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

Prison_Industrial_Complex_hands-on-bars11_1

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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Casting Call: Bonus Cut Goes Game of Thrones

thrones

By: Harry Jadun

Contains spoilers. I REPEAT, CONTAINS SPOILERS.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

Like the rest of the world, Bonus Cut has caught Game of Thrones (which I will affectionately refer to as GoT from here on out) fever. We can’t get enough of it, and not only because it’s an awesome show, but because it reminds us of the hip-hop scene in which artists battle to sit atop hip-hop’s subjective, imaginary “Iron Throne”. Instead of using catapults and swords however, artists use lyrical jabs, metaphors and wordplay in order to kill the opposition.

So here at Bonus Cut, we decided to play make-believe for a little bit (bear with us here): In our imaginary world where one doesn’t have to wait seven days in between each GoT episode, every actor who plays a character in GoT became deathly ill and couldn’t finish filming the series. Naturally, HBO hired Bonus Cut to recast the show with one condition: each character must be a rapper. So we did our job, and it turned out beautifully.

Sidenote: I would like to personally apologize beforehand for not casting anyone as Tyrion Lannister, I just don’t think anyone’s that perfect. Sorry

Lil Wayne as Aerys II Targaryen (The Mad King)

Like Aerys II Targaryen, Lil Wayne sat on the throne. After Tha Carter II up until Tha Carter III, Weezy spewed out mixtape after mixtape of pure brilliance. His spot atop the throne was damn near undisputed and the hype around the release of The Carter III was unprecedented, and it lived up to the hype. Afterwards, however, nothing was the same. Even though his albums have sold, he has never gotten back to the pre-Carter III level. Also, instead of mumbling about burning people, Wayne can’t get off the topic of eating pussy. There are many theories as to what happened (I would suggest reading Amos Barshad’s article), but one thing is for sure: Lil Wayne is not the same rapper he once was. He hasn’t quite died off yet, as there were glimpses of hope on I Am Not a Human Being II, but hip-hop’s Mad King is not in good shape.

Kanye West as King Joffrey Baratheon

Abrasive, narcissistic, arrogant. All three of these words can describe King Joffrey. All three of these words can describe Kanye West. Kanye, like Joffrey, finds a way to piss everyone (and I mean everyone) off at one point or another. From “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” to “Yo, Taylor I’m really happy for you. I’m gonna let you finish, but…” Kanye has never been afraid to let people know what’s on his mind. He even dissed his mentor and tutor, Jay-Z, recently at a concert for going on tour with Justin Timberlake. However, each and every one of his albums has been an instant classic, and everything he does, from Kim to his clothing, impacts the rap game in one way or another. So no matter how much you hate him, he’s still the king. The same goes for King Joffrey, who has been loathed since episode two when he gets Sansa’s direwolf executed. He personally gives me the urge to throw my remote at the TV whenever he appears, but he’s still the king.

50 Cent as Ned Stark

Ned Stark is one of the more respectable characters in GoT. He is a good father who is also a role model for his kids. 50 Cent is respected in the same way, a hip-hop artist and business man who started from nothing and rose to the top of the rap game in the early 2000’s. Like Ned Stark, whose presence still lingers in GoT, many of today’s hip-hop artists try to imitate Fitty’s mixture of gangster rap and club bangers to achieve success. Also, when Ned Stark stood up to King Joffrey, his head got chopped off. When 50 Cent stood up to Kanye his music career’s metaphorical head got chopped off. Wait, I casted King Joffrey as Kanye West? Wow, I see what I did there…

A$AP Rocky as Robb Stark

Both of these characters are young, handsome and fashionable upstarts from the North looking to take the Throne by any means necessary. Robb Stark had to find his own way, learning to be a leader on the job without his father’s guidance. A$AP Rocky took a similar path, as he took the world by storm with his unique, geography-blurring voice on his successful Live. Love. A$AP mixtapeGoing from nothing to something from a matter of months (and receiving a multi-million dollar record deal) would seem to pose problems for most, but A$AP and the rest of his crew have played their cards right so far, not unlike Robb Stark up until last episode. Here’s to hoping they don’t suffer the same fate, as A$AP seems like he has a lot more left in the tank. *Muffled cries from the realization that Robb will never behead Joffrey and take the throne with Talisa at his side*

Jay Z as Tywin Lannister

Tywin might not be the official King of the realm, but his influence and wealth forces everyone to respect him as such. Every move that he makes is a power move, from the strategic positioning of his troops to the puzzle-piece marriages of his sons and daughters. He instills fear into those around him because of what he might do if they start actin’ up. From head to toe, Tywin is a straight boss. The same can be said about Jay-Z, who has parlayed his success as a rapper into becoming something more: an icon. From meetings with the president to trying his hand as a sports agent, Jay-Z is never satisfied and always looking for ways to expand his empire and increase his stranglehold atop the game.

Kendrick Lamar as Daenerys Targaryen

Readers, I hope you can get over the fact that Kendrick’s a male and Daenerys is a female. Daenerys is one of the most lovable and powerful characters on the show. Kendrick Lamar is one of the most lovable and powerful hip-hop artists on the planet right now. What’s not to love about a throwback artist who tells it like it is? Truthfully, Kendrick is the last of a dying breed. His ability to spit fire is remarkably similar to Daenerys’ dragons, and his last two releases, Section.80 and Good Kid, M.A.A.D City were timeless classics. We’re waiting for Daenerys’ dragons to grow, and we’re waiting for Kendrick’s next album (which will surely be another classic). For both, it only seems like a matter of time before they’re both sitting on their Iron Throne.

Dr. Dre as Jorah Mormont

It’s been a while since Dr. Dre released any music. However, he’s still omnipresent in hip-hop culture today. Whether it be his Beats, which are commonplace in the wardrobes of athletes and hip-hop artists, or his Aftermath records, which has signed many great artists, Dre finds a way to impact the game without a significant release in the last decade. His role within hip-hop culture is similar to that of Jorah Mormont’s in GoT. Jorah has been there and done that. A knight and former advisor to Robert Baratheon, Jorah (Dre) uses his wisdom and experience in order to help Daenerys (Kendrick) in her quest to bring the Targaryen house back into power. Wait… that worked out perfectly!

Chief Keef as Hodor

Honestly, Hodor should be insulted I’m stooping him to Chief Keef’s level. However, Chief Keef’s inability to come up with anything remotely close to an intelligent thought at any point in his life is comparable to Hodor. Here’s how I (and you should) feel after listening to his music:

He constantly brags about gang violence. He laughed when his rival Lil Jojo was murdered in a gang affiliated shooting. He was arrested for shooting at a cop. He posted a picture of himself getting a blowjob on Instagram. Sosa makes stupid mistake after stupid mistake. Hopefully he turns out like Gucci Mane, who overstayed his 15 minutes of fame (we were laughing at you Gucci, not with you) and eventually faded away due to his constant run-ins with the law. Or maybe we can find a warg that gets into his mind and puts him to sleep. Sosa, just shut your mouth and say “Hodor”. The world will be a better place.

Drake as Jamie Lannister

The pretty boys of their respective realms, both of these guys are the targets of macho men. What else would expect when you’re suave, handsome and “25 sittin’ on 25 mill?” Jamie Lannister gets yelled at Brienne of Tarth for crying when his arm gets cut off, Aubrey gets flack because he doesn’t fit the mold of your typical “gangster rapper”. Jamie’s known as the Kingslayer, Drake has overshadowed his fellow labelmate and the Mad King of the hip-hop realm for the past couple years. Both guys come from privelage. You get the point.

Rick Ross as Robert Baratheon

Honestly, these two just look the same. Both are big and fat and have beards, but other than that they have nothing in common. The only thing Officer Ricky has been a king of is your local shopping mall’s food court. Moving on…

Lil B Fans as the Unsullied

Have you read the YouTube comments for Lil B’s videos? He has a cult following that is unmatched in today’s hip-hop world. Sure, Unsullied didn’t flinch when Kraznys cut off his nipple, but there’s no doubt in my mind that some Lil B fans would do the same (or worse) for the Based God. Seriously.

The Houses

House Targaryen—80’s and 90’s Rappers

Throughout GoT, we hear stories of the Targaryens, who ruled the realm long ago and kept powerful dragons as pets. Throughout my generation’s lifetime, we have heard stories of powerful rappers of the 80’s and 90’s that could spit fire themselves. Both of these groups were extremely powerful and influential, and as time goes on their legend only grows larger and larger. Both of these are a endangered species, as more and more Gucci Manes and Waka Flockas pop up daily while Kendrick Lamar’s and ScHoolboy Q’s are few and far between.

Local, Independent and Underground Hip Hop artists as the Brotherhood without Banners

The Brotherhood without Banners mission is to protect the innocent and vulnerable from being victimized by the major houses. For all the glitz and glammer that the Lannister’s possess, there is ten times as much poverty and hunger in the streets. Underground hip-hop artists serve a similar purpose within the culture: when mainstream artists are too much to handle, they give hip-hop heads legitimate, quality music to listen to. For every ignorant Chief Keef or 2 Chainz song on the radio, there is an equal and opposite Immortal Technique or Joey Bada$$ joint. Both are the unsung heroes of their respective worlds, giving us reprieve from the powers that be.

House Lannister—G.O.O.D. Music

The undisputed kings of the rap game right now, even with the recent departure of Kid Cudi. Kanye West leads this all-star cast that is deep with notable names, such as Big Sean, Common, Pusha T and Q-Tip. Cruel Summer was one of the most hyped releases of last summer, and Yeezus is going be that big, if not bigger this summer. Many have challenged GOOD, but they weren’t good enough. The Lannisters can relate, as time after time they deny lower houses who try to take their title as the top house in the Realm. Nobody’s messin with either of these cliques.

Young Money as the House Reyne

Remember when Margaery tried to butter up Cersei and Cersei bitched her out?

That house she threatened to turn the Tyrells into was the House Reyne. They tried steppin’ to the Lannisters and got massacred. The same happened to Young Money when they went toe to toe with G.O.O.D. Music. At first it seemed like a competition, but then Wayne fell off and they started getting desperate. Things are not looking good for Young Money, who are pretty much left with: Drake (very respectable artist, arguably one of the top), a Lil Wayne that is a shell of his former self and Nicki Minaj. Nope, that’s not enough to take down G.O.O.D.

House Tyrell—Maybach Music Group

Both the Tyrell’s and Maybach Music Group are carefully crafting their way to the top of their respective games. The Tyrells did so by playing their cards right through marriage. Maybach Music Group has used key signings (such as Wale, Meek Mill and French Montana) while simultaneously releasing very successful mixtapes/albums (Ambition, Dreams and Nightmares and Teflon Don to name a few) to elevate their status. Soon they might have enough to challenge G.O.O.D. Music, but it will probably take a couple more quality artists and releases before it’s possible. Maybe they need to get an awesome mother figure like Olenna Tyrell. She’s the perfect grandmother.

And that concludes the Bonus Cut Game of Thrones casting call. Do you agree with this? Disagree? Comments? Questions? Concerns? Let us know below! 

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