The all-mighty internet is all abuzz with young Chicago MCs–YouTube videos are racking up views, blogs dig for new tracks, and the record deals are starting to reach the city’s south and west side ‘hoods. We take a look at three of these artists by checking out a single from each:
Chief Keef – “I Don’t Like”
For the past week here in Chicago, literally–and I mean literally literally–every time I’ve heard a rap song from passing cars or apartment windows, it’s been Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” (featuring Lil’ Reese, discussed below). The song contains little lyrical complexity:
A snitch nigga that’s that shit I don’t like, nah
A bitch nigga that’s that shit I don’t like, nah
Sneak dissers that’s that shit I don’t like
But the track is undeniably and unbelievably catchy, the hook superb, and Keef’s natural flow impeccable.
The terrifying part, however, is the sentiment–gratuitous AKs sound in the song’s early stages, gunshots mark the beat, a sampled “bang” worked into the production. Keef isn’t hiding the punishment for shit he doesn’t like. That notion takes on new life in a city marred by violence with over 200 murders to date in 2012. And as the terrific documentary The Interrupters shows, that violence is frighteningly prevalent with young people.
But here’s the kicker: Keef is a 16 year old who served a house arrest sentence at his grandma’s house for aiming a gun at a cop. Suddenly the gun-centric production seems worlds away from “Paper Planes“, Keef’s raw talent fading behind the sociological trauma disclosed in the track. The shockingly stereotyped movie trailer voice over introductions to every song on Keef’s mixtape–Back From the Dead— somehow seem prescient here as more obstacles arise in front of Keef’s music.
Nonetheless, Kanye just remixed “I Don’t Like” and Keef’s pull is increasing daily. Of course, Keef is straight forward about the fact he doesn’t write clever rhymes, opting instead for realness and that flow. In all its glory and terror, Keef is Chicago in the new decade.
Lil Reese – “Haters”
Lil Reese takes center stage on his solo material with the same relaxed staccato, anti-Bone Thugs style he demonstrated on “I Don’t Like”. But production-wise, he raps here over an elaborate sampling of R. Kelly courtesy of Dibent. The combination lends a new iteration of Keef’s Chicago style–familiar to the streets it stems from, but with its eyes on something further away. Reese puts it well:
Me and the hood together forever like Will and Jada
And of course he still pushes the 3Hunna crew:
3Hunna, we next
They forever gonna hate us
With the beat selection, his unique stylings, and the sheer fact that his aesthetic isn’t purely hood, Reese demonstrates an earnings potential that seems to far outstrip Keef’s. Backed by his recent Def Jam deal, Reese is the future of Chicago hip-hop, rather than its present.
Curiously, though, he still seems to be unmistakably in second place at the moment. “Haters” marks his move out of Keef’s shadow, pushing himself and his scene down new avenues whose maturity is both refreshing and compelling. It’s with a hint of determination that Reese says
And they say these niggas ain’t hating
It’s Chicago, the mother fuckin’ capital
Lil Durk – “L’s Anthem”
The other rapper–besides Chief Keef–to get a shout out on “Haters” is Lil Durk–another Def Jam signee–whose “L’s Anthem” garnered buzz with a mere 18 second leak. And an anthem is certainly what it’s aiming for: the minute and a half of introductions opening the song, constant shout outs over a three quarter speed beat, wheezing synths, tapping high hats, and ground-shaking drum kicks show Durk’s hopes. Over-used auto-tune, pure pop breakdowns, and the cheesy voice-overs from Back From the Dead complete the picture.
But Durk hasn’t left the streets that made him–he’s just trying to mold them into a radio hit. Like the rest of the Chicago scene, there’s the constant insistence on crew pride, bloodlust, and unrestrained bravado:
Rule the world with ‘em, so fuck ‘em
I’m in the street no duckin’
“L’s Anthem” is Kanye returned home, bringing MTV back to its source and letting epic pop production take hold in Chicago’s west side neighborhoods. And Durk is showing just how successful that might prove to be.