Industry or In These Streets: When Superstars Meet Chicago's New Rap Scene

Industry or In These Streets: When Superstars Meet Chicago's New Rap SceneChief Keef and Young Jeezy

More and more big artists are reaching out to the region's young hip-hop movement. But is it a good thing?

Written by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)

The release of Lil Reese’s “Us” remix, with guest verses from Rick Ross and Drake, is a major accomplishment for a rapper who not one year ago was rapping with terse desperation in producer DJ Kenn's apartment about friends of his who were murdered.

Reese is a distinctive rapper. Even if he lacks the effortless charisma and musicality of Keef, the urgency of Durk, or the lyricism of King L, his Don’t Like mixtape from earlier this year found the rapper punching above his weight class.

 

Drill music’s vitality as a whole is rooted in the spirit of collaboration.

 

The strength of Don't Like originated in the sense that it came from a collective of artists working in congress. In fact, drill music’s vitality as a whole is rooted in the spirit of collaboration—the sense that a scene with similar mentalities and influences had clearly shaped the sound of the music, making it a distinct phenomenon. The "Us" remix, much like Kanye West's "I Don't Like" remix which came before it, feels like a lateral move—smart from a business perspective, and no doubt a validation for Chicago's artists, but ultimately, not all that interesting for listeners.

Producer/videographer DGainz, who was behind the "I Don't Like" video, sees that kind of collaboration as an important part of the scene's success: "As much as people like to see people get into it [with each other], they like unity more. Young dudes came in and made a statement and they stuck together. People respect loyalty," he says. 

"Traffic,” an obvious highlight from Don’t Like is as much about the restrain of Chop’s lightly shifting production, Keef and Reese’s on-screen chemistry, and Keef’s “Maxima…/...Dracula” verse as it is Reese’s performance.

Similarly, “Beef,” perhaps Don't Like's best song, is so strong because each artist knows their role. Chop’s production is at its most apocalyptic. Reese’s verse goes first; as usual, little of his personality leaks out, his voice a taught, exposed nerve. Lil Durk’s verse transforms its harder lyrics with subtle melodicism. But it’s Fredo Santana—the least technique-oriented in the clique—who best epitomizes the cold heart of the song’s concrete edges. It’s his anti-rap style, the way he anti-rhymes “duckin’ police” with “run up on you with that fuckin’ pipe,” the way he threatens enemies: “Lil Durk know where he stay/He’ll be dead by the next day.” It’s where the song’s spirit lies, in its willingness to let unvarnished brutality trump deftness and dexterity.

 

There’s a strange disconnect when a millionaire pop star or two swoop in and lands a guest spot with an up-and-coming rapper whose national profile is considerably lower.

 

That doesn’t mean that Fredo’s scene-stealing spot on “Beef” could carry through for a full-length project, but it does suggest that the strength of this scene isn't in its individual talents or personalities, but the results of those talents pooled. 

There’s a strange disconnect when a millionaire pop star or two swoop in and lands a guest spot with an up-and-coming rapper whose national profile is considerably lower. Obviously, the main reason for the "Us" remix is that Ross and Reese both fly under the Def Jam flag; Reese is an upstart with a new sound, and Ross is an established name with a wider fan base.

There’s an obvious advantage for both artists. For Reese, it increases awareness. For Ross, he gets to attach himself to a buzzed-about scene and hopefully the aura of unfiltered rough-edged regional rap rubs off on him. From Young Chop's rolling organs to Reese’s chorus, “Us” is one of the stronger songs on Don’t Like, but the musical synergy on the remix is minimal.

Tags: chicago-rap, chief-keef, lil-reese, lil-durk
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