The summer of 2012 saw a drastic uptick in the number of shootings and murders across the city of Chicago, Illinois. While many metropolitan areas, including New York City, have been experiencing historic lows in their homicide and violent crime rates, Chicago saw 532 murders last year, a number higher than troop killings in Afghanistan. And so naturally social theorists, community development officials and urban planners cast about for the root cause of all this violence, hoping to find some explanation for all these seemingly senseless acts.
A map of Chicago’s homicides in 2012
Mostly by coincidence the summer radio airwaves were gripped by a new voice in hip hop, that of teenage rap sensation Chief Keef. The sixteen-year-old’s breakthrough hit “I Don’t Like” features numerous gunshot noises and the percussive annunciation of “bang bang” by Keef and his associates, as he proceeds to list the things he, well, doesn’t like. The question remains whether Chief Keef is merely reflecting the violent environment he grew up in, or whether he is glorifying a violent lifestyle. David Drake and David Turner, writing in Complex Magazine, argue that Keef is a product of his environment, but that his fame carries with it new responsibility:
“His honest indifference to such a brutal environment is what’s made so many fans latch onto in his music. It seems unfair to criticize him for reacting in a way that’s entirely consistent with his background…Keef’s rise from obscurity may have been quick, but he’s now become a face of Chicago’s street culture, with that comes increased accountability.”
Chief Keef, the young rapper whose violent lyrics took the airwaves by storm last summer, is no stranger to Chicago violence, after losing a stepbrother in a shooting in January.
Chief Keef’s immaturity and dark vision of teenage life in the streets should serve as an awakening. As Chicago’s budget crisis leads to consolidation of police resources and the contemporary debate over gun control rages on, Chief Keef makes for an interesting case study, both victim and propagator of cyclical violence.
What role can cultural expression play in exacerbating/improving social problems in a city?
Credit: Images and data linked to sources.