant fame either. The video Chance posted had less than 500 views on YouTube as of Oct. 1, perhaps in part because Chance posted a screen-recording without linking back to the video directly.

“I’m an underground artist. I don’t got a record deal. I’m just doing it from the mud,” Fya Man said. “I know people, done a lot of things for people, and I’m gonna keep doing it, but it’s always good to be acknowledged.”

Fya Man, born Orlando Wilder, has been in the music game for 12 years. His production in the first half of the ‘10s, on his own music and for artists like Lil Durk and Vic Mensa, was influential in broadening Chicago rap’s sonic palette. In recent years, he’s been operating behind the scenes. Though he has been uncredited thus far for much of his recent work, he has continued representing the city in writing and producing sessions, working with legends like Pharrell on Vic Mensa’s album The Autobiography, Jay-Z on a Budweiser commercial, and Kanye West on “Wouldn’t Leave” from 2018’s Ye album.

Now, he’s looking to establish himself in the spotlight with his new album Purple Heart, dropping independently on Oct. 1. Though he’s dropped other projects in the past, like April’s Soundcloud mixtape The Quarantine Is Over and September’s direct-to-consumer EP SOLID, his latest album is meant to serve as an introduction for listeners.

“This project is really important to stamp it, like, I’m in the forefront, and I’m not playing, and I come to compete, to tell the story of my city,” he said. “The album about to smack hard as hell.”

Fya Man recorded Purple Heart the past several years and finalized it once touring became impossible during the pandemic. Portions of Purple Heart were recorded in studio sessions on the west coast, but the album is ultimately rooted in Chicago. The album title itself is a reference to the difficulties he faced growing up in Chicago.

“I grew up all over Chicago and my upbringing was a violent household and also fun childhood,” Fya Man explained. “[Many] struggles. Learning how police treat you, and navigating the streets, and dealing with what comes with that.”

The title also refers to the difficulties any Black person faces living in America. “It’s a war going on against us, whether we choose it or not,” Fya Man explained, his voice crackling with emotion. “We got so many scars from this. We might as well all get a purple heart.” 

Fya Man was first inspired to pursue music after seeing the success of his big cousin, “I’m Emotional” singer Carl Thomas, an Aurora, Ill. native who signed to Bad Boy Entertainment in 1997 at the height of the flashy New York label’s popularity. Thomas’ influence is audible in the Auto-Tuned melodies Fya Man warbles on the album’s more R&B-oriented tracks.

Purple Heart shows a range of sounds across its 19 tracks, from the bubbly pop of “Alternate” to the skittering drums on “Where Yo Block At.” It’s meant to evoke the ruckus of a weekend in Chicago, complete with interludes sampling the CTA announcements. “If you spend one week in Chicago, just go through the motions, then you will understand my music a lot more,” he said. “One minute you might be at a party, everybody footworking, juking, and dancing, somebody get shot after the party.”

Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE
Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

“I grew up all over Chicago,” Fya Man said. He’s pictured at the Quincy “L” stop.

Fya Man found parallels between his own past and the stories shown on Snowfall, the FX drama series set in Los Angeles in the early days of the crack epidemic. On “Tie Dye,” Fya Man raps “do ‘em like Ray Ray, catch ‘em in the alley down bad”. He recorded the verse while in a Santa Monica studio with Markise Moore, who plays Ray Ray on the show.

The track “Smoke and Mirrors” was inspired by a more local touchstone: “All Falls Down,” the third single from Kanye West’s 2004 debut The College Dropout. West’s track tells the story of a woman who “couldn’t afford a car, so she named her daughter Alexis.” “Smoke and Mirrors” follows Alexis as an adult dealing with the same malaise as her mother: “now she got a job with a dream on the side / she a teacher, and sell weed on the side.”

“The Purple Heart mixtape is a continuation of what people know me to do, picking up where I left off as an artist in the forefront,” Fya Man said. “Where I left off is when I was with my group The Guys, and we was coming with the Free The Guys EP.”

Fya Man first saw success at age 17 through the Pop It Off Boyz’ “Crank Dat Batman,” a song inspired by Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” that spent six weeks on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts in 2008. Though Fya Man didn’t work on that song, he traveled and recorded with the Pop It Off Boyz during that time, and both members of the duo later joined Fya Man’s Hits Only Family crew.

“People told me if you want to take music seriously, you need to move to Atlanta or LA, but at that time, I was like I’m just gon’ be at home in Chicago,” he said, “and we all banded together and started our own scene, and that became the drill movement.”

In 2011, drill’s ominous and propulsive style of hip-hop started in Chicago before spreading to London and New York City later in the decade. Fya Man was one of the producers on drill innovator Lil Durk’s 2012 mixtape I’m Still A Hitta under the name Fya Starta, and his track “I Get Paid” broadened the sonic palette of drill thanks to its footwork and juke inspired rhythms. 

At the same time Fya Man was making bop music, a sunnier style that foregrounds pop melodies with juke and footwork rhythms, as half of a duo called The Guys with rapper Smelly LP. On the group’s biggest song “Flee,” Fya Man raps in Auto-Tune over frantic steel drums and snaps. The track earned a remix from fellow bop group Sicko Mobb and attention from national publications like The Fader, VICE, and Complex.

“I say hip-hop is like a converter,” he said. “You can take a country song, an Ethiopian song, any kind of song, you put it through that filter and now it’s hip-hop.”

Whatever you're doing that might be your escape plan, Fya Man explained, you gotta really fight for that shit." Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

Soon, Fya Man’s output in Chicago drew the attention of Malik Yusef, a poet and songwriter also from Roseland. The two started working together in 2014, not long after Yusef completed work on Kanye West’s Yeezus album. 

Yusef brought Fya Man into his creative orbit, working on songwriting and production for labels like Kanye West’s GOOD Music and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. 

Fya Man has been uncredited on many of the tracks he’s worked on. There’s a long-standing tradition of ghostwriters/producers in hip-hop, but Fya Man rejects the label. “Though I have some business to work out as far as a few credits, I do not identify as a ghost writer,” he explained via email. “I’m a songwriter and not a ghost or secret writer.”

Without writing credits, Fya Man’s influence in recent years has not been widely known, but he is grateful to work with and learn from artistic legends of older generations. “Anybody from the 100s, you hear that name Malik Yusef, you know what that mean,” Fya Man said about Yusef, who is an executive producer on Purple Heart. Fya Man is set to return the favor on Yusef’s next album.  “And if you talking about music, obviously you know what that mean, he mentored a lot of the biggest acts in the game.“ 

Fya Man credits his discipline for his artistic development, removed from traditional lessons or studio equipment. He discussed it during his 2017 appearance on CNN’s United Shades of America alongside Yusef and other Chicago hip-hop musicians, and he stands by it today. 

“Whatever you’re doing that might be your escape plan,” he explained, “you gotta really fight for that shit, you gotta turn down some experiences, you gotta do some delayed gratification.”

is a freelance contributor.