Tag Archives: chicago

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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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Snake Eyes” by Daniel Hodgman

Photo Credit: ipoll.com

Photo Credit: ipoll.com

This is Bonus Cut Poetry, a series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at bonuscut@gmail.com

This installment features Bonus Cut’s
own Daniel Hodgman.

Snake Eyes
By: Daniel Hodgman

Gleaming hat in one hand and cream in the other
How many pieces must I drain to build my hotels?
Your cold metallic cars rust
On a belt no longer worthy of any man’s attention.
Your iron
Firmly brims with confidence
But it doesn’t hold to my boot
Pressed on your throat.
Your dogs howl
While rats scavenge
On the lost souls frozen over by my intoxicating winds.
Your shoes tread
Laceless
With material better suited to hang those
South of the loop.
And the freighters in the distance
Further prove
Your ship has long sailed away.

I charge for parking
Because nothing in life is free
And don’t bet your bottom dollar I’ll provide a community chest.
Give me all the railroads.
We’re in Chicago aren’t we?
You kick and scream
But I won’t hear it over the roll of my dye
While my eyes gleam as green
As the turbulent waters in March.
I’m the player, the banker, and a Parker Brother in jest.
I am the cyclical system
And you traverse my square.
I make you watch your back
So long as no one protects your front.
I beckon you over
Watching
As you fall off the boardwalk.

 

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Album of the Week: “Food & Liquor” by Lupe Fiasco

foodandliquor

Daniel’s Thought

If you can compare an artist’s debut album with any other debut album out there, Lupe Fiasco would be somewhere near what Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder did as Little Brother with Listening, or what El-P did with Fantastic Damage. These records weren’t necessarily five-mic classics, but they were a nice change from the ordinary, further pushing the hip-hop sphere of sound. With Food & Liquor, Lupe comes from Chicago’s west side to throw a variety of songs that tackle serious topics hidden underneath slippery wordplay.

The title of Lupe’s debut is a definitive way to look at life’s constant battles, with good (food) always battling evil (liquor). On “American Terrorist,” he discusses America’s history of terrorist activity (“Don’t give the black man food/ Give red man liquor“), while “Hurt Me Soul” tackles Lupe’s own struggle with hip-hop and its patriarchal stronghold. With these strong themes and topics, Lupe makes it a mission to articulate them through his own artistic vision, relaying a tangling maze of rhythm, rhymes and a clear cadence. “Kick, Push” rocks the stereo with quick-cutting rhymes about growing up, and “Sunshine” chronicles a first date under a sheath of extended metaphors and interchanging rhyming bars (“Never met her before/ But I think I like her like a metaphor/ It’s hard to get”).

Creativity dominates Food & Liquor, but there’s also a clear and straightforward message of positivity here, and with what seems to be of little effort, Lupe Fiasco delivers on his debut.

Gus’ Thought

Most people first encountered Lupe Fiasco’s high-pitched flow when he declared, “guess who’s on third?/ Lupe steal like Lupin the third” on Kanye West’s classic “Touch The Sky.” A year later, the Chicago MC would drop his debut record, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, and take the hip-hop world by storm. Food & Liquor is the perfect blend of personal reflection and larger social commentary, that reveals another side to hip-hop in Chicago that can be compared to the legends such as Common or Kanye in a new-age type of way.

Right from the get-go, Ayesha Jaco recites a poem layered with the sound of cars zooming by and the endless banter of men and women. It feels as though you are standing on a Chicago corner, taking in every detail. This is because Jaco illustrates the history, way of life and energy of the city corner, while also setting us up for the main idea behind much of the record. The final lines of the poem are:

“The days of Malcolm and Martin have ended/ Our hope has descended and off to the side/ Waiting for the re-installment of the revolution/ Because we are dying at the cost of our own pollution/ But God has another solution, that has evolved from the hood/ I present one who turns, the FIASCO to good.”

From there Lupe recites the opening lines to the Qu’ran and begins to tell his story in album form.

Many things make Food & Liquor a worthwhile album. For me, there are two specific aspects that make it great. First, the illustrative wordplay is engaging and makes you hang onto every syllable for fear of missing something. On the fifth track “I Gotcha,” Lupe spits:

My perfume pursued them everywhere that they went/ You don’t want a loan leave my cologne alone/ It’s a little too strong for you to be putting on/ Trust me I say this justly/ I went from musty to musky and y’all can’t mush me/ I warn y’all cornballs I Hush Puppies.”

I’m obviously not going to sit here and claim that these are the most socially “conscious” bars of all time. However, in this case, that’s not the point. Lupe demonstrates how words can be used to creatively diss people without even reverting to easy-to-use cuss words. This is just one example and there are many more throughout on tracks such as “Sunshine,” “He Say She Say” and “The Cool.”

The second aspect to this album that is great goes with the first. Through his lyrics, Lupe presents himself as a multifaceted MC that can speak to many different, and equally important topics. His Muslim faith is a huge part of his identity and you hear that. “Kick, Push,” is a commentary on boyhood, individuality, skate culture and love. “American Terrorist” problematizes the history of imperialism in the United States. On the ninth track, “Daydreamin,’” Lupe satirizes gangsta-rap culture while also shining a light on conditions in the hood. If you watch or read interviews by Lupe Fiasco, he is someone that has much to say and is known to be outspoken on a lot of different issues. As his debut album, Food & Liquor serves as an introduction into some of these thoughts and opinions as he seamlessly transitions over the course of sixteen tracks.

As an MC, Lupe reminds us of the power of words. Featured guests such as Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Gemini and Matthew Santos drop in, adding lyrical and vocal accents to the already intact work. With production from Kanye West, Prolyfic, Soundtrakk and The Neptunes, the beats add the final layer to all that has been said, sung and recited. Lupe Fiasco is referred to as an influential figure in hip-hop because of what he has done and continues to do within the culture. He has a way of mixing satire and criticism that is hard to come by. On his debut album, Lupe Fiasco’s The Food & Liquor, you can hear where some of that comes from.

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Return of the G’s: Why Everyone Should See OutKast Before It’s Too Late

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Photo credit: diffuser.fm

By: Daniel Hodgman

Writer’s note: I would not have been able to experience this performance and reflect on it without the generosity and overall goodness of my close friend Marites. For that, I dedicate this piece to her.

“Some say we’re pro-black, but we professional. We missed a lot of church, so the music is our confessional” -Big Boi on “Aquemini”

In January, when 2014 was still a youngling, Andre 3000 and Big Boi came out of the woodwork, settled whatever differences they had and declared to the world that OutKast was back. When it was announced, it felt like a belated holiday present, kind of like that late gift your Uncle Stu sends in mid-January. The difference is that this announcement was better than any gift card you could have wrestled out of your mailbox. From the very get-go, this tour was meticulously plotted out (OutKast would settle on 40 festivals and events for the year) and triumphantly shared among critics and peers alike. More importantly however is that along with other anniversaries in hip-hop—among them, Nas’ Illmatic and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising—the return of OutKast reinforced the stern fact that although hip-hop has changed and continues to change, the golden era legends never go away and are surely never forgotten.

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Hip-Hop Pipelines: The Glaring Connection Between Commercial Rap and the Private Prison Industrial Complex

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By: Daniel Hodgman

“We may be 5 percent of the world’s pop but, we 25 percent of the world’s locked up.” -MC Invincible

It’s common belief that the music industry has fully manipulated mainstream hip-hop to glorify violence, drug use, misogyny and materialism. Save for a few select artists in this realm, the music industry’s initiative is quite clear: suppress the music with merit, ethics and substance; support the music that brings in money. This so-called rule of thumb regarding the music industry is nothing new. The book Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business, which was published in 1990, discusses how businesses place profit over ethics, with a stern example focusing on most of the country’s radio station rotations, and how records are bought and paid for by promoters, not the fans. Another saddening example Hit Men points out is that songs become hits primarily because an individual or corporation paid for it to happen, not because of consumer preference. That aside, unless you were unaware before, now you can see that the gangly fingers of the music business have more influence in music than we can ever imagine. But that’s what I would like you to do real quickly: imagine. Imagine something horrifying. Imagine something bleak. Imagine something where the music industry, major label stockholders and private prison owners all profit, while suppressing and incarcerating a population of people in the process. Imagine for me, not the school-to-prison-pipeline (although this devastating catastrophe is another thing we as a nation need to terminate), but rather some sort of commercial rap-to-prison pipeline. Imagination it seems, may not be needed, because the connection between mainstream rap labels and the private prison industrial complex seems to be coming full-circle.

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An Emotional Night of Hip-Hop’s Finest: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib at The Metro

freddie-gibbs-and-madlib

By: Daniel Hodgman

It was around 7pm on Friday when I found myself walking along Addison Street in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood when I stopped at the Clark Street junction. In front of me, basking in the city’s aura, was Wrigley Field. The bright red lights had seized me, and for a couple of minutes I was in complete awe. Being new in a city is something I’ve experienced before, but I feel it’s a completely different circumstance for cities like Chicago. There are so many landmarks, and so many spacious areas to explore, and maybe in due time I’ll pass by without even stopping to steal a glance, but that night I had to take it all in. I was starstruck, and boy was I about to be starstruck all night.

Taking a left on Clark, I quickly hopped in line at the Metro, one of Chicago’s patented music venues, and as I stood there in a complete haze, I had no idea what was about to rush over me. On the Metro’s large venue sign in the front it simply read: 3/7/14 Freddie Gibbs & Madlib.

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