Loona Dae looks down at the camera against a backdrop of green leaves, with a long black coat draped over her shoulders and a white corset-style top
Loona Dae Credit: ThoughtPoet for Chicago Reader

City of Win is a series curated by Isiah “ThoughtPoet” Veney and written by Alejandro Hernandez that uses prose and photography to create portraits of Chicago musicians and cultural innovators working to create positive change in their communities.

“When I started skating, I was definitely in a creative rut, and I needed to push myself in a way,” says Chicago R&B singer Loona Dae. “It’s scary to fall, but I found a lot of refuge in skating because it’s just you and the skateboard. It taught me to trust myself more and rewired something in my brain to show me more grace and patience, even in music.”

Loona has dedicated herself to music for her entire life. One of her earliest memories is of singing at age three. She was born in Saint Louis, and by third grade, she’d started reading and writing music, singing in choir at school, and performing in pageants. 

She made the conscious decision that she wanted a career in music, as a performer and an educator. She learned how to play the piano in grade school and picked up the guitar at 17. While she was in college—she moved to Chicago in 2010 to attend Columbia—she learned the basics of producing from a friend, laying a strong foundation for her artistry.

Loona released the EP Phases, her first project to hit the major streaming services, in 2017, then followed it with the EP Moonflower in 2019. “I wanted to drop a longer project,” she says. “But I always felt like I needed to wait for the right time or wait until there was a demand for me to drop an album, or wait until I was signed.”

Loona continued to release the occasional single, but she needed a new spark in her creative battery. That’s when skateboarding entered her life. In 2020, she learned how to skateboard by connecting with Chicago collective FroSkate, a Black- and queer-woman-led organization founded in 2019 to help build inclusive spaces and provide resources for BIPOC skaters.

Three photos of Loona Dae collaged together, including one where she's standing in an alley
“I feel like I’m forever evolving and learning new things,” says Loona Dae. “Right now, I can say I’ve evolved into a producer of music.” Credit: All photos by ThoughtPoet for Chicago Reader

“It’s really important for me to push myself to learn new things and stick to them,” Loona says. “I started to go to [FroSkate] meetups in the beginning. Then I began to do more volunteer work, helping intermingle with the youth and build a safe space for beginners and anyone who wants to skate but never felt like they had the chance to connect with people because they dress a certain way or they don’t look a certain way.”

Skateboarding and FroSkate helped Loona find her drive as an artist. Toward the end of 2020, she began conceptualizing her first full-length album, Atari, with collaborator Aswhin Torke—a project she’d been working toward for years and would need years to finish. She wrote some of its songs as early as 2017, and Atari came out in August 2023. 

YouTube video
The video for Loona Dae’s “Kindness” was directed, shot, and edited by Holden McClain.

The video for the Atari single “Kindness,” which dropped in July, shows Loona skateboarding with her friends on the 606 trail and through the streets of Chicago. She gives each of them a flower as she sings sweetly and harmoniously about the importance of appreciating your loved ones while they’re still here.

Atari represents an entirely new world for Loona Dae. During the album’s development, she’d begun learning Japanese. She was inspired by Japanese fashion, culture, and manga, and that influence turns up throughout the project—some of the tracks sample video games, and on “Tamagotchi” Loona sings partly in Japanese.

Loona Dae worked with Ashwin Torke, Sen Morimoto, Brian Sanborn, and others on Atari.

Atari is actually based on a board game [go], and at the end of the game, one of the players says ‘Atari, atari!’ as a winning declaration,” she explains. “We just kind of built the beat around Atari video games, and slowly but surely everything came together as the storyline. I was really going through an abusive relationship at the time and decided to leave. So the context of the album being about love, about finding self-love, going through all the tribulations of life and enduring it—that story just kind of came together naturally.”

Loona also pushed herself to lead the production team for the first time. She’s known the basics of FL Studio for a while, but with Atari she took a more hands-on approach as a producer—she’s in the driver’s seat on most of the tracks. The album sounds familiar, with its ties to traditional R&B, but it’s also futuristic, no doubt from the heavy video-game influence.

“I feel like I’m forever evolving and learning new things, trying new things, but right now, I can say I’ve evolved into a producer of music,” Loona reflects. “In my recent project, I didn’t realize I was experimenting. I was just doing things that felt and sounded good to me. To most people, it sounds like experimental R&B, but my favorite descriptor of my sound is ‘psychedelic R&B’—an entrancing and ethereal world of R&B songs. No matter what genre of music I make, there’s always a presence of soulfulness.”

Photos by ThoughtPoet of Unsocial Aesthetics (UAES), a digital creative studio and resource collective designed to elevate community-driven storytelling and social activism in Chicago and beyond