“We’re in the Windy City, Chicago, home of deep dish pizza, the Bears, and the highest murder rate in America,” goes the opening line to Chiraq, Noisey’s new eight-part documentary on Chicago and its burgeoning music scene, the first episode of which premiered earlier today. “Chicago is also the home to drill music, brand new rap made by teenagers about killing people.”
If the music hadn’t already caught your attention, an opening line like that will; it doubles as an immediate attention-grabber and the main reason why two documentaries surfaced this month surrounding Chicago’s embattled streets and the violent, high-energy music scene that has emerged from it. Both The Field, a 40-minute doc produced by WorldStarHipHop that debuted January 7, and Chiraq delve into the streets of Chicago by going straight to the source of that energy: namely, artists such as Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Reese and Young Chop, four of the biggest names in the drill music scene that have pushed their sound from the four-block radius where they grew up into a national phenomenon while living with the daily threat of violence that comes with growing up in neighborhoods consumed by gang violence.
“These kids live in this position: their lives are on the line, they’re very talented, they have great rhyme skills as far as putting songs together,” says Q Worldstar, executive producer of The Field. ”I feel that there is a better light for them if they continue to work hard and keep the negative away, but it’s hard when you live in those conditions.”
The documentaries don’t shy from those conditions. The opening episode of Chiraq tells, in part, the story of eighteen-year-old Lil Jojo, a rapper who was murdered on the street hours after uploading a video showing him taunting Lil Reese from a car; two of the rappers interviewed for The Field, L’A Capone (17 years old) and J-Money (21 years old), both associates of Lil Durk, were murdered before the documentary was finished. “Durk and those guys, they were really born into this environment where all they know is that their arch-rivals are a couple blocks away and that’s what they have to deal with right now,” says Mandon Lovett, director of The Field. ”They know the history, but the history doesn’t really affect the dangers that they experience on a daily basis. They’re just worried about getting through the day and getting to the next day.”
“The title Chiraq was bestowed upon us by the artists; I didn’t come up with that,” says Andy Capper, director of Chiraq, talking about the city’s nickname which has been embraced and promoted by just about every artist in the scene. ”There’s a lot of talk about guns and gangs out there, and that makes them feel like they’re in Iraq… I don’t think it’s glamorous; does anybody think that Iraq is glamorous? You must be pretty crazy to think that.”
As the media and the record industry have descended upon the scene, stars are being molded and alarm bells have started ringing; Durk and Reese have signed deals with Def Jam, Keef has gone with Interscope and Young Chop signed on the dotted line for Warner Bros., while much of the violence and poverty continues. The Field spends a significant amount of time highlighting Rhymefest and the CeaseFire organization—one of the local community groups trying to help inner city kids—as they attempt to channel the anger and hopelessness of the streets towards positive projects. Chiraq shines a light on many of the different aspects of the music scene that are not getting as much attention as Keef and the GBE boys, such as the SaveMoney clique, which hates the term “Chiraq,” and the rap groups emerging from the Gangster Disciples, the rival gang to Keef and Durk’s Black Disciples.
Taken together, the two documentaries provide a full view of the city and its many issues, scenes and systemic failures. In separate interviews, XXL spoke to directors Capper and Lovett and The Field executive producer Q to find out what they learned while making these documentaries and where the city might be headed next. —Dan Rys (@danrys)