I have been in New York on business for the past couple weeks. Every time someone finds out I'm from Chicago, the reply is always something like "Yo... Chicago is going crazy right now." Then they quote something to me about the latest death toll in my hometown. Honestly, I don't wanna hear that shit. I grew up around gang violence and poverty. It wasn't until I witnessed a murder/suicide in the apartment across the hall from me that I decided to save up money and leave the hood for good.
One of my friends who runs a prominent hip hop blog here in New York asked me why Chicago is so much worse this year and why our city is so bad that people like Chief Keef were able to build a buzz by "talking that little kid street shit." I looked him in his eyes and said "Because people like you publicize it. You helped make Chief Keef a star. People in Chicago finally get to see someone from the block getting fame, and it just so happens the rappers from Chicago who y'all choose to acknowledge are on some goon shit. So don't talk to me about the violence in my city. You contributed."
He didn't have a reply.
People can try to blame artists like Chief Keef (I refuse to acknowledge the existence of Lil Mouse) for the recent rise in violence in Chicago streets, but if you really wanna make the point that their "negative message" is the reason for the crime then don't you have to point the finger at the media outlets that publicize them? Don't you have to blame international superstar Kanye for hopping on Chief Keef's song and getting him recognition? Don't you have to blame the makers of Pitchfork's "Selector" series for interviewing Chief Keef in a gun range? Don't you have to blame all the hip hop sites (whose names I have been asked not to mention) who booked Chief Keef for hella shows and give him prominent features on their site?
Even the major publication that I write for gave Chief Keef a cover story in the paper. They knew about his music's content but they featured him anyway. There are plenty of talented artists with less violent messages who they can feature. For example, Rockie Fresh is a dope lyricist from Chicago who recently got signed to Maybach Music Group. Rockie is awesome. Where is his newspaper cover? And personally, if I had not become a freelance writer for the paper and was allowed to tell my own story, I might have never been featured in the paper at all! When it comes to rap in Chicago, only the goon shit seems to get the spotlight. If you don't believe me, ask any rapper from Chicago who isn't a goon.
If it is true that life imitates art, and entertainment media helps to expose art, then that raises an important question, right? Whose doing more damage here, Chief Keef, who raps about the only lifestyle he knows, or the media and famous people who publicize him and expose his "negative message" to a larger audience?
The same press that publicizes goon shit are the ones reporting the numbers every time the death toll rises. There. I said it.
I have a love/hate relationship with Chicago hip hop. On one hand, if it wasn't for the fact that I rap I wouldn't be where I am today. In spite of the fact that I am also a singer and producer, most of my fans knew me as a rapper first. But in my city, I am an abnormality just because I don't rap about street shit at all. I remove myself from the situations I grew up around. I got abused, I was homeless, I experienced poverty, but I was able to get out. And I work hella hard so that I can stay out. Everybody is not that lucky. Many people in my city, ESPECIALLY people in the age group of Chief Keef and the rapper JoJo who was recently killed, can not get out of the hood because they can't afford it. And if they are a part of gang culture then it's hard to leave your neighborhood and start over, there are certain areas they can never live in because there WILL be a problem if a rival gang finds out about it.
Everybody likes to try to blame hip hop for the trouble in urban culture, and now Chief Keef is becoming the poster-child for what's wrong with Chicago. But let me clue you in... it's not just young people who listen to Chief Keef who are being killed in my city. People of all ages die over street violence. It's an ongoing thing that has been an issue in Chicago for decades. I don't know why the rest of the country is shocked by this, because we sure aren't. That is why I was not so impressed with President Obama's video message urging people in Chicago to stop the violence. I mean... how many gang-banging street dudes ACTUALLY heard it?
You can't change anything here by saying "stop the violence." You have to stop the unemployment, stop the crackhead parents who make it so kids have to raise themselves, stop the segregation that everybody keeps ignoring, stop the shittier schools in poorer neighborhoods, stop treating teachers like they should do more work for less money. I don't know how to solve these problems, they have been going on longer than I have been alive and I know that I am too young to understand why. I didn't even understand what it meant to feel safe until I moved outta the hood, and I am still getting used to it. Much of my family still live in some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. I rarely visit. I see how much worse it is there than the uppity area where I live now, and it makes me angry. But I am not so far removed from the hood that I don't take offense when people say that Chicago is going crazy right now, like we are just wild animals who aren't just reacting to the cards we've been dealt. For many of us, that craziness is all we know. And to most of you, our struggle is nothing but entertainment.