Monthly Archives: February 2015

Hip-Hop Theory: Why It’s Important to Understand Drill (Part One)

via Consequence of Sound

Chief Keef via Consequence of Sound

By: Daniel Hodgman

Chief Keef (Keith Cozart) burst onto the scene in 2012 as one of Chicago hip-hop’s premier figures conspicuously driven by a new emerging sound. At the time, Keef was an Internet sensation from the Englewood neighborhood and a product of hip-hop’s swelling and congealing drill scene. Defined by dark nihilistic trap-influenced production and auto-tuned verses recapping the daily on Chicago’s streets, Chief Keef and the drill scene as a whole not only took the Southside of Chicago by storm, but hip-hop as well. By 2013, Keef was part of XXL’s Freshman Class, signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad Records, and on his 18th birthday he released the highly anticipated Bang, Pt. 2 mixtape, further pushing his name and influence around the spectrum. Other artists from this scene such as Fredo Santana, Lil Herb, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, King Louie, and Young Chop, have walked similar paths, and as of 2015, drill still stands as a major Chicago staple that has attracted the likes of Kanye West, Common, and Drake, while major labels continue to poach these Windy City artists for contracts.

With everything drill brings, there’s a lot of controversy behind the sub-genre, and it isn’t all that complicated. The scene itself is greatly defined by rough and raw lyricism that casts a dark and violent shadow on the listener. The subject matter stretches from hitting enemies in the streets to rapping about “bitches” and “thots” to glorifying murder and living a gritty lifestyle. The production that backs these artists takes from the new-wave trap-scene that made artists like Gucci Mane and T.I. successful. And although drill beats are usually slower in tempo, playing almost like a sub-genre to trap itself, there are 808s and southern sounds there as well to draw a clear relation. Mix this with the deadpan and auto-tuned lyricism of these artists and you now have a unique mixture on your hands, something that not everyone stands for. Local Chicago rapper Rhymefest was quoted as saying, drill is “the theme music to murder.”

On “’Til I Meet Selena,” King Louie raps about “riding around like Rambo”:

“Niggas ain’t nothing/ They just talking shit up/ Catch ‘em while he walking/ Now they chalking shit up/ Get your ass a motherfucking candle, memorial/ Put ‘em on that motherfucking table, cut em open, autopsy/ T-shirt R.I.P.”

If you look at hip-hop’s recent past, it’s clear that it has gravitated away from the gangsta rap characteristics that legends N.W.A. and Scarface grasped and relayed to the public so well. With Chicago’s drill scene, we now have this new-age gangsta rap sub-genre, with a completely different sound somehow trying to have the same takeaway as hip-hop’s past. With that you have to ask: does Chicago’s drill scene merely reinforce negative hip-hop stereotypes? Or does it reflect the voices of these neighborhoods and accurately portray America’s ongoing problem with segregation, social, and political injustice?

A couple of years ago (2012), Chicago rapper Joseph “Lil Jojo” Coleman, who was only 18, was shot and killed in Chicago. He was a drill artist, but also one that was feuding with Chief Keef. After the news of Lil Jojo’s death, Keef took to twitter in a joking manner: “Its Sad Cuz Dat Nigga Jojo Wanted To Be Jus Like Us #LMAO.”

This event prompted even more heads to turn, and the drill backlash was gaining steam. Hip-hop critic Henry Adaso went as far as to call Keef “garbage wrapped in human skin,” and there were police investigations linking Keef and his crew to Lil Jojo’s death. Compounded on all of this was the name association game, which quickly spread. With mentions of Chief Keef, drill, or even Chicago hip-hop, people from around the hip-hop world looked at this with anger, often ignoring the genre altogether. But with all of this, people missed the bigger picture.

It’s not that hard to look at drill and raise your hand, object, and walk away. In fact, as a hip-hop head still growing up and learning the whole enchilada, this is what I initially did myself. If you look at drill’s deadpan, often mumbled bars of violence and hatred without metaphor, you could deduce that the repetitive nature of such music is careless and without meaning. To the casual listener, you could throw on a down-tempo trap beat and some lyrics that spray about “pistol toting” (“I Don’t Like” –Chief Keef) and dismiss it. In fact, that would be the easy and normal thing to do. But past the surface it’s important for not just detractors, but all of hip-hop, to look at drill from an introspective standpoint, and where it comes from, because there is a direct correlation between drill music and where Chicago stands in the hot bed of America.

As with any city, Chicago takes pride in identity and self-worth. It’s strong here though, and just like cities such as Detroit and Oakland, Chicago manifests itself in a “power to the people” attitude. Of the thousands of labels, record heads, Kanye West’s, and big wigs crawling back to Chicago to pick up and sign Chief Keef or Lil Herb, none of them were loyal to the artists before the local Chicagoans. This included a mixture of children relaying the lyrics in the halls of Chicago Public Schools, to the kids on the corner, hoping one day to brand themselves like their idols and escape a plight they never asked for. In the neighborhoods where drill originated (Southlawn, Englewood, Gresham) and the neighborhoods under similar circumstances, drill isn’t so much an anthem for murder, but rather an anthem for their communities. Tremaine “Tree” Johnson is a rapper from Englewood, and although he isn’t directly tied to the drill scene, he takes note of its popularity, especially when talking about Chief Keef.

“He looks like us, he sounds like us, and his lingo is what we say and how we talk.”

It’s with this swelling appreciation and connectedness to identity that has Southside teenagers gravitating towards drill, but is that enough to justify its position in hip-hop?

The imagery and content for one is still a standalone case for shutting the genre down in its entirety. But if you look at the actual artists coming from this scene, they’re simply figureheads resonating with a growing population of Chicago suffering from the city’s social and political issues that continue to keep these certain communities down and out. If you look at why school kids in Englewood are blasting Lil Durk, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that to them Lil Durk is simply one of them, someone who has and is still suffering from the growing systemic issues surrounding this city?

The counterpoint to this would be that drill helps influence the city’s violence. Many have even considered drill to be the main proponent. And although drill has pushed the term “Chiraq,” there’s a reason to look past this. First, Chicago’s history of violence stands long before drill was even a thought. If you want to count statistics, just look at Chicago’s murder rate now compared to the 90s. When Chief Keef was born in 1995, Chicago accounted for 828 murders. In 2014, the rate was at 432 (what’s hidden behind these statistics is that the homicides in Chicago are happening more frequently within certain neighborhoods, which is becoming more of a problem). The open-and-shut case however is this: before the emergence of Chief Keef and drill, Chicago’s murder rates were for the most part ignored by outsiders and the city’s dwellers alike. However, with the rise of these artists from the drill scene, people are taking notice. It may not be in the brightest sense that drill is being the target for this, but without it, there would never have been a spike in national awareness regarding Chicago’s ongoing problem with violence.

On Lil Herb’s “4 Minutes Of Hell, Part 4,” we can see how drill’s artists resonate with something bigger than just the music. With a tone that bombards louder than the usual drill artist, over a beat that supplements more than just an 808 kick, Lil Herb goes off:

“I’m from the jungle, lions apes and gorillas, lions the police/ Nigga we the apes and gorillas, go ape and gorilla/ Boy, don’t turn your face on a killer/ Fuck the system man, we going back to racism nigga/ Look, the department suffer from fake-ism nigga/ Black police try not to notice, like they ain’t killing niggas and hate killing niggas/ Seen a million bodies, I done shed a thousand tears/ Niggas just turn thousandaires, been selling rocks a thousand years.”

With thunderous force, Lil Herb continues, reflecting on where he is (“posted on that curb, boy”), what could come of him and his surroundings (“it’s a lot of times when I know I coulda been threw in a hearse”), and his direct response to the situation he’s been put in (“so I’m dropping 4s in my soda everytime I’m through with a verse”).

More than most, “4 Minutes Of Hell, Part 4” is drill’s shove-it to the critics and outsiders. It’s no more a throwaway track than it is a window to the looking glass on some of Chicago’s ignored neighborhoods. “And I won’t let that finish me,” Herb catches on the aforementioned track. “Cause I got too much energy.”

Whether you condone the violent and volatile nature of drill, or look at it from a lens that dismisses the very notion of it, there’s no denying the genre’s identity and place within Chicago and its ongoing evolution in the hip-hop sphere. What may be “garbage wrapped in human skin” to some is the daily life and grind for others, a small testament to those who don’t have a chance to share it over the airwaves. And despite drill’s push on negative stereotypes, such as the term “Chiraq” and gang violence, at the very core its music is a representation of those alienated and ignored by this country. Whereas news outlets would rather report about these neighborhoods from outside city lines, drill artists are there living it, and their music is the prompt.

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Experiments in Hip-Hop: Rock ‘n’ Hop

800px-MC_Ride_of_Death_Grips_in_2012

By: Justin Cook

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of emcees take inspiration from Rock ‘n’ Roll. Sprouting from Delta Blues, pioneered by artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Rock ‘n’ Roll revolutionized American music throughout the 50’s and 60’s. Much like hip-hop, Rock music began primarily in Black communities until appropriated by White artists, the most famous being Elvis Presley, which allowed it to spread around the globe. But the parallels do not stop there: bravado, rebellion, and the struggle, find themselves at the core of these two genres. In this installment of “Experiments in Hip-Hop”, I will highlight some artists that are blurring the boundaries between hip-hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll to create a new, and dare I say revolutionary, sound.

1.) Death Grips

Death Grips is fucking insane, absolutely wild. They truly channel the Spirit of Not-Giving-a-Single-Fuck. Led by MC Ride, and backed by the legendary Zach Hill on drums, Death Grips sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before; they are hip-hop meets noise-rock meets industrial meets drone meets a static apocalypse. This is a combination of genres I never thought could come together. But somehow, Death Grips manages to pull it off—or at least, they manage to most of the time. You definitely have to be in the right mood to bump, or more appropriately, to blast their albums. This is not your everyday, sit and listen hip-hop; this is stretching the sonic boundaries of a genre that is, for the most part, musically accessible. Add this with their general “Fuck You” attitude toward the record industry (I’m thinking No Love Deep Web), and you begin to understand the chaos, and beauty, that is Death Grips.

2.) Rage Against the Machine

There’s no way I can talk about Rock inspired hip-hop without giving praise to Rage Against the Machine. They are one of the first, and arguably one of the best, bands to ever blend these two genres. They are angry. Political. Radical. And their music has so much force, so much power, you can almost feel the Institution slowly crumbling to dust; it shakes the very foundation of American society. Lead by Chicano front man Zach de la Rocha, who is connected with several left-wing movements, such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, Rage Against the Machine aligns themselves with the likes of other political hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy, Dead Prez, and Immortal Technique. But, unlike these more traditional artists, Rage makes use of live instrumentation to create what some call “metal rap” or “heavy funk.” With the combination of their politically charged lyrics, their monstrous riffs, and their absolutely raw sound, Rage Against the Machine, and their message, will echo throughout the ages.

3.) dälek

dälek (pronounced ‘Die-a-leck’) is a hip-hop duo comprised of MC dälek, who takes care of all the vocals, and Oktopus, the producer and live DJ. Their sound is dark, brooding, noisy, and atmospheric, with undertones of post-rock and shoegaze; at times, it doesn’t even sound like you’re listening to hip-hop music. Some have even argued that dälek shouldn’t be classified as such because of their experimental production. But then MC dälek comes in, with an almost spoken-word delivery, to drop some knowledge, and you just vibe with it. His lyrics are often cryptic but revolve around radical themes quite similar to the likes of Death Grips and Rage Against the Machine; they touch on the political, the spiritual, and everywhere in between. Despite the criticisms, MC dälek has confidently stated that they are hip-hop “in the purest sense” since the culture is “all about digging in different crates and finding different sounds, and finding different influences to create [beats from].” I whole-heartedly agree and dig dälek’s experimental tendencies, both sonically and lyrically.

4.) Gangrene

Gangrene is composed of The Alchemist and Oh No, two are my favorite producers in the game right now. They pride themselves on making the weirdest, psychedelic hip-hop you’ve even heard, which is appropriate given the title of their two biggest singles: “Take Drugs” and “Vodka & Ayahuasca”. For those of you who are unfamiliar, ayahuasca is an herbal brew that is used by indigenous peoples across South America for spiritual purposes; the main active ingredient in ayahuasca is dimethyltryptamine, which has been deemed “The Spirit Molecule” by psychonauts and scientists alike. Though they sample riffs from a wide range of music, their beats are strongly influenced by Rock ‘n’ Roll and blues. At times, their music can be quite heavy, and noisy for that matter, as if they were channeling the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. On top of their unique production, Gangrene always recruits great-featured artists, such as Kool G Rap, Raekwon, Prodigy, and Guilty Simpson. Definitely a unique duo reimagining the boundaries between hip-hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

5.) Why?

Another project of the prolific Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf (of cLOUDDEAD and Hymie’s Basement). Why? stands at the forefront of indie rock hip-hop. Unlike the artists mentioned above, Why? tends to be less heavy; they definitely draw more influence from folk music as opposed to traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll. Regardless, they still have a unique, and refreshing, sound that redefines what is and isn’t hip-hop. They are poppy, but not too poppy; they are goofy, but still have an unapologetic rawness. Plus, Yoni is one hell of an emcee. His lyrics are packed full of honesty, as well as, beautiful imagery and wordplay. I guarantee he’ll impress even the most traditional hip-hop heads with his odd, almost deadpan, delivery and curious observations. Why? definitely takes hip-hop in a different direction than most, but with an open mind, and a close ear, they will surprise you their sound again and again.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Digby, 1” by Abby Conklin

Biogradska_suma

Digby, 1
By: Abby Conklin 

In my dream,
we are racing along the side
of a dark green edge
of the basin, past where
the scrawny salmon fisheries
have left their rubber crowns,
drifting,
on the salt surface.
The ferry comes through the gut
from the Fundy, between
rocks’ steep gray scales.
Quiet is different, here- only
the ship’s moan of the horn hangs
in the air. As if here, there is never
too much space for the not human.
While the United States exerts
every measurable force against
the wiles of nature, the Canadian
government,
people,
its very national flesh,
have calmly consented to being
cowed by the Earth.
“Don’t mind us,” say the standard-shift
cars, as they bend between swells
of lands carved, in turn, by glacier,
wind,
and time. Erosion,
in its purist form, without pollution
or loggings’ getting involved.
No, here, it makes sense
that water, coupled with sharp
winter air, would rinse layer after layer
from the skeleton that is the land,
until it is nakedly shivering
against its own flat self, as the ferry
slips between, and we run on
towards home.

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The Starting Five – Our J Dilla Favorites

jdilla_0

In honor of the late great J Dilla’s birthday (February 7th), we wanted to share our favorite Dilla cuts.

Gus’ Picks

Daniel’s Picks

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Album of the Week: “Section.80” by Kendrick Lamar

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Daniel’s Thought

There was a manuscript I wrote to a friend about four months ago that documented Kendrick Lamar and how Section.80 is his superior record. Much to the chagrin of those good kid, m.A.A.d. city reps–and let’s be honest, it’s a near flawless record–I wanted to compare the two records on two characteristics: concept and writing. While gkmc weaves unmistakable perfection with regards to storytelling, fueled intensely by production that’s just as poetic as the lyrics K-Dot so effortless swings, Section.80 is the arc where we as outsiders can see where gkmc got all of its swag. This isn’t to say that gkmc isn’t original, but it’s very clear that the record is an evolved form of its counterpart. Where do you think Kobe Bryant learned his patented fadeaway? Why Michael Jordan of course. Basketball analogies aside, looking at Kendrick’s two powerful albums–although let’s not forget Overly Dedicated stands the test of time as well–good kid, m.A.A.d. city sits on the conceptual throne of storytelling, but there’s no denying that Kendrick took that from Section.80, a record that offers the best writing in his repertoire.

On “Ronald Reagan Era,” a track that paints the setting of Compton after the 80s crack epidemic, we can see Kendrick lather his lines with free expression that lacked in spots on gkmc. Because conceptual themes can sometimes limit what comes out on a page, the writing of gkmc doesn’t see ALL of Kendrick Lamar. On the flipside, what Section.80 lacks in a clear-cut thematic skeleton, it more than makes up for it in the writing. In the first verse we see K-Dot curve his metaphors to a T, without sacrificing detail and imagery:

“You ain’t heard nothin’ harder since Daddy Kane/ Take it in vain Vicodins couldn’t ease the pain/ Lightning bolts hit your body, you thought it rained/ Not a cloud in sight, just the shit that I write/ Strong enough to stand in front of a travellin’ freight train, are you trained?”

Towards the lower torso of the song, Kendrick continues with this delivery, more so now reflecting the song’s overall theme with the same interwoven writing style he presents in the first verse:

“I’m driving on E with no license or registration/ Heart racin’, racin’ past Johnny because he’s racist/ 1987, the children of Ronald Reagan/ Raked the leaves off your front porch with a machine blowtorch/ He blowin’ on stress, hopin’ to ease the stress/ He copping some blow, hopin’ that it can stretch.”

Over a calming beat that lays out to feature the lyricism, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” is a difficult narrative that comments on prostitution, the women behind the industry, and the damage it does to these women. More than anything, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” helps show why people have to do such things: “And Lord knows she’s beautiful/ Lord knows the usuals, leaving her body sore/ She take little change she make to fix her nail cuticles/ Lipstick is suitable to make you fiend for more/ She play Mr. Shakur, that’s her favorite rapper/ Bumping “Brenda’s Got a Baby” while a pervert yelling at her/ And she capture features of a woman, but only 17/ The 7 cars start honking, she start running like Flo-Jo/ Don’t care if they Joe Blow/ If they got money to blow a blow job is a sure go/ And sure enough don’t see a dime of dirty dollars/ She give all to her daddy but she don’t know her father, that’s ironic.”

While Section.80 follows the story of Keisha and Tammy and the children of the 80s, its overarching themes of urban decay, the War on Drugs, death, the new-age Civil Rights Movement, and innocence lost dominate the record. Compared to gkmc, Section.80’s conceptual timeline isn’t quite as solid, but the writing is more commandeering, something that is important in the long run. Take Section.80 for a wider view of where Kendrick Lamar is coming from, and if you can see that, then you can appreciate everything that Section.80 has to offer and more.

Gus’ Thoughts

Over the past five years, Kendrick Lamar has been a front-runner in hip-hop. While the latest trends seemingly dominate the “mainstream,” the Compton native has created his own lane while still enjoying commercial success. The beats he rhymes over are banging, and he’s a superb storyteller. Amongst his contemporaries, few can match Kenrick’s mastery of the concept album. This is true of good kid, m.A.A.d city, his 2012 effort that truly put him on the map. We’re hearing this again on his two recent cuts, “i” and “The Blacker The Berry,” that seem to be leading up to a new record in 2015. With all of this in mind, revisiting his studio album debut, Section.80, reminds us where Kendrick was when he first came onto the scene and that his success is not a fluke.

Using the story of two girls, Keisha and Tammy, Section.80 is a vivid narrative that follows the life-arc of those born in the late 80’s, before the internet was readily available. Now those babies are twenty-somethings, engrossed in a technological world. Kendrick’s debut is not a celebration. Instead, Section.80 is a dark reflection on race, death, rape, drug abuse and being young. “A.D.H.D.” is about instant gratification and the use of prescription narcotics to get high. “Ronald Reagan Era” is about the lingering effects of the crack epidemic during the 80’s. “Kush & Corinthians” blurs the lines between morality and justice. The gut-wrenching “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” takes us into Keisha’s life as a prostitute, the sexual abuse she suffered as a young child and her untimely death. To close out the album is the undeniably powerful “HiiiPower,” that is fueled by the lasting influence of the Civil Rights Movement, and how millennials are making sense of it.

With production and guest appearances from Willie B, J. Cole, Terrace Martin, Wyldfyer, BJ The Chicago Kid, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, Section.80 delivers musically as well as thematically. When an artist is topping the charts, it usually involves that artist giving up a certain amount of creative control. From the outside looking in, it seems as though Kendrick Lamar has yet to do that. This is definitely true of Section.80, an album with a powerful story and a lot to say. When you listen to a record such as Section.80, it’s very hard to be surprised at any of the success Kendrick Lamar has enjoyed over his career thus far.

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