Nicki Minaj dropped a new track called “Chi-Raq” yesterday. Shaking my head with a sigh was my reaction.
Nicki is getting back to that raw, gritty, protect-your-neck rap that many Hip Hop fans love. Though she has been immensely successful in her crossover to the mainstream pop fans, critics in the Hip Hop community deemed her a “sell-out” for not sticking to rapping (see her beef with Hot 97 for notable example). I think tracks like “Lookin Ass” and”Chi-raq” are Nicki’s attempts at reminding the rap world that she still has #BARS. She’s descending from her throne in Barbie world to drop Monster verses on the peasants who say she fell off.
We believe you Nicki, we know you can still spit. Your lyrical ability (and image, but that’s a whole other debate) is what got you in the game in the first place. Catchy, but cookie-cutter tracks like “Starships” may cause some to forget that at your best, you can body two of rap’s greatest emcees. But naming a song “Chi-Raq” to rekindle your street cred is that shit I don’t like.
That term is like nails on a chalkboard for me, no matter who says it. It reminds of when my father pushed my brother and I to the ground, jumping on us to protect us from a drive-by shooting when we were very young. It reminds of just a few months when I watched a guy chase a friend of my cousin, and try to shoot his head off. It reminds of the high number of teenagers who died because of Chicago’s destructive gang culture over the last decade. I’m tired of that reminder.
Being from the inner Windy City gets you no pass from me either. I don’t want anyone saying it anymore, including the second comings of King Louie, Chief Keef, and Lil’ Herb in Chicago’s streets. But I’m especially not about that life when it comes to people who aren’t from my city calling it that. I don’t care if Nicki Minaj is from the mean streets of Queens, New York and may or may not have gone through similar life experiences as the dreaded-up drillas of Chicago.
The term is not an invite. It’s a mark of shame, not a badge of honor. It isn’t an opportunity for outsiders to engage in some weird form of reappropriation, like hipsters yelling “a Fuck Nigga!” at Chief Keef concerts, or marketing “Chi-raq” t-shirts to suburban kids. I hope the term leaves and never comes back to our collective pop-cultural lexicon. And I won’t help it be gentrified.
It isn’t cool. Standing next to it doesn’t make you tough or hard or a killer or a drilla or a hitta or hood. Although the city is getting better, Chicago is a city with a problem. Kids are killing kids. What is cool about being from a neighborhood where teenagers are not only shooting each other, but innocent bystanders? Why connect yourself to that if your aren’t from there? Why is the logic of drill rappers bringing “awareness” to the plight of the inner-city allowed to justify its exploitation in the music industry?
Chicago is the hot city in the music industry right now, like Atlanta was in the early 2000s, Los Angeles with the emergence of gangsta rap, or how New York comes in and out the spotlight. There’s a lot of room on the drilla bandwagon right now, so Nicki hasn’t been the first and won’t be the last to jump on. As long as the beat knocks , the lyrics are nihilistic, and the bass gets dreads bobbin’, plenty of out-of-Chitown rappers will enlist its up-and-coming drill rappers for tracks. But let’s be clear, this is not me hating on Nicki Minaj. She is a talented beast on the mic. But the Chi-raq references need to stop. Especially if you aren’t from Chicago.
We Out Here,