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The Intersection of Politics and Hip Hop in Chicago

source: wiki commons

source: wiki commons

In 2013, Vice News’s music branch Noisey shot and directed a YouTube web series about the southside of Chicago known as Welcome to Chiraq, which attempted to elucidate the hardships and gang violence that are currently affecting the area’s several neighborhoods. Noisey focused on the perspectives and storylines of different up and coming rappers with respect to how the gang violence has influenced their lives and the lives of those around them. Interestingly, many Chicago residents disapproved of Noisey’s attempt to paint a portrait of Chicago’s south side as “hopeless” and a “war zone” because although it is certainly dangerous, the documentary undermined the multitude of efforts to bring the different communities together against the gang violence.

As an avid listener of the newly coined “drill music” subgenre of hip hop that comes out of Chicago, my reaction to the documentary was filled with mixed emotions. I, on one hand, found the insight into the rappers’ daily lives intriguing, but on the other hand, understood the criticisms directed at Noisey. The series places an almost-condescending emphasis on the violence, gang-affiliation, and drugs that fill the lyrics of the drill music of Chicago’s most popular hip hop artists. This exploitation was aimed at sensationalizing the hard, impoverished conditions highlighted in these said lyrics, which I would imagine increased the series’s viewership among those not involved with Chicago in any way.

Perhaps the series should have focused on the way the people of the southside of Chicago are taking action to unite in the face of adversity and violence. Perhaps the series should have focused on how Chicago’s politics play an integral role in segregating the south side from the rest of the more affluent, less crime-ridden areas of the city. Perhaps. G Herbo, one of drill music’s young rising stars, passionately raps “In the streets, ditchin' school, murder, drugs around me/Rappin' it just found me, thank God it wasn't in county/Buncha shootouts, lucky that them bullets went around me”. Many of the rappers in Chicago create music that, whether or not apparent at first listen, is introspective and thoughtful about the situation they live in. It appears that drill rappers’, such as Herb (G Herbo), insight into personal experience appears to be overshadowed by the lyrics about violence, drugs, etc. These bars represent the conflict that exists in the minds of many of the youth in these underprivileged areas: the duality of being entrenched in the social dynamic and making it out of said dynamic onto a better life.

Noisey took all of the criticisms into account, changed the lens of its approach, and just recently released a documentary on its new Viceland channel known simply as Chicago. This new documentary shed light on how the citizens of the south side of Chicago are actually working to build positive relationships within the community against violence (i.e "Stop the Violence Parade"). “Stop the Violence” is a local event that specifically works to gather the communities of the southside of Chicago together and allows them to parade through the streets in order to raise awareness about gang violence. Parades and violence-awareness initiatives are considered the main combat mechanisms against gang violence because of the indifference towards the hardships perpetrated by the local Chicago governmental policies. At the mantle of this indifference is Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Much of the scrutiny aimed at the Emanuel administration is related to his false consciousness about police brutality and the specific, hollow rhetoric he employs in attempt to ameliorate the situation. The biggest contradiction in Emanuel’s actions and his language comes in the form of his handling of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, that occurred on October 20, 2014 at roughly 10:00 P.M.

It is believed by many, even the Chicago Tribune--the city’s most prolific newspaper--that Mayor Emanuel attempted to hide the fact that he knew about the shooting long before he ran for reelection, several months after the shooting took place. Given the time period between Emanuel being “fully briefed” by his cabinet on the shooting of McDonald, and when the shooting actually took place, there appears to be foul play politics at hand. It appears all too convenient that he just happened to “understand the gravity of the police brutality situation in Chicago” as his campaigning was coming to an end for reelection. Several months later, a dashcam video of the shooting was released to the public displaying the altercation between the McDonald and the police officer. The video portrayed a scenario that was drastically different from the police report that was filed immediately after the shooting (perhaps the working of [another] police cover up).

In response to Emanuel’s lack of a tangible action against police brutality, the people of Chicago erupted into a protest that vacated the majority of the city’s streets. This is the most glaring instance of Emanuel’s governmental inconsistencies, and unfortunately, the people of the south side of the city are the most affected. Hip hop music offers an escape, an opportunity to bypass the barriers of social mobility, but what’s alarming is the manner in which hip hop music is being perceived. The music reflects the day-to-day lives of a group of people who face systemic indifference and destitution at the hands of politics that leave their interests out of the equation.

- James Sabia

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