Immaculate Connection: How the Digital Age Made Slim Jesus
Slim Jesus is a young white rapper from Hamilton, Ohio. His song “Drill Time” went viral last week and it has the Internet in a frenzy. In the three-minute track, Slim purports to perform the murderous essence of drill rap. He raps lines like “I’mma take you out like a fuckin’ date” with a delivery so unconvincing it sounds like he didn’t even want to record it. Nevertheless he did, and he gave the song an equally uninspired video, which consists of him awkwardly flashing money and (allegedly fake) guns with black teens who dance menacingly around him.
One Google search of Slim Jesus unveils a treasure trove of articles about the current star of the moment, who bears an ironic visual resemblance to Eminem. The blogosphere is having its fun with Slim Jesus, and at this point we don’t know whether he’s an egregious appropriator, or a legitimate byproduct of hip hop’s digital evolution. Maybe he’s both.
For what it’s worth, Chicago rapper ReeseMoneyBagz claimed on Twitter that Slim borrowed liberally from his song “Drillin,” , tweeting:
ReeseMoneyBagz’ morbid bravado is rooted in truth, the truth of Chiraq, as drill rap is a distinctly Chicago sound. For those uninitiated in Chicago lingo, “drillin” means shooting to kill. The drill scene shot into mainstream consciousness in 2011 as a fresh interpretation of gangsta rap, and became a new public theater for Chicago’s decades-old gang epidemic. The fatal drama surrounding the genre’s founding artists brought a quick end to its mainstream relevance. In 2012, rapper Lil Jojo recorded the song “BDK”, a diss to the Black Disciples gang, and was later murdered after a video surfaced of Black Disciple-affiliated rapper Lil Reese threatening to kill him. In 2012, the drill scene’s best-known act, Chief Keef, had the nihilistic lyrics to his hit “Love Sosa” used against him during a probation hearing, which helped send him to jail for a 60-day sentence. Drill rap is a genre that irreversibly blurs the line between art and reality, and it is a predominantly Black scene. Yet in Slim Jesus we have a gangly white kid, who resembles Dewey from Malcolm In The Middle, rapping drill-typical accounts of relentless violence and criminality. And he seems serious. It’s a jarring juxtaposition, to say the least. What are we to make of it?
Some may say that Slim Jesus is simply a consequence of the Internet generation, which has made hip-hop regionalism an archaic concept. Indeed, the Ohio native notes that his favorite rappers are Chief Keef and Lil Herb, two Internet-incubated Chicago rappers who get minimal radio play. Perhaps Slim relates to their struggle. In 2002, George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in Hamilton’s lone high school. If the “Drill Time” video is any evidence though, many of Hamilton’s youth have been left behind. Ohio ranks in the top-10 of many gun commerce categories, and Slim’s hometown in the Rust Belt has been economically deprived since its manufacturing facilities shut down in the 1970s. These are two of the same factors that foment the brutality in Chicago.
But even if Slim identifies with the plight of Chicago youth, detractors can easily note that his privilege as a white male establishes him as a safer bet for major label investment. The most ardent fans of the genre may also believe that he ruins the authenticity of drill rap. With just one subpar song, he’s received more attention than most drill rappers, mostly because of irony. In “Drill Time,” Slim notes that “talking to the fuckin’ Jakes” is a mortal sin, but the colloquial term “Jakes” was created to describe white cops that look like him. He also rhymes about killing people and “beat(ing) the case.” Considering the Black community’s seemingly inexorable problem with police brutality, I find it difficult to accept him emulating a brand of rap that chronicles and glorifies the murder of Black youth.
Is that his fault though? In a 2012 essay, Rhymefest referred to Chief Keef as a “bomb,” an artist favored by the music industry in its attempts to disillusion Black youth with catchy-yet-counterproductive music. Rhymefest noted that “no one is talking about the real culprits, the bomb maker or the pilot who is deploying this deadly force (Labels, Radio Stations),” and also said that Chief Keef “represents the senseless savagery that white people see when the news speaks of Chicago violence.”
As a young white male who is becoming one of those bombs, Slim Jesus might be the eye-opener we all need. A white gangsta rapper from a town that’s 84% white may be just the wake-up call the white establishment needs in order to realize that its glorification of gang violence affects more than just black individuals. Also, cameramen everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief if the parodic “Fake Props” warning in “Drill Time” forces rappers to finally realize the idiocy of their decision to flash firearms in music videos.
Considering the alarming number of young Chicago rappers who have died the violent deaths they had been rapping about, it’s fairly easy to see why homogenizing drill music is a particularly tenuous exploit. The reaction to Slim Jesus’ mediocre Lil Herb impression could very well trivialize the gang violence that pervades Chicago, Hamilton, and every other hood that’s been left behind, but that’s not his exclusive individual fault.
As angry as I was after the first watch, it didn’t take me long to realize that Slim Jesus’ emergence was inevitable. Hip hop, especially gangsta rap, has long provided avenues for vicarious living, and the Internet enables anyone to get lost in a YouTube playlist and come out a different person on the other side. These two trends aligned perfectly—or terribly—and created Slim Jesus and “Drill Time.” May god help us.