Bryce Thompson is next.
Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, the classically trained violinist who performs as King Melik is making a name for himself in the city for his unique and soulful cross-genre blend of music. Most recently, those efforts manifested on “Sanctuary,” a 10-track collection of music clocking in at 30 minutes. Confident, eclectic and experimental, “Sanctuary” is a satisfying introduction to an emerging new artist.
But Thompson’s musical journey has been in the works for many years. At age six, he began playing the violin. “I love playing the violin, especially performing the violin. Despite being a, you know, R&B/rap/alternative artist,” he said. By the time he was 13, Thompson was already writing songs, though his work has grown considerably since then.
Thompson cites Chance the Rapper as both an influence and a mentor figure. When Thompson was 17, he attended an open mic event Chance the Rapper hosted at the Harold Washington Library. During the event, Thompson was determined to get the audience to sing along with him, even though no one was familiar with him or his music. Thompson said he made a “simplistic” track for the audience to memorize quickly, which they did. “Everybody sang it perfectly, exactly how I envisioned it,” he recalled. “It was going great, having the crowd hyped up, and then I turned around and saw Chance singing along with everybody.” It was at that moment that he decided to take music seriously and pursue it.
Thompson joked that many of his songs back then may have sounded like a Chance the Rapper knockoff but his sound has evolved since then. “I think once life started becoming life and kind of growing up and [having] experiences as a Black man and experiences as a person who’s very romantic, I got to make music that I could actually relate with [and] tell a story that was actually true,” he added. “So I think the evolution was just experience.”
Part of his goal now as an artist is to translate the melodies he first fell in love with through the violin to his multigenre musical creations. His violin playing can be heard throughout “Sanctuary,” though the instrument functions more as a compliment, rather than a distraction, from the other instrumentation used throughout the project.
As a whole, “Sanctuary” is a culmination of Thompson’s transformed hopes, dreams and ideas of what it means to be an artist. Visible fame and early success can blind young artists to the reality of what it means to be creative. Thompson said he once dreamed of being a “teenage sensation,” and part of his transformation as an artist was letting go of that goal. Persevering through those emotional dumps has prepared him more for moments like this, moments where his art can be experienced and embraced on a larger scale.
But perhaps most importantly, it has allowed him to create the sort of fully realized artistic achievement that may not have been possible at a younger age. It took life — experiencing it, relishing and confronting it — for Thompson to create something like “Sanctuary.”
“Most of my lyrics are very honest, about real-life situations that actually happened to me. And, you know, it can be a little scary, because you’re kind of vulnerable, but I’m definitely proud of that,” Thompson said.
Thompson believes vulnerability is missing from a lot of the music his Gen Z peers release, and it is vulnerability that he hopes to articulate through his music. Leaning into longevity, relatability and substance has made Thompson’s music thus far so compelling, and it is what he believes will help him succeed in the future.
“I feel like I can create music that has a high replay value, but it’s also honest and true,” he said. “I felt like we lost the magic of live instrumentation and collaborating with other artists and creating a body of work instead of just music that you just hear for maybe a few weeks and kind of move on. So whatever I want to create, I want to be able to age like wine.”
9 p.m. Jan. 13 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave.; tickets are free, ages 21+, at lh-st.com
Britt Julious is a freelance critic.