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A critical look at the South-Side of Chicago

Nearly everyone in Chiraq has friends who are now imprisoned, have been shot, or are now six feet in the ground.  This is a place where people shoot bullets with no regard for life, as if it is some type of video game. The brilliant thing about hip-hop is that it has allows for people at the absolute bottom of the socio-economic ladder, those who resort to selling drugs, violent robberies, and gang-banging to provide food, clothing, and shelter to gain riches and notoriety almost overnight through luxurious record contracts and it has also allowed their stories to be told via album releases and, more recently, YouTube. ‘The Third World Inside of America: A critical Look at the Southside of Chicago’ series will examine the social conditions in Chicago using primarily rapper-created lyrics and images coming, rappers in this area who expose the government’s role in maintaining poverty that in turn allows gang-violence to flourish.

Lil JOJO in the Field

First up is now deceased Rapper Lil JOJO who in his ’Shit Is Real’ song stated that “This shit is real in the field. So I keep the steel. You throw up a L you see how it feel.” Lil JOJO belonged to ‘BRICKSQUAD,’ a faction of the Gangsta Disciples. When he discussed being ‘in the field’ he is referring to selling drugs, being in enemy territory and partaking in the various activities typical of street organizations.  ‘To keep the steel” is to have a gun on you at all times, ready to preform hits if you are confronted by rival gang bangers.

The last line is very interesting, as Chief Keef and Lil Reese often begin their songs stating “Ls up.” This is them vocalizing their gang sign which represents the Lamron Faction of the Black Disciples. Both Black Disciples and Gangsta Disciples go to war over drug territory, but many of the recent shootings have been retaliatory.  In this song, Lil JOJO threatens those who put up Ls, saying that those who dare to put up this sign up will be shot.

In JOJO’s “Put In Work’ track, he further describes his life on a day to day basis, stating that, “I’m counting so much money my fingers hurt. Shooting all these guns now my fingers hurt. You better duck ‘cause these shells hurt… Gang-BANG doing hits.” Indeed, the picture to the left shows LIL JOJO with a wad of cash and the other shows him with automatic weapons. As a participant in the illegal economy, black youth often bring in fast money – but that money comes at a price; through violence gangs must use to defend their enterprise. If anyone attempts to encroach on their territory, they are forced to carry out ‘hits’. To do a hit means to shoot and kill rival streets organizations.  As black youth becomes accustomed to the street market, competition is not carried out in the form of price cuts and ad campaigns. Gang members compete over territory to sell their products and services. With no other source of income, protecting ones block or corner becomes a matter of life and death.

The Root Cause of JOJO’s violent Lyrics

There is no doubt that Lil JOJO’s lyrics were outright violent. Yet, we must examine the structural conditions that contributed to these social conditions. JOJO was from Altgeld Gardens, a predominantly African-American housing project that has the majority of its residents living under the poverty-line. This community was originally built for African-American World War II veterans—the Chicago Housing Authority did not want them to reside in whites areas and thus from its inception ‘Altgeld Gardens’ was designed to be a segregated community. Currently, it is among the lowest income communities in America. [1]

 jojoripeAdditionally, The Chicago Housing Authority constructed the housing without adequate plumbing technology and would not even give this community the benefit of regular garbage disposable services.  This community was essentially neglected. Perhaps more appalling and disgusting is the place that the Chicago Housing Authority decided to build this housing project. [2]

Lil Jojo’s community was built in an area surrounded by 53 toxic waste facilities and 90% of the Chicago’s landfills. It was filled with toxins such as ammonia gas, lead, heavy metals, and xylene and stood surrounded by a chemical waste incinerator. The residents of this area have an extremely high rate of children born with brain tumors; an abnormal number of fetuses in the area were aborted because of brains developing outside of the skull. These social conditions the government is directly responsible for lead to the infant mortality rate sky-rocketing, but children fortunate enough to make it teenage years are disproportionately affected by asthma as a direct result of this toxic waste.[3]

Moreover, since the community was essentially neglected, you can rest assured that any opportunities for employment are slim to none.  The majority of these households were female headed and lived below the poverty line with many of these mothers turning to drugs to help ease the pain that they faced every day.  Many mothers work very hard and seek employment but simply cannot provide for their children which in turn lures black youth to the drug economy to be given a chance to have the things that most other elasticities are given at birth—things such as food and clothing.  Black women also face numerous institutional hurdles- Recent studies indicate that Black women only make 63 cents for every dollar that white males make for equal work[4]. Moreover, as a result of indoctrination from the capitalist media, many youth are very materialistic and want the latest clothes (I.E Jordan’s, POLO, etc.). These are all things that lure black youth into the drug economy which in turn leads to vicious gang wars. These drugs wars are all rooted in poverty and gang members feel like “men” when they defend their turf-because they have no real power over the larger social and political system of America.

The older brother of JOJO had this to say “It was a character and just an image that he was giving, because that image is hot. We’re not from the North Side. We’re not from the nice community. We’re from the ’hood. We’re from where mothafuckas are hungry and ain’t got shit and it’s a matter of whether you’re a nigga that do eat or don’t. The nigga that eat do negative things to get it.”[5]

Indeed, his older brother was correct Jimmy Lovine, the CEO of Interscope whom signed Chief Keef to a multi-million dollar contract (JOJO was seeking the same thing), currently owns stocks in various prison corporations. This means he profits off the imprisonment of black youth. The more black youth in jail, the fatter his pockets get.  In jail, many blacks are forced to work for cheap labor—this is essentially a modern form of slavery.

The sad truth is, many blacks live in social conditions where crime is the only way to have the basic necessities of life– thus, these record labels are able to bring talented black youth from rags to riches almost overnight – but the violent nature of their lyrics and their widespread popularity can only contribute to furthering the prison system  as more black youth begin to act our these images.

Lil Reese

Next is Lil Reese, a Chiraq rapper, who is the right hand man of the now imprisoned rapper Chief Keef. He states that:

I lost so many niggas, turned into a savage.

In real life, no movie shit, bitch we clap.

Where I’m from? Chiraq……..

..300 Normal Spelled Backwards.—Lil Reese

 As stated earlier, many people growing up in Chiraq have lost many friends and relatives from the ensuing gang wars. Lil Reese indicates that he too has been affected by this and states that this is reality, not ‘movie shit.’ He’s done this in efforts to distinguish himself from  your typical studio-gangsters who make idle threats and appear ‘thugish’ in rap videos only to go back to their fancy homes after the video shoot to a full refrigerator and comfortable couches in the suburbs. His phrase ‘turned into a savage’ refers to the mentality that many people in his crew have developed from living in such appalling social conditions. A recent study indicates that black youth in Chiraq who are exposed to such violence develop post-traumatic stress disorders comparable to troops returning home from military combat[7]. However, for these youth, this isn’t ‘post-traumatic’ because this violence is a continuous cycle that takes place in their neighborhood everyday. Further, unlike military troops, these youth never receive visits from psychologists to aid them. As Lil Reese stated, “A body getting dropped everyday – this shit is real.”

A body getting dropped refers to people dying from gunshots. The sad truth is that many youth have absolutely nothing to lose within the confides of the current social system. Indeed, when you watch a Lil Reese video, in his hood you’ll see many shirts displaying “R.I.P.” to the names of various friends and “Free”  to the names of various people locked away. Living in such violent social conditions has a profound impact on the psychology of black youth, this is precisely why after Lil JOJO was shot, Chief Keef responded by saying,“HahahahahhahahahahahahahaahhAAHAHAHAHA” #RichNiggaShit “Its Sad Cuz Dat Nigga Jojo Wanted To Be Jus Like Us #LMAO.”

    The Root Cause of Lil Reese’s Violent Lyrics

Both Chief Keef and Lil Reese grew up in Englewood. They would probably be surprised to hear that their now impoverished and violent community was once predominately white and affluent. Moreover, in addition to being mostly white, it was once a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan. As America began to integrate and African-Americans entered deep into the Chicago areas—this once predominately white area began organizing violently against the African-American communities. They then formed a neighborhood associations with slogans like: “America for whites, Africa The Only Place for Niggers.”  They then went on to say “We don’t want them, we don’t want to live with them. I think they’re savages.” While these whites portrayed African-Americans as savages, all the behavior that whites partook in to defend against integration were of that very nature. After a rumor that a house in Englewood was going to be purchased by a black family, whites began to carry out bombings, physical assaults, and arson on black residents for simply trying to live their lives. After putting up posters saying “NEGROES INVADING” a bunch of white racists came together starting the “EngleWood Race Riots of 1949”. As African-Americans continued to move in, “a white plight” took place as whites moved to suburban areas, leaving the black community in absolute turmoil, chaos, and social decay[8].

Now, I’ve constantly heard the argument that goes something like this: “Lil Reese was born in 1993, those riots took place in 1949.” As if it had no effect on him.  White people had the benefit of passing wealth to their children who could then pass it on to their children; they also had the luxury of a stable home and other infrastructure. As a result of these race riots, blacks who were affected   were not given the same opportunities nor has the racist system that has been designed to disenfranchise blacks from employment been abolished. These riots and systemic obstacles left the black community in absolute economic turmoil. The poverty that resulted from it allowed the illegal economy to takeover as the number one employer for black youth. Similarly, when peaceful African-Americans first moved to Englewood, a racist of the white, anti-intergrationist stated that” I think they[Blacks] are savages.” Now, over 30 years later Lil Reese embraces this image, stating that “I lost so many niggas, turned into a savage.” Why  else would Lil JOJO, Chief Keef, and Lil Reese all have lyrics basically equating to “gonna get these guns, and I’mma kill these niggas”? The lyrics resemble the rhetoric of white racists of the past. This is all a result of blacks internalizing hatred and racial stereotypes of the society they live in.

1)http://www.plp.org/challenge/2009/11/13/derrion-albert-is-not-racist-capitalisms-first-or-last-victi.html, Derrion Albert Is Not Racist Capitalism’s First or Last Victim

2) Arnold Richard Hirsch, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960″, University of Chicago,1998,http://books.google.com/books?id=px0PuO7GWhsC&pg=PP1&ots=9I1rYsYyNh&dq=%22Making+the+Second+Ghetto%22+hirsch&sig=IPgKY-xgpCRZwpCsboI_rk0UPgc#PPA18,M1

3)Working Party on Environmental Performance,  http://www.oecd.org/environment/country-reviews/33848718.pdf#page=27

4) http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-affirmative-action, 11 Facts About Affirmative Action

5) Chief Keef and Lil Joj0 http://www.suntimes.com/news/crime/15007423-418/chief-keef-and-lil-jojo-a-rap-feud-straight-outta-englewood.html

6)http://www.sohh.com/2013/01/i_aint_dissing_chief_keef_im_dissing_jim.html,  “I Ain’t Dissing Chief Keef, I’m Dissing Jimmy Iovine”

7)I See Everything Through This Tragedy” February 12, 2012, 11:00 am ET by Alex Kotlowitz http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/interrupters/i-see-everything-through-this-tragedy/

8)Black Literature of Revolutionary Protest from Chicago’s South Side: A Local …

By Michelle Yvonne Gordon,http://books.google.com/books?id=nMwuX6wKz40C&pg=PA199&dq=chicago+englewood&hl=en&sa=X&ei=nqgOUdXxDoH89QTAgIHwCQ&ved=0CEYQ6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=chicago%20englewood&f=false

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  1. Do A Critical Look of the North Side of Milwaukee

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