Chicago, Drillinois: How Long Will It Be Hot?


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Is drill just another stage in the hip hop moment? Will it fade away once it isn’t marketable or is it here to stay?

The general sound of rap music changes every few years, and these changes are often dictated by the popularity of different regional sounds.  New York brought the gritty, rough, chain-snatching punchlines to your boombox. The West Coast supplied the gangsta, funkdafied, “Expletive the Police” rebellious nature rap is known for. Atlanta had the world crankin’ this and dat with monthly dance crazes. But what is Chicago giving the music world? Violence? Nihilism? Realness?

The first track I heard that could be called “drill” was “Everyday” by Chief Keef. The beat knocked, but I didn’t really take Keef or the song seriously. It seemed like a rap caricature of life in the hood; a scene from Chi-town’s version of CB4. Then “Don’t Like” hit the city, and everyone in Chicago was rapping about fake Gucci, shooting niggas, and smokin dope over faux Young Chop beats. Hip hop blogs couldn’t get enough of the drill scene when Kanye and the G.O.O.D Music crew jumped on the bandwagon, and now Nicki Minaj is along for the ride.

It’s weird that the most staunch supporters of the scene look nothing like the dreaded-up drillas from Chicago’s south and west sides. These bloggers and general rap fans vehemently defend that drill artists or their labels aren’t exploiting the violence, death, and nihilistic gang culture that many young men and women of color grow up under. My critiques bounce off their unwillingness to engage in a level of critical thinking that could unsheath some uncomfortable truths about why they like this type of music. The “these kids are just telling their story!” logic is just too easy to fall back on. It’s depressing to think that Chicago’s extremely talented, yet untapped music scene didn’t get notoriety until the city’s implosion was marketed over hard-hitting, bass knocking, minor chord melody beats.

But I have to expose my own hypocrisies in this. I grew up with Tupac, DMX, Do or Die, and Bone Thugs on repeat. I’ve listened to my share of nihilism (even though their music was much more nuanced and emblematic of a very human, vulnerable existential angst).  A musician myself, I put out a mixtape called Geek Drill (my attempt at combining lyricism with more hood type beats). Looking back, I did it for the wrong reasons. I assumed no one would want to listen to my music if I stuck with the conscience raps and hip hop orchestral sound I usually do. Like many of my friends and colleagues aiming for a spot in the rap music business, I felt like I needed to acquiesce to what’s “hot right now” to get seen.

I would never ever buy a Chief Keef or go to his concerts. But I can’t stunt, my body wants to bounce when “Love Sosa” comes on. The beat goes hard, and it momentarily makes me forget he’s calling women bitches and talking about shooting people. I understand that interaction with certain drill songs stems from misplaced pride in being from Chicago, a city I cherish and loathe so much. I have a love and hate relationship with the drill scene and constantly self-reflect my own contradictions.

I’m sure this will be seen as a rant. Hipster bloggers will tear my premises and points to shreds, whether their rebuttals are justified or not. Young kids in Chicago who live in the conditions drill sprung from will call me a hater, someone trying to stop these artists from making money and bettering their lives. Many of them feel like any attack on drill is an attack on them, where they are from, what they went through and are still going through. To be honest, sometimes I do feel that way. It pains me to critique the music of my city. And while I think many of these rappers are being exploited, who am I to say they should pass up millions of dollars?

But I’m tired. I’m tired of hearing news of kids shooting each other down in the streets. I’m tired of having “intellectual” debates with bloggers telling me to enjoy drill and stop thinking up critiques, even though most of these people are extremely  disconnected from the reality these songs describe. My critiques sound convoluted to those who don’t share the experiences of being in multiple drive-bys, or having several high school classmates killed because of gang violence, or seeing a man in a pool of blood on the concrete, or witnessing a teenager chasing another as he fired multiple shots directed as his head. I’m tired of being told that I should enjoy the soundtrack of Chicago’s destruction just because the beats are good.

Rap is rap & Hip Hop is Hip Hop. There will always be room for different stories, narratives, backgrounds, and viewpoints within the music and outside of it. It doesn’t matter if you are from the hood or the suburbs, gangster or geek. But I’m just not about this drill life. I gotta stop expecting more of rap bloggers. I have to stop hoping casual fans will care about my people or my city as much as I do. But I’m not with calling my city Chi-raq…….even if it’s hot right now.

We Out Here,

Josh A

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Categories: Music

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