Drill Rap and Frustrations of The Urban Black Poor




Chicago Rapper Lil Marc Killed Days After Releasing Music Video Mocking Rival Gang

  Drill Rap, taken from the Chicago colloquial term to ‘Drill’, means to carry out a shooting against a rival gang. Drill Rap is used by rival African-American gangs such as the Black Disciples, Black Stones, and Gangster Disciples to issue lethal threats at one another and boast of their weapon arsenal. The storytelling prevalent in drill rap, hip-hop musical genre that emerged in Chicago’s impoverished Black communities on the South Side demonstrates how: structural racism continues to produce bleak opportunities for Black social, political, and economic advancement. 

Video imagery of drill artists often contains young Black men brandishing automatic weapons with lyrics that contain messages of rebelliousness, lawlessness and defiance of authority.  It is common to see drill artists diss deceased members of rival gangs, use military style weapons brandished casually in videos and for drill artists to be gunned down shortly after the release of diss songs. What distinguishes drill rap from the many other genres within hip-hop is that  drill rap is inherently militaristic and its artists often live the life they speak about.  

Systemic structural racism has resulted in the prevalence of the underground drug economy and gang violence in black Chicago which undergirds the phenomenon of drill rap. Drill rap in its essence embodies the frustration of urban poor Black men. Drill artists so often discuss through their lyrics their fear that they may not make it past 21; they may end up with a lengthy prison sentence, and the fact that they see no way out of a miserable life of violence. Drill rap articulates the frustrations of the urban black poor in Chicago and shatter illusions of a post-racial America in which structural racism no longer serves as a barrier to black, social, and political advancement. 

The Saga of Yummy 

Lil Mouse, the rapper from Englewood, Chicago, made a song in tribute to Robert Sandifer, a child soldier from Chiraq. Lil Mouse spits “Yummy was a hitter, push a nigga shit back. Gutta’ in my blood. Leavea nigga laying flat.” Think back to the period you were nine years old, at this age, many kids in America live carefree and jovial lives while contemplating the cool new gadgets they want from Santa for Christmas. For African-Americans in urban areas throughout America, the experience is totally different for such kids.

When Robert Sandifer was only nine, he had already been in and out of jail multiple times and was deeply involved in the South Chicago street life. He was active in committing a series of armed robberies and arsons as a member of the Black Disciplines (BD) in Chicago’s Roseland community.  As a kid in the streets of Chicago, the kid was trading drugs for profit, committing burglaries and breaking into houses. Sandifer hadn’t even reached his teenage years before he began carrying out murders for his local gangs.

Worse yet, he didn’t even live to reach his teenage years.  At 4’6”, he was armed with loaded guns and was not even remotely afraid to use them.  Receiving the nickname ‘Yummy’ due to his love for junk food, he lived his life as a drug dealer and caused terror in his community by breaking into houses and stealing cars. Before reaching five feet tall, he was already putting people six feet in the ground. He committed a recorded twenty-three felonies and five misdemeanors while carrying out his missions for his local gang.  The only picture available of him on the internet is a mug shot—a photo that showcases pain, anguish, and depression.

 Telling this tragic story, Lil Mouse spits “Ask you what you’ claiming if you ain’t 7-4 hit you in your face Cock it back and let it blow.”  On August 28th, 1994, Robert Sandifer tried to shoot a member of a rival gang. Stepping between two storefront churches on Chicago’s south side, he began firing at teenagers playing football with a semi-automatic pistol.  Instead of hitting his target, he hit a 14-year-old black girl named Shavon Dean. Robert was only 11 years old at the time he took Shavon’s life. After this brutal murder, the police went on a relentless manhunt for the killer.

Fearful that Robert Sandifer would reveal secret information about the Black Disciples, Sandifer was met by two brothers in the Black Disciples, Craig and Derrick Hardaway, who were age 16 and 14 respectively. They lured Robert Sandifer to a viaduct underpass where they carried out an execution with two bullets leading to Sandifer’s death at age 11. In response to the story of Sandifer’s tragic life, Times Magazine ran a headline, “So young to kill, so young to die.”

From an early age, Sandifer’s father was incarcerated, and his mother became addicted to drugs. As a result, Sandifer lived with his grandmother whose household consisted of over 19 kids.  Upon discovering that he was being neglected, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) sent Sandifer to live in a DCFS shelter from which Sandifer ran away, involving himself in gang life with the Black Disciples. The Sandifer saga became symbolic of the gang problem in Chicago as it showcased the lack of opportunities and breakdown of social safety networks.  Robert Sandifer was born on March 12, 1983, and died on September 1, 1994.

Yummy was abused from an early age; having over 40 scars and parts of his skin burnt from cigarettes butts.  He was eventually placed under the care of the state and the minute he escaped from his government-mandated foster home, he quickly took to the streets. Hardaway, who was convicted for Yummy’s murder at fourteen years old, had this to say from prison, “Yummy was the average black kid growing up in a drug infested community. There are millions of Yummys, it’s just that Robert Sandifer gained national attention. He was an impressionable kid who looked up to everyone that was in the streets. I knew him but he was a kid to me. I was a kid myself but I was older and involved in a lot more stuff.”

Indeed, there are millions of black children in urban areas throughout America, especially in the Southside of Chicago, who hang out on street corners, looking up to nobody but gang members and illegal paths in an attempt to help them cope and temporarily relieve themselves of the stress and pains that they face every-day under the American capitalistic society.  This is a reason why ‘loud a type of Marijuana’ is such a huge subject of Chief Keef rap videos.

Drug economy remains the only mechanism to get things that most whites inherit at birth. These things include food, clothing, and shelter.  Like Yummy, Hardaway is also a victim; a victim of a racist, capitalist society that created the conditions where an illegal economy is the only way to provide for loved ones and possess the basic necessities of life.

Yet, over a decade later yummy Chicago rapper, Lil Mouse emerged on the rap scene highlighting the same dilapidated conditions still prevalent in Englewood, Chicago. From the hardcore streets of Englewood, Lil Mouse spits “Glock 40, I’m thumpin man, I’m rolling with my hitters. I’ll send my hitters to go get you.” In Englewood, the law of the streets prevails and individuals are quick to use guns to settle beefs and feuds   

Renowned African-American psychologist, Dr. Amos N. Wilson, provided the following insights to understand the violence we witness in the Black community. He wrote, “Black on Black criminality and violence represent quests for power and outraged protests against a sense of powerlessness and insignificance.” Feeling powerless and insignificant, having minimal opportunity for socio-economic advancement, acts of violence among brainwashed black brothers in the streets often instills a false sense of power.    

Lil Mouse spits, “Posted on the nine with some savages. Everybody scared of us cause we be clapping shit. Keep some killers with me that aint lacking shit. Call my brother Grupy he shoot like the Mavericks bitch.Many black youths in Chicago grow up in abject poverty and see only two paths for their future: prison or death. Their mothers feel hopeless as they are unable to earn enough wages to provide for basic necessities such as electricity, rent, insurance, and food. Black youths in these communities endure subpar living conditions as seen through the decaying housing, substandard schools, drugs, and poverty. After examining these appalling social conditions, people often claim that the gangs that terrorize the community with violence are driven by some “innate” delinquency or aggression amongst black youth.

 In reality, Chicago street gangs are a product of social conditions created by institutional racism, police brutality, and white vigilantism. Blacks have been systematically disempowered and live in the most violent areas, not because we are “naturally” aggressive. Rather, this is a result of the economic conditions that have been imposed on us by malicious outside forces

Robert “Yummy” Sandifer was killed by his own gang at the tender age of 11 and the reality is that Yummy, alongside millions of unnamed inner-city black youths never had a fair shot in this country. Still, America deludes itself as the foremost purveyor of freedom in the world. White Liberals who adamantly believe that black people are making ‘steady progress’ in this country, often point to blacks in high places such as Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, and, of course, the President Barack Obama. White Republicans also, a cesspool filled with vicious racists, refuse to give credence to the notion that systematic racism severely restricts the social mobility of African-Americans. Both political parties believe that the discrimination, oppression, and disenfranchisement of African-Americans was just a misunderstanding rather than a core element that has ensured the growth of the U.S. capitalist, imperialist system. The reality is that Civil Rights legislation were never passed for altruistic reasons and the condition of black people in urban areas of America has not improved at all since the Civil rights legislation was passed – and this is no accident.

The Trick of Civil Rights Legislation 

As a legal scholar, Derick Bell has noted in Desegregation as a Cold War imperative, White people did not suddenly have a change of heart and decide to give black people rights. Rather, the American government acted in their own self-interest.  During the ‘Cold War,’ America and the Soviet Union battled with competing ideologies and both of them sought to establish an imperialistic grip on the world. The American government branded itself as the epitome of freedom and democracy, while casting the Soviet Union as a communist, totalitarianism regime that did not place value on human rights and freedoms. While it should be noted that the Kremlin, with Josef Stalin as president, engaged in purges to kill his enemies and saboteurs, U.S.A was not a saint either.  

When it seemed like U.S was winning the P.R war, the Soviet Union began to use video footages which showed African-Americans in the south with their flesh being ripped and eaten by vicious canines. At this revelation, America could no longer tell the world it was the epitome of human rights and freedom while subjugating its black population to open overt torture and suffering. If she did, she would appear to be a hypocritical liar. Thus, superficial changes had to be made in the power structure of America as regards the manner in which it carried out its oppression against black people. This was one factor that contributed to the passage of Civil Rights legislation.  

Another factor that contributed to the decline of overt institutional racism against blacks was the threat of violence from blacks. After the cold-blooded assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., blacks in urban areas throughout America were outraged.  The government referred to the actions of African-Americans after King’s death as ‘riots’ rather than what they really were: rebellion! Something had to be done in order for America to gain an edge in the ideological war against the Soviet Union (also known as Cold War). In order not to look absolutely ridiculous when she proclaimed herself as the leader of human rights and freedoms, the U.S government pushed for the Civil Rights legislation to be passed.

Civil Rights legislation did a much better job at pacifying African-Americans than it ever did at putting an end to racial inequality, discrimination, and racism. In every area of American society from housing to health-care to employment opportunities, black people still face discrimination to this day because Civil Rights legislation was never adamantly enforced. Take a look at the facts; Chicago is among the most segregated cities in America and while whites live lavishly on the Northside, impoverished Blacks have been suffering throughout Chicago for decades.

When Dr. Martin Luther King first came to Chicago, he arrived with the intent to protest housing segregation and the substandard housing of Chicago’s black population. In response, White residents threw rocks at him while others held signs in protest, one reading, “Roses are red. Violents are Black. King would look good with a Knife in his back.” They then led a cheer saying ‘Kill Him!, Kill Him. Over 40 years later, Southside Chicago neighborhoods are nicknamed (and for good reasons) ‘Terrortown’ and ‘Killaward’ in the streets; areas that are just as ‘substandard’, and worse off than its state when King took part in his first protest.  When a reporter asked Chief Keef how dangerous the Southside of Chicago was he simply responded with one word: “Chiraq.

Anti-black discrimination continues to be ubiquitous throughout American society, from housing, to employment, and education. While civil rights legislation merely removed the overt signs of racism, such as “No blacks allowed” signs, it did not mitigate the everyday practices of racism which manifests in different spheres of daily American life. These manifestations of discrimination can be found in blockbusting and redlining tactics of real estate agents in housing, the discriminatory predatory loans practices of banks, or courtrooms which continue to bequeath harsher sentences to black offenders. At large, the black population in America is segregated in ghettos in which the only viable source of employment is the drug economy. This population is systematically deprived quality education, healthcare etc. and the results of this are, constant breeding of lethal gang violence, neighborhoods filled with food deserts, terrible living conditions where many residents die from diseases that could have been prevented.

Racial discrimination is as pervasive as it was during the ‘60s; the only change being the way the current racism manifest itself. After years of solidifying anti-black discrimination in every facet of American society, discrimination has toughened to the extent that it continues without an overt legal mechanism to support it. Taking all these into account, it is clear that civil rights legislation protected white supremacy by putting an end to the overt manifestation as a recuperative mechanism. This was merely done to create an illusion of equality.

 The truth is that it is governmental actions from the neighborhood composition act, the denial of essential social services to Chicago’s Black community, the intentional placement of Black communities near toxic waste dumps,  the Chicago police department ‘s wholesale torture of Black communities, and the multiple massacres white people have perpetrated on Chicago’s Black communities that has created desperate social conditions whereby gang-involved Black youth are forced to compete over the control of a fleeting drug economy.  In American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, sociologist Douglass S. Massey notes that due to practices such as redlining, racial steering, and blockbusting that developed in the Post-Jim Crow era, “the level of Black-White segregation has hardly changed. 

In Racism Realism, Derrick Bell famously stated that “[t]he adverse psychological effects of nonexistent opportunity are worse than the economic and social loss.”   The themes of drill rap, whereby young Black artists make known their bleak life prospects  reveal that continued impact of structural racism on black socio-economic mobility. The genesis of the neighborhood and communal conditions that gave rise to drill rap as a genre were birthed by systemic institutional racism which civil rights legislation failed to adequately address. The  themes highlighted in Drill Rap particularly that of invincibility and bravado function as a survival mechanism to exist in a world of bleak opportunities in which black-street organizations have been forced to compete over crumbs in a criminalized market.




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