[Editorial] Is This Chicago Hip Hop?
“Man, killing’s some whack shit. Oh, I forgot, except when n***** is rapping.” -Kanye West
I don’t know exactly how to start this article, so I’ll just start it. I’ve had an idea for this article for a few weeks. Maybe months. But I didn’t want to add to the mess of articles trying to hypothesize and pontificate on Chicago rap music 2012, all the ills, who is to blame, scapegoats, yada, yada, yada. I definitely don’t want this article to be looked as me coming down on Chief Keef, Lil’ Reese, Lil Mouse, Lil’ Durk or any other rapper for the problems of Chicago, the problems that have existed since way before their birth and have severely impacted them as well. But the other thing I don’t want to do, and refuse to do, is act like what’s happening is cool, and that I am a true fan of all this music. I am a fan of the youth speaking for themselves and being empowered though. And I’m not just a fan, but someone who has dedicated part of my life to help make that happen. I became a teacher right after college, teaching 5th grade in a terribly funded CPS school in a terribly underfunded, impoverished, and sometimes seemingly hopeless neighborhood in Chicago. It was a place that would beat the hope out of its residents, where optimism came to die, where opportunities seldom knocked. It was there that I met some of the most amazing young people and were fortunate enough to call them my students, my co-workers, and countless parents who had my back, no matter what. I say that to make it clear that this article is not a condemnation of the current teenage rappers that have come to define Chicago Hip Hop to those outside of its culture, as well as outside of this city.
Getting to the point though… While at times I’ve posted music and/or videos on the site that I didn’t necessarily like, I try very hard to not post any content that goes against some of my core values, and the reasons that this site was even started in the first place. I understand that my taste in music is not everyone’s taste, and our readers may want to see/hear stuff that is not made for me. But I can’t keep posting and promoting music that I feel exploits, promotes, and glamorizes the youth violence, poverty, drug use… you get the idea. This is something I’ve struggled with for a minute.
This struggle hit me like a ton of bricks last Saturday night while I was at the Metro for Rockie Fresh’s release party. I was in the balcony talking to people and taking in the good vibes during Phil Ade’s set when all of the sudden, the person I was talking to abruptly stopped the conversation to say, “Lil’ Mouse is here.” I turned my attention towards the stage, where I saw Lil’ Mouse and posse performing his record “Get Smoked”. For a second, everything kind of froze and the idea that a full Metro, which holds roughly 1,100 people, were all going nuts to a 13 year-old performing a record which basically states, “don’t fuck with me, I will kill you,” really hit me. That was as much as I could take. And I simply can’t support it. I can’t pretend like it’s cool, or that the song sounds so dope that we can ignore all the other issues in the name of entertainment. There is nothing good about it, and I can’t encourage it.
The article and ideas were still bouncing around in my head yesterday morning when another friend of mine emailed me with the subject line “deplorable behavior” and a message, “This is exactly what you and I were talking about the other day. ” I clicked the link to find an article showing cell-phone footage of Hip Hop artist Lil’ Reese seriously beating the shit out of a teenage girl with one especially biting commentary from the post’s author, “Lil Reese’s behavior is deplorable, and it seems as though these young kids in Chicago have no respect for life.” Wow.
Throughout the day, pretty much the whole country went in on Lil’ Reese and his actions. Many calling for the end of his music career, and the death of this new wave of Chicago music. I think few, if any, mentioned that the person shown in that video footage, which was over a year old, was not yet old enough to vote, drink, and could barely drive. That doesn’t make any of it right, and I was amongst those denouncing this behavior on Twitter as well. But, we must remember that Lil’ Reese is a teenager, and teenagers do things like that when they don’t have the proper guidance, when they grow up in a culture of violence, and when a phrase like, “they didn’t stop making guns when they made yours,” rolls off the tongue like it’s nothing. Wow.
My question is, is this really how we are seen to the rest of the country? This is how we want our Hip Hop community and culture to be defined? When I was in New York a couple weeks ago I had meetings at most of the major labels, PR firms, and even some very influential magazines. Each person that I met with asked about Chicago, and the artists that I thought were the best. For some, names like Kids These Days, Chance The Rapper, Alex Wiley, ShowYouSuck, Kembe X, Treated Crew, GLC, Project Mayhem etc… sounded like a foreign language. If the artist wasn’t from the drill scene, they’d never heard of him. If I wasn’t mentioning music made by Chief Keef, or Lil’ Reese, or Lil’ Durk they hadn’t listened to it. And for many, there was also no interest in checking it out.
The thing is, many people seemed to believe the music was something like a joke, or a cool/trendy thing. The latest wave. They are easily able to turn off the fact that the artists making this music grow up in extreme poverty, are in trouble with the law, and in Lil’ Mouse’s case, haven’t even fully gone through puberty. To them, the music exists in a far off place. They don’t live here, they don’t come here often, and they sure as hell are not visiting the locations popularized through these songs. Chicago might as well be called Chiraq to them, because they have the same familiarity with both places.
There’s another side of Chicago Hip Hop that many people feel passionate about, myself included. While the majority of the country thinks Chicago Hip Hop’s been silent until Young Chop picked a fight with Kanye West via Twitter, the truth is that Chicago Hip Hop has been a thriving community for years, and the last 4 have been exceptionally dope. There have been weekly parties, shows, studio sessions and a slew of talented artists, photographers, directors, writers, radio personalities, boutique owners etc. working hard everyday to make sure our city is represented. Let’s not turn our back on the richness of our music and let it be defined by negativity. Let’s show these people that young kids in Chicago do have respect for human life. And again, let’s call out the media that prop these kids up to be bigger than the Beatles, only to move out of the way when they slip, or fall, and in some cases, crash and burn.
We define Chicago Hip Hop. It’s more than just cell-phone footage, gun range interviews, and twitter beef. It’s the interplanetary exploration of Crucial Conflict, the intelligent street music of Mikkey Halsted, the pioneering style of Twista, the youthfulness of SaveMoney, the expensive hood shit of Hollywood Holt and Gzus Piece, the true school aesthetic of the Molemen and All Natural, and yes, the realness of GBE. It’s all those things. We define Chicago Hip Hop.