Chicago Rap and When Art Imitates Life

This article first appeared in the 6th Issue of Pages Magazine. You can purchase your physical copy here. 

Words by Tony Bueno

 CHICAGO rap in the past has been characterized as lyrical and socially conscious music rhymed over tuned up soul instrumentals made popular in the early 2000’s by Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco. Hip hop in the beginning of the new millennium had a little bit of something for everyone. Extravagant lifestyle rhymes were on laid on wax in the East, South, West and everywhere in between, yet somehow Midwest hip-hop artists like Common and Kanye West kept a truthful and honest representation of their home city of Chicago and it’s struggles. It was in these artist’s early work when they put the spotlight on the violence and poor economic conditions that plagued the neighborhoods of their home city, the Southside of Chicago. 

Somewhere along the way the Midwest transformed and the hip-hop being produced in the region became more aggressive along with the instrumentals. While regions are always evolving along with their sonic outputs, the trajectory Chicago hip-hop took shook the rap world to its core. The soulful samples made famous by Kanye West were replaced with hard hitting drum patterns alongside driving base capped off by lyrics so honest and gritty, it brought national attention to the social situation in Chicago. Assault rifles toted in viral music videos gained Chicago infamy, and a magnifying glass was put onto the city as well as the new wave of hip-hop coming out of it. 

Chicago ‘Drill’ pioneer Chief Keef was only 16 years old when his viral sensation ‘Don’t Like’ made waves on the internet for its catchy hook, bell adorned instrumental and raw lyrics to match. Shot on no budget in his grandmother’s home while on house arrest, the music video shined a light on Chicago’s youth and the lyrics expressed their day to day experience of violence and gang activity. All the tracks off of Keef’s debut mixtape ‘Bang’ were odes to street violence, gang activity, and the experience of the young black male in Chicago. What Keef saw as a creative outlet to express himself, forever changed his life. Superstardom soon engulfed Chief Keef and his newfound movement of Drill gained steam in Chicago and many fellow young black men were eager to grab their piece of the hottest trend of rap at the time. The bars of real life violence were infinitely laid over instrumentals by Chicago producers such as Young Chop and many careers were born as a result. Just as soon as the young rappers of Chicago gained fame from viral ‘Drill’ music videos, they lost it. These men and their gang affiliations were no longer put on display in their neighborhoods, they were now being put on display in front of millions of people in a manner that only escalated their susceptibility to violence. Taunts between two groups of rival gang members were now in the public domain of the internet, making matters worse and egos more fragile. Young ‘Drill’ up and comers such as Lil Jojo, LA Capone, and Capo were all victims of the very lifestyle they glamorized in their music. Taunting rival gangs in songs ended up ultimately costing them their lives in the Southside of Chicago, only making matters worse for a region already devastated by violence. 

‘Drill music’ created from 2011-2014 reflected real life situations and the willingness to express these real life struggles costed young men their lives. Hip-hop has always been an avenue for young black males to express their everyday lives through rhymes that eventually reach destinations far beyond their neighborhood block. While a few Chicago ‘Drill’ artists managed to escape the blood stained streets of the Southside, there are plenty others that made their attempt to escape, only to be swallowed up by the very beast they had become all too familiar with.


Tony Bueno is the Editor in Chief of Pages Magazine and you can follow him here


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