"Chi-raq" is a loaded word, isn't it? The term, made popular by the Chicago rap scene in 2012 (but most likely hit mainstream consciousness in Kanye West's "Black Skinhead") and the name of Nicki Minaj's newest track, is a byproduct of the nation's obsession with Chicago's ridiculously high number of homicides. The term generally produces two reactions: disgust and pride.
Outsiders—Chicagoans who don't experience the almost routine murders—are disgusted. They are aghast at exposing this music to the rest of the country. They shudder at every mention of Chief Keef or when a "hip" media brand sends a horde of dweebs to "document" the city's street culture. True, Chi-raq and the culture that created it shouldn't be celebrated. Granny always told me to make sure the house was clean before inviting someone over.
But Granny wanted a clean house because it actually reflected her lifestyle. The fetishization of Chicago's murders and poverty—and the art from which it is created—isn't going to stop until we stop the factors that lead to it ... but you knew that already, didn't you?
And where some people are disgusted, others have a sick sense of pride about the whole thing. When I say "pride," I mean the kind usually reserved for rabid sports fans who end up on the news for killing someone just because they wore a Packers jersey. It's that same kind of detachment, hopelessness and loss of identity that literally bleeds into our streets. Chi-raq makes Chicago tough.
Nicki Minaj's new "Chi-raq" shows she is one of those rabid folks, at least when it comes to making a buck.
On the track, she spits trademark venom and throws a huge alley-oop to Chicago's Lil' Herb, a 18-year-old newcomer with a lot of potential. (FakeShoreDrive compiled his best material here. I'm partial to the "4 Minutes of Hell" series myself.) I'm seriously happy for him. This is a strong look and I hope it helps position him to craft a full record.
But for Minaj, this is a "cred grab" if I've ever seen one. It's like she was thinking, "Oh, you're telling me that people are messing with these young dudes outta Chicago? Bet then, I'm going to get with that wave. It's business, not personal."
I truly believe that Nicki Minaj has no interest in perpetuating behavior that leads to death and destruction, but she's getting paid. A check is a check is a check. If you can bolster your street cred and general unfuckwittable-ness while giving a young dude some shine, then why is everyone mad?
I reside somewhere between disgust and pride. I'm cynical that anything will change, but hopeful all the same that it will—if only because of the embarrassment the city feels for failing to stop the violence. And I'm seriously happy the lil' homies get a look that may get them out of those situations. It's a tough dance to do, but that's life in Chi-raq these days, ain't it?
Listen to Minaj and Herb's "Chi-raq" below.
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