Chicago, one of many cities in the U.S., is going through an intense crisis. There is a visible and obvious disinvestment in its most vulnerable populations. One of the most segregated cities in the country, Chicago is closing over 100 public schools and the city has clocked in an average of more than one murder a day for over a decade. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
From this comes a culture of desensitizing violence and poverty. In the midst of this, a talented and lucky few have been able to flip something out of nothing. The L.E.P. Bogus Boys, Katie Got Bandz, King Louie and maybe most infamously, Chief Keef, have made music careers in no small part based on their environment. Most of this music is not my cup of tea, but there are a few tracks I enjoy, like Keef’s “Citgo,” off his Interscope album Finally Rich.
Still, as infectious as his nonsensical performance is and as good as Young Ravisnu’s cloud-trap beat sounds in my Lincoln, something disturbs me about this particular young man’s situation. I’m genuinely happy that a poor black adolescent from the south side of Chicago, who is already a father, has found a way to escape the vicious environment around him.
What is problematic for me is the way institutions, mostly headed by privileged males, seem to be setting him up to fail, or at least not make the most of his opportunities. Pitchfork, an institution headed mostly by educated, privileged white males, thought it cool to interview him at a gun range while he was on probation. Keef did too, apparently, and the incident landed him back in jail on a probation violation. I ask myself where Interscope was during this and many other media faux-paus the young rapper has committed. I’m left with a dreadful feeling that was first expressed by another rapper from a violently impoverished city: “Don’t Nobody Care About Us.”
So as you jam to “Citgo,” my favorite cut off Keef’s debut LP, ask yourself what roles do the institutions and individuals that profit from many of our lived experiences have in our development. Maybe I’m looking too deeply or being overtly critical, maybe it’s too late to be writing about rap and I’m too sensitive.