I have a love-hate relationship with my city.
While I was in undergrad at the University of Virginia, people would often tell me “Joshua, you rep Chicago too hard!”. For me it was hard not to.
When I first got to VA, I felt extremely isolated and out of place. I ain’t the most hood dude out, but I def was one of the hoodest there. I didn’t dress like them, walk like them; I talked city with a mix of southern drawl in my speech like many black Chicagoans do. They talked either too proper, or too country. I felt disconnected.
I was from the south side of the Chi, while the vast majority of my peers were from the suburbs, country towns, and counties of Virginia. I even brought bad habits from my environment (a lot of my friends were from a particular gang, so they wore red and cocked their hat left. I was never part of a gang, but being around them, I picked up the habit. Had to remind myself a few times that people weren’t in gangs in college lol #FAIL.)
But one thing that helped me retain a sense of identity was letting everyone know that I was from Chicago. It was more than a Bulls shirt, or a Blackhawks hat, or people giving me the hoop nickname “Chi-Town” or “D-Rose” (it was a great conversation starter since for at least the first two years of college, I was the only black male in the entire university hailing from the inner-city of the Chi). Pride in where I come from helped me ease the transition into college life as an out-of-state student. As cliché as it sounds you can’t be comfortable where you’re going unless you know where you’re from.
I’m proud to be from Chicago. I grew up on the south and west sides of the city, and I appreciate all the things I went through growing up, good and bad. Chicago will always be in my heart.
But as I started to pack up my apartment in C-Ville after graduation, the loathing side of my love-hate relationship with Chicago started to rear its ugly head.
For any student fresh out of college, going back home has its downsides: living with your parents, feeling “grown” but not actually being grown, chores (ugh), etc. Leaving C-Ville also meant leaving behind a huge part of my life: my college days. All the friends I was leaving behind, the “study” sessions in (Club) Clemons Library, the parties, chillin wit my Phrat brothers, late night snack runs, the good times, the memories.
Leaving UVA meant leaving many simple things I enjoyed; the slower life of VA as opposed to the hustle-and-bustle of the city; the ability to go to the Aquatic Fitness Center whenever I wanted to play basketball (instead of going to play somewhere that might deny you if you look too “urban”, or on an outside court, in neighborhoods where on the wrong day I might have to box); the safety of the community of scholars and not the danger of being outside my crib at the wrong time.
But not only that, going back home meant I had to go back to the most segregated city on the face of the planet. Back to being around the same people with the same mentalities and values as when I first left for college. It meant I had to go back to the south side.
Ask anyone from Chicago how the city is, and you probably will get one of two kinds of answers. Someone who was born and raised on the north side, their answer is likely to sound like “I love it here. I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else!” If you ask someone from the south side, their reply might sound like “Man……..I just wanna get the f*** outta here!”. Because for the most part, the North side is what you see when you Google “Chicago”. The South side is full of many people who struggle with the Chicagoan-existential dilemma: Do I stay to help/persevere, cherish the positives of my city? Or do it I run from the negativity?
( NOTE: No, I didn’t forget about the East or the West. Just wanted to best convey the dichotomy within the city. And if you are from the north side reading this, I’m not attacking or criticizing my north-sider brothers and sisters. I’m probing a much much broader issue, using location to illustrate my point. There are some BAD neighborhoods on the North side, just like there are GREAT neighborhoods on the South side. And there is violence over the entire city, not just the south/west side. If I accidentally offended anyone’s personal experience, I definitely apologize. It is not my intention, so I hope you understand the ideological work I’m trying to do in this article. Please bare with me).
Neighborhoods, particularly on the south side (and several on the east and west side) of Chicago have erupted in youth violence. With death tolls increasing yearly, more kids have died in Chicago than US troops in Afghanistan. More and more Chicago Public School students have passed from shootings during the course of a school year (and we won’t even get into how the numbers skyrocket as soon as summer hits. In the Chi, some of us welcome the cold).
Too long have news headlines brought me to tears (like the first time my friend showed me the video of Derrion Albert getting beat to death), just like Lupe Fiasco when he saw old footage of himself in his neighborhood with now fallen friends, or our beloved humble superstar and icon Derrick Rose at the unveiling of his new shoe.
This epidemic of killing has left myself and many like me with a deep sense of hopelessness. It’s very difficult to cope with, and many of us just want to get as far away from the violence as we can. The constant RIP Facebook statuses and daily local news reminders are heartbreaking. So now that I’m back home, after I see my family and few friends, to be honest, I just wanna get out of here. Being here can be draining on my spirit (at its low points).
Enter Chief Keef.
The first song I heard from Chief Keef was this song called “Everyday“. I was in VA and one of my friends sent me the song on Facebook. At first I thought it was a joke. The lyrics were………..nevermind, and the 20 dreaded-up drillas bobbin’ up and down seemed like a parody. I never knew the word “nigga” could be rhymed with itself so many times.
But the ratch in me thought the beat knocked pretty good (Chop is a beast). It was the type of music you would never listen to for deep rumination, but you could turn it on while getting ready for a party. It was a “get in my zone” track. Trap music has its place, and I, like all people, enjoy my share of guilty pleasures. Plus I’m at that intermediate age where music can be wack message-wise, but I can still dance to it (I admit that I still fight the urge to turn-up when “Love Sosa” comes on. My willpower lasts all the way until he says “God y’all some broke boys”).
Needless to say, I didn’t really think much about him or the impact of his music, until I came to back home.
I was at the kitchen table when my niece walks by listening to “3 Hunna”. I shook my head. While it may seem hypocritical for me to listen to some of his lyrical garbage over electrifying beats but not liking it when she does, I am a whole lot better equipped to distinguish it from music with real substance. My age and musical taste allows me to know way more alternatives.
Kids her age listen to the radio and watch music videos for the vast majority of their new music intake, unlike young adults like me in the blog-surfing generation. For the most part, only artists with pop relevance like Chief Keef are what they regularly listen to (if you need an example of how I know this, I once asked her who Erykah Badu was and she didn’t remember. But she can recite Nicki Minaj songs verbatim, because that is what the radio plays). A few days later, I heard my little cousin bumpin “Monster”, lip-syncing “Never trust a bitch, shit you gotta watch em“. Skip to later in the week, when another one of my teenage cousins scrolled through my iPod and asked “Who all these people? You got some Chief Keef?”.
This was the day I would have never expected to see. The face of the City of Wind; the hottest rapper or artist in Chi-town wouldn’t be Yeezy, or Common, or Twista, or Do or Die, or Lupe Fiasco, or Naledge, or Mikkey Halsted, or Kids These Days, or Chance The Rapper, or Rockie Fresh, or Sir Michael Rocks, or Shawnna, or Add-2, etc.
It’s Chief Keef.
This is who Chicago picked to show the world our talent?
But I wasn’t dreaming. One “I Dont Like” G.O.O.D Music Remix, and a multi-million dollar publishing deal (with his own Beats By Dre headphone line and movie deal) later, and I was in shock (BANG BANG!).
Fast forward the tape.
Lupe Fiasco was quoted in an interview, saying “Chief Keef scares me. Not him specifically, but the culture that he represents.”
Chief Keef felt that Lupe was dissing him, and tweeted, “lupe fiasco a hoe ass nigga And wen I see him I’ma smack him like the lil bitch he is #300“.
My first reaction to this was again, ambivalence. It was a mixture of sadness and disappointment. A smh and a sigh. The smh was at the ignorance of the response; that this was the way he felt he had to handle his perceived defamation. I cringed at the thought of youth in Chicago and in the rest of the country who are supportive of Chief Keef, who might revel in this type retaliation and view it as justified. I winced at the thought of suburban kid entertained by this “real niggatry”, while their parents utter their justifiable, but nuance-lacking disapproval in a dismissive “…..Niggas (Niggers)”.
The sigh was in the fact that though his reply seems irrational, how can you not expect him to react this way? I agree with 50 Cent when he said “Chief Keef is only going to respond to Lupe as ‘why is he talkin about me?’ ” You can only expect that method of retaliation from a kid that young, from that environment, who (whether it is true or not) feels he has nothing in common with a person like Lupe.
A kid from his background doesn’t understand what Lupe meant; that it was not a direct attack on him, but an indirect attack on the system that would give a 17-yr old kid who only raps about guns, his distrust for new niggas, fuckin’ b*tches, and smokin dope millions of dollars. How can you even blame Chief Keef for his lyrical content? That is all he knows.
Fast forward the tape a little more.
South side rapper Lil Jojo was shot and killed on Sept 3. His death is believed to be linked to his beef with one of Chief Keef’s affiliates, Lil’ Reese, although to my knowledge, no real evidence of this has been found. Jojo had previously posted YouTube videos saying that he was BDK (for people not from Chicago, this is a diss towards the Chicago gang Black Disciple Nation. Replacing the “N” for “nation” and adding a “K” for “killer” to the moniker of any gang is a huge gesture of disrespect to that gang. It’s saying you will kill anyone who is in that gang) and that he was going to kill Lil’ Reese and Chief Keef.
Chief Keef responded to JoJo’s death with a resounding “LMAO”. He tried to deny the situation by saying his account was hacked, though I contend that “his” denial tweets were clearly written by his publicists
Twitter exploded. Personally, I was both saddened and infuriated at his response. Irate because even if someone is your “enemy”, to laugh at their death is the ultimate disrespect, to them and their loved ones. But also sad, because Jojo’s death was senseless, solved nothing, and Chief Keef probably doesn’t or wouldn’t see anything wrong with laughing at someone else’s death. Many people called for a boycott of him and for Interscope to drop him from the label, which for both right (all saints have a past, all sinners have a future) and wrong reasons (the label has too much money invested to pull out) won’t happen.
Fast forward some more.
Instagram shut down Chief Keef’s personal account because he posted a photo of him receiving a sexual act by a girl.
He said that his IG account was hacked as well……………..
Chief Keef is the embodiment of my ambivalence towards the home I love.
He is a success story of a kid, from one of the worst neighborhoods in the Chi, who got a multi-million dollar record deal, all from making YouTube rap videos at his grandma’s crib. He is proof that even from the bottom, you can still ascend from misfortune. No matter what it looks like, we all love a rags-to-riches story.
Despite some of the negative message in his lyrics, he likely has provided a spark for some inner city youth to get off the streets and into the studio. No matter what he does that we view as negative, he is serving as a blessing to someone. Now it seems like every kid in Chicago wants to be a rapper, and whether they are good or not might not matter. At least they are off the streets and are being productive.
And he is bringing long overdue attention to a city with probably the most untapped musical potential in the country. This attention can help artists like Add-2, Chance The Rapper, or Kids These Days to one day get signed to major deals.
He’s from my city. Our city.
But on the other hand, he sadly has become the new poster boy for every single thing I loathe about the media, record labels, and pop culture. Record labels are exploiting not only his image, but the mass of violence in our city. As soon as he is irrelevant, they will cash their checks and yell “Kobe!” as they toss him in the trash. And no other rappers will say he’s wack, has limited talent, or speak out against him because they either might be affiliated with the same label or don’t want to be tagged as a “hater” (side-eye).
He is a rope in the tug-o-war sociological debate in this country when it comes to the plight of minorities: should we implore each citizen to take personal responsibility for their own life (even in the absence of a level playing-field, which is a whole other possibility vs. probability debate), or should we try to fix a system that gives some less benefits and more hardships (a system in which if minorities ask for help, some will say they are lazy, asking for handouts, or have a “sense of entitlement”)?
He is the symbol of the pimping of the negative aspects within the black community without prognosticating why they are there. He is the portrait of white America’s infatuation with narrow aspects of the black community, most specifically, its implosion; a picture that is commodified, if and when it becomes profitable, but is met with apathy and disdain when it is the controversial topic of social discourse that investigates its causes and effects. He is the quintessential example of the notion that vice is a “black value”, even though the vast majority of people who own record labels, buy music, and attend concerts are not, in fact, not black.
He is a new chapter in the declension narrative of hip hop; a reminder that there might not be any more College Dropout’s, Carter II’s, Illmatic’s, Miseducation’s, Food & Liquor’s, Below the Heavens’, etc. Artists like him are the progenitors of this new wave of (in the words of Naledge) “Nigga nigga……nigga nigga……add a hook” trap rap that saturates the airways. They are the benefactors of mainstream radio that keeps non-socially conscious music in perpetual rotation, but wouldn’t play “Murder For Excellence” (not even in Chicago!). They are the product of a segregated city that seems to care far less about some parts while others are flourishing; swept under the rug to keep the Chi as Google-appropriate as possible.
Artists like him have an image that makes people in city pray for some kind of hope. We love Derrick Rose and everything that he represents, but he isn’t enough to change the culture here. And while it is very unfair to throw the weight of Chicago on Yeezy’s shoulders, we would love for him to be more salient in these issues (Where Are You Yeezy?)
And most of all, Keef is just a kid.
He’s a kid from my city who seems to value all the wrong things in life, because life seems to not place any value on people like him. He’s like so many of us in this world who don’t even realize how much we are truly blessed, because we are so affected by the times in which we were cursed……..
My heart breaks knowing that instead of reading this article as me criticizing a system that made Chief Keef and using his story as an example, too many people will see this as me attacking him. Some will hypocritically applaud me for it, like a man who casts the first stone; like somehow he is the biggest problem and cause of the rest of the problems in the city, which is the epitome of ignorance to think. Others will retaliate against me, a person they think is a weak-minded, young, “educated” snob attacking a kid, and a city for not knowing any better, which I’m not.
I just have a love-hate relationship with Chicago.
“Bittersweet……..you’re gonna be the death of me. I don’t want you, but I need you. I love you and hate you at the very same time” – Kanye West & John Mayer
RIP to all the lives taken by violence across the nation, and here in Chicago.
God Bless the Youth. Save Our Students.
We Out Here,
Josh A (follow me @iRockJoshA)