[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.


About Alexander Fruchter

About Alexander FruchterOriginal co-founder of RubyHornet. President of Closed Sessions

  • John Freeman

    The passion you have for the hip hop culture is amazing. The place in you heart that houses this love is a special place and that really comes through in this article. This was the first thing I read when I woke up for class today and it really has me pensive about what I will represent as I aspire to dive in to the business of music. I love Chicago Hip Hop there seems to be a artist for every one. Even the Chicago hipsters have their favorite Chicago trap rapper. I just hope that Rubyhornet continues to be that un compromising voice and platform for what this city really has to offer.

  • bj

    I feel this 200 percent

  • Boswell

    This article is perfect.

  • Sulaiman

    “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.”

    Truer words were never spoken, Alex.

    • John Freeman

      Not dismissing his actions however, he is a product of his environment, thats the life that he knew up until he got his record deal. I am curious to see if the opportunity these rappers have right now, will change that thought process. Will there be growth? Will he find new clever way of sharing his experiences? The world need to hear from him and his friends no doubt about that, but will it be a great manifesto or a great novel?

      • Ryan Prez Chambers

        great question but we can only hope and pray so.

  • Omar

    Excellent editorial Alex.

  • djg

    Thank you.

  • Aush

    Excellent article.

  • Break Bread or Starve

    I congratulate you for this posting. This is brilliant writing. At some point, even you guys (Andrew Barber, included) are responsible for promoting the Chicago Drill scene. Chicago Hip Hop has been thriving for much longer than four years, but I get what you’re saying. The Only All Chicago Hip Hop Show (free podcast on iTunes) has been promoting the best of Chicago Hip Hop for the past five years. They have done an award winning job at shining light on the best Chicago Hip Hop has to offer.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, just be more equitable in your promotions.

    The Chicago Hip Hop Awards March of 2013 should be pretty interesting.

  • Justin Harris

    We are really seen like this around the country. I am a 18 year old male from Chicago and i am now In School in New Orleans (Which isn’t much better when it comes to the drill scene) but anyway I’m from the “hood” on the South Side and Black Males from Chicago are perceived to have that “Kill or be killed” Mentality and I even try to shine light on what good things Chicago has to offer because I love my city to death and I’m trying to introduce my friends to the good things the city has to offer but they are petrified to come to Chicago because of the drill scene and what’s put on the news about Chicago. My friends on campus look at me like I’ve been through a war zone and say things like “I’m surprised you made it out” and shit like that because all they see is the realness of GBE. I try to introduce them to SaveMoney because most of them are my homies and they are out here doing really big things and I’m trying to show them “Real Chicago” because I’ve seen Chicago on both ends of the spectrum and it’s no other place like Chicago

  • Frank Leone


  • Frank


  • A|A

    When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for Chicago? Lets start there. Then we’ll catch up to the vicious and hateful lyrics that plague majority of rappers. Most artists posted on Ruby Hornet lack creativity.

    • guest

      I have to disagree completely. Most artist who are posted on rubyhornet actually try to put creativity into their music. They are not just talking about the same subject matter as most drill artist do.

      • A|A

        Really? Curren$y and Action Bronson are creative? Give me a break. These dudes aren’t worthy to shine the shoes of artists like doom aesop rock or El-p

  • coldshouldercity

    Most definitely a insightful editorial good look Alex.

  • James Jebbia

    The point is, those artists that you like are on some boring ass music. The violent music represents where the artists are from.

    • A|A

      Listen to any El-p song and you can feel the time he spent on his lyrics and his production. It’s not sloppy. Take violence in lyrics. Ok, so you have this concept to work off of. It was created because it is something that is very real in some neighborhoods where these dudes live, but it is used as a theme so often that it seems it is only used because it is cool not because there is meaning behind or has a legit purpose.

      • A|A

        furthermore, there is a reason why artists like cheif keef are as big as they are. Yeah, a good portion of his fan base things he’s good, but a big portion find it so goofy that its entertaining

  • O-End or No End

    Fuck intelligent boring shit you listen too. This isn’t hip hop this is drug dealer music.

    • A|A

      Doom can speak about his environment and do it in a creative way. Why can’t others? When did intelligent rap become boring? You have it twisted “drug dealer music” is so over done the very thought of another song about it makes me cringe…

  • Precise Muzic

    I appreciate this Alex and it needed to be said. I was reading the Sean Price piece earlier and he was saying how he was scared to come to Chicago because of what he sees. Its important for us to have a firm grasp on how we are represented. Our music is diverse as the cultures are here and there needs to be more balance.

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