Over the last five years, Cam O’bi has influenced the direction of Chicago hip-hop about as much as anyone. The Las Vegas native produced early local hits by many of the youth poetry scene’s breakout players, from Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa (“Cocoa Butter Kisses”) to Saba (“Church/Liquor Store”) and Noname (“Diddy Bop”), establishing a signature sound in the process: warm analog drums and finger snaps, gentle piano and keys, and layers of background harmonies, occasionally pitched up into chipmunk soul. For a collection of rappers looking back at their youth, it was an appropriately nostalgic template, and the success boosted the producer onto major projects by Sza, Moses Sumney, and Isaiah Rashad. Now, Cam has released his first solo single, “TenderHeaded,” featuring St. Louis crooner Smino.
The track is catchy and lean—chopped chipmunk vocals, dusty drums, and a sample of Cam’s infant nephew laughing—and finds Cam and Smino looking backwards, too. Cam, in the sing-scat style of his guest, reflects on losing faith in the tooth fairy and school campus police officers, and concludes by wrapping his innocence up in a cigarillo. Smino, in turn, paints himself as a bratty playground revolutionary: “I don’t wanna sing the Star-Spangled Banner ‘less it’s produced by David Banner / Elbows on the lunch table, eatin on a gravy sammich.” The song balances boyish wonder and woke cynicism while sounding like a pizza party.
“TenderHeaded” is the first song from Cam’s forthcoming solo debut Grown Ass Kid. He and Smino last worked together on Noname’s “Shadow Man.” Listen below.