What made you want to document Chicago?
Q [Executive Producer, The Field]: We figured it’s great to go out there and tell a story about what’s really going down. A lot of media outlets pretty much just show what’s happening, but they don’t show what made that happen, what people are actually going through and talk to the people out there living these streets. We just wanted to tell the true story of it.
Andy Capper [Director, Chiraq]: I’ve always been a hardcore punk kid, and I think the energy of their songs were really attractive to my ears. And then when I looked into why these kids were making music that was so apocalyptic and crazy—when you look into that back story with all that—no one had really delved into that. The movement behind it all.
Mandon Lovett [Director, The Field]: A couple years ago I heard what was going on in Chicago with the drill scene, and I think I saw the Chief Keef “Don’t Like” video. There was something about the energy that came across in that video that made me want to know more about that scene and what was going on in the city.
What were some of the most surprising things you came across while making it?
Q: The people there were graceful, they were happy to be talking in front of the camera, and tell their side of the story. The Rhymefest organization [CeaseFire], that was a big plus to us for giving awareness to his organization. Seeing these people knowing that their life could be shortened at any moment, all carrying straps… It’s like Chiraq, as it’s called. They gotta protect themselves; that’s the mentality, protect themselves.
Andy Capper: I guess how big it is in Chicago. The attention that Durk got while walking down the street, or Young Chop walking down the street, people recognize those kids. People are pretty up front. Not to generalize anyone, but things easily blow up over nothing, so it’s advisable to quickly get everything on the table and sort things through before a little nothing gets blown up into something huge. But yeah, I was surprised by how all the stories you hear about Keef and Fredo and how scary you can look to people, it’s really a separate energy around them, almost like a pop star energy around them.
Mandon Lovett: The biggest surprise to me was how critical the situation is in Chicago with the gang warfare that’s going on right now. When we were filming a lot of the interviews, it was important to us to film them on the street; we didn’t really want to interview artists in a studio, or a typical, behind-the-scenes backdrop. So one thing we noticed was how paranoid the people we were interviewing were. They’re always looking around, always looking over their shoulders, looking over our shoulders; there’s a heightened sense of awareness. You realize how close their rival gangs are to them; they’re only a few blocks away. And you really start to understand the severity of the situation.
Do you think the attention from both the media and the music industry has helped or hurt what’s going on there?
Q: I think it helps, because these kids, that’s what they dream about, getting out of the ‘hood and getting out of that environment. They look at playing sports or being an artist as a way out. Truthfully, I wish education could be their way out and not just the sports or rapper route, but I feel like the education system in not great there, and they feel like their only way out is the shortcut route, which is the entertainment world. I don’t suggest it, but I just feel like it definitely gives them a job, it helps them out, it may help them go back to their communities and help each other out.
Andy Capper: It reminds me of when Snoop and Dre first started, and you had this journalism that came from the street; you’d find out what actually happened in the streets of Long Beach or Compton from Snoop or Dre. And here—while maybe lyrically it’s not as sophisticated as Snoop and them—you’re definitely getting the same kind of journalism from those areas, and you get to find out about the world of Chief Keef, Durk, Fredo. They’re shining a light on the culture there. You can’t single out them in light of the huge systemic problems in Chicago; they’re a reflection of those problems.
Mandon Lovett: It’s interesting, because I think that’s a story that remains to be told. I think it would be interesting to see what Lil Durk raps about three or four years from now, when hopefully he and his family are out of Chicago in a safer place, and who knows what. But it is true that the artists who are gang affiliates use music as a way to communicate. I think that these guys did it this way before the record labels and all the attention came to Chicago, and who knows how long it’s gonna be there.