Anybody who watches the news knows that Chicago, Illinois is under attack. It’s a domestic terrorism, of sorts. It’s streets have become war zones, & apparently no one is off limits.
I, like many other Americans, read report after report on how & why the violence has gotten so out of hand, but not long after that, get bombarded with another story pertaining to another senseless murder in the streets of Chicago. The same type of senseless murder that took the life of Derrion Albert in 2009.
Violence is a way of life. This is impossible to ignore or avoid. However, when homicides in one city jump as much as 38% in six months, this “way of life” begins to infect the environment, setting off a chain of events that will take years & lots of monies to reverse.
Chicago is in the public eye right now, both in the rap universe & in the scrutiny-filled free world, due to it’s recent outbreak of activity. I caught up with emcee Tree, a Chi-Town native & Hip Hop representative, to get a firsthand glimpse on just what the hell is happening in the middle of the country.
& not for nothing, but Bernie Mac is probably spinning in his grave in utter shame right now.
Tony Grands: How long have you been in Chicago?
Tree: I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, 28 years and counting.
Tony Grands: What’s the Hip Hop/Rap scene like in Chicago? Clubs, underground spots, Hip Hop shops, etc?
Tree: The rap scene in chicago is both funny and intriguing. It’s funny in a way that, nowadays, at a hip hop show on the south side of chicago (where all the murders happen), you’ll find an A&R from atlantic or Def Jam mingling in the crowd. Walkin’ down the street just hoping to find the next Chief Keef or the next Tree because at this point in time, if you’re from Chicago and you rap, labels are definitely investigating and giving you a listen. It’s intriguing because if you fit into those qualifications, you could possibly be signed or at last courted by a label. And as we all know, Chicago has been more of the flyover state when it comes to rap music. Labels built superstars from the west coast then went to the east and even the south. And even with the few artist that did make it out (Kanye West, Common, Lupe, Do or Die, etc.) you would think that labels might have given not only Chicago, but the midwest a real chance by now… But they haven’t. They didn’t until a 16 year old boy from the south side of Chicago got locked up for shooting at the cops, who just happens to rap.
Clothing stores, shops, etc. are what they’ve always been. They were all we had when no one was here listening. They let us put our mixtapes and posters in their windows. Gave us clothes so we looked good in them videos. Chicago rap scene is definitely funny and intriguing.
Tony Grands: How would you describe the sound? It seems to vary, from Common to you to Twista to Lil’ Mouse, is there a specific style of music that defines your city?
Tree: People forget that Chicago is dead set in the middle of the country. You can walk into a barbershop and hear an argument over rappers and in this argument you’ll hear Scarface, Snoop, Nas, Big, Pac, Boosie, Wayne, Drake, Kanye. Or just listening to the radio, you’ll hear people from all over, which is uncommon in other parts of the country. I know, I lived in Atlanta and they’d play Gucci, Jeezy, Future, and Rick Ross all day. That’s who lands in their top ten. In Chicago, they play everybody’s shit, so we’ve absorbed every sound. Chicago is the melting pot. There is no specific sound for our region because our region represents America in its entirety. We are the heart of America.
Tony Grands: Speaking of America, what do you think about kids like Mouse & Chief Keef rapping about guns, bitches, & drugs? Especially given what the news is reporting about Chicago.
Tree: There is no positive music unless it’s gospel. When Rhianna makes a song called “Cake,” do we say she’s influencing young girls to have sex? No. When Eminem says shit about “Kim,” do we say he’s promoting domestic violence? No. And does age matter? I did more illegal and immoral shit in a month as a kid then I’ve done in my entire adult life. That’s what makes us adults. Furthermore, people listen to music to get something out of it, like livin’ a fantasy or dream. And are we forgetting the fact that around the world, most rebellion groups or illegal factions are almost always numbered or entirely made up of “the youth.” In my life, in the Cabrini Green projects, the young kids were always the one’s with the guns who did the shootings. The youth sell the drugs.
To answer your question—I say “Preach!” Tell the world how badly your political oppressors have held you down. Be it the poor school systems, the colonization, or the constant patrol of poor blacks since the beginning of time. Do we need to talk about how guns and drugs get into our neighborhoods?
Tony Grands: Have you been personally affected by what’s going on?
Tree: Luckily I haven’t, aside from a few of the guys going in and comin’ out on drug charges or whatever, but that’s part of growing up. You separate yourself from that bullshit and from the people who are on that bullshit, that can get you involved in that bullshit.
Tony Grands: The media can say anything it wants about statistics & economy, but what’s your opinion on why Chicago has virtually exploded?
Tree: Chicago is a fuckin’ war zone right now because – and I hate to admit it, but – they locked up ALL the leaders. You had gangs in Chicago that were 30,000 men deep, who were mostly all well disciplined, who followed orders from the top or a governing branch of some sort, and at their request could say, “OK. No more shooting in the Englewood area.” Or at the same time say, “Kill everybody outside,” and it would be done accordingly, depending on the situation. Laws stood firm that way in Chicago since the takeover, which was the point when the Black Panthers lost their dominance and your neighborhood street gangs took over their own neighborhoods. [That's a] Fact, if you didn’t know.
So, to answer your question, Chicago is shit now because of law enforcement trying to help out. At that time, people and alderman alike all begged for help in the communities from what they thought was an out of control problem. I guarantee you they all feel like shit now.
Your federal government is to blame. Blame the outsiders who came into the black fold with or without good intentions to cleanse what was then a gang enterprise-ridden city, but what we now know was social structure that we – as a black race – have had since slave days; a hierarchy and hidden authority structure controlled the community.
Tony Grands: If you were Rahm Emanuel, what would be the first thing you’d do to get things under control?
Tree: It starts with the gangs. A gang can either promote violence and force havoc on its residents or they can protect and support their own citizens and neighborhoods.
You must remember every gangbanger, killer, dope dealer, whore, or cop has family. I don’t know one person alive that doesn’t care about the well being of their own. So with that being said, you have to work with the gangs. You have to work with the gangs, and that’s a policy America as a whole doesn’t covet. They’re gonna always be gangs, cliques, or posse’s, that’s the nature of man. To alienate, disregard or not respect any group is just asking for opposition or defiance. That’s where that divide comes in. We fightin’ each other, the cops wanna lock us up, so we hidin’ duckin’ from them, hidin’ duckin’ from the other gangs. Instinctively we hate the cops ’cause they make it that much harder for us to protect ourselves from the other gangs & to feed our kids with these drugs we sell.
And lets be honest, the cops aren’t here to help us. They never stop and say “Hey, how are the kids?” They’re rude, they’re speeding down our streets, damn near running our kids over, chasing our brothers, cousins, and fathers through gangways, beating on us for running, shooting and killing us in dark alleys because they have the opportunity to at that time. Yes, we may have had a gun but that was because them niggas down the street be coming through shooting all the time. And every black person knows its like an unspoken law or rule — you don’t shoot no police! I don’t believe them when the police always say the suspect pointed a gun at them.
But you got to go in these neighborhoods and mediate conflict. Police need customer service and urban environment awareness training and you definitely have to find a way to relate with these people. You learn their likes and dislikes and adapt to ‘em. You have to!
Tony Grands: Is it possible to ever bring peace to inner cities across America?
Tree: Yes… Give the felons jobs! As soon as they get out. As part of their probation, give ‘em a $10- $15/hr job so they can feed and cloth their families. 80% of all drug dealers don’t even make $15/hr on the streets, and that’s a horrible fact.
America spent $700 billion on defense in 2011. There are 2.5 million felons in the USA, including it’s island territories. If America used the money it spends on wars and bombs it would have enough money to give each and every felon here $280,000 apiece in the form of rehab, housing, employment, education, or what have you. If you could help provide an income for all the criminals to live well and support their families then who would do the crime? This is an almost unseeable resolution with the powers that be, but it is a proposed solution.
Now, how could I, a rapper from the projects of Chicago, Illinois just give a mock resolution to America’s urban and inner city ills within 15 minutes and a wikipedia page open to google the facts but our political officers can’t? And they actually get paid to…
Words by Tony Grands