Why the Music is Lackin’ in Chicago’s Drill Scene


Last week, Chicago MC Clint Massey, bka as RondoNumbaNine, was sentenced to a cruelly ironic 39 years for the murder of 28-year-old Javan Boyd. His sentence was issued weeks after his co-defendant, Courtney “Cdai” Ealy was sentenced to 38 years. Rondo had already been off the music scene for over two years while fighting the case, but his sentence essentially confirms the end of his rap career. It’s alleged that Boyd, a 28-year-old dispatch driver, was shot seven times by Rondo and Cdai simply for being from a rival neighborhood.

The raw, gravel-voiced Rondo boasted an affiliation with signed artist Lil Durk and burgeoning relationships with Lupe Fiasco and Meek Mill. He once rapped, “gotta get a deal, no I can’t wait/Gotta see a mil, right now this day,” but it appears on that night that the call of the streets took precedence over any potential music industry success. More important than any music is the loss of Boyd—a father of an 11-year-old girl. However, it’s worth noting that Rondo’s forced exodus from the drill scene isn’t an anomaly. As Chicago rapper King Yella noted in a recent interview, the genre as a whole is “falling off” in part because of incidents like this. Rondo’s conviction makes him the latest drill rapper gone from a scene that may legitimately represent the worst nexus of art and reality in the history of music.

Hip-hop has long been a creative outlet through which one can backpedal from the hardship of the streets and parlay their experience into a legitimate shot at upward mobility. A session in the booth is a license for a rhymer to feed listeners a manipulation of their reality. You can make your bathtub lift up, and walls do a 360 like Jadakiss. You can allege that there was drug paraphernalia in your baby picture, like 2Chainz. In “Chiraq” however, many drill rappers chronicle their too-fatalistic existence to an alarming tee. Drill music seems to be just as much a way out as it is an opportunity to sink further into the abyss.

The lines of Chicago’s gang divide are scrawled more firmly in the sand with every line uttered over the minimalist, sinister beats. Songs like “BDK” both reflect and fuel a barbarous atmosphere in the economically deprived neighborhoods of Chi-town, where the gang life can be as much the family business as a farm to a young Iowan. In the mainstream Hip-Hop industry, beefs are generally defined by photoshops, emojis, and, at worst, empty posturing. In Chicago, diss songs are defined by dissing dead rivals, pouring salt into the wounds of young people who thought they were numb from trauma and self-medicating until they feel homicidal urges. Google “chicago rapper killed after dissing.” It’s a deadly game.

The unbridled savagery that defines the drill scene is perhaps explained by most drill rappers being in their late teens and early 20s, a time when most of us are making stupid decisions. Rondo is 19. My Grandmother once told me at 19 that every decision I made at that crucial, post-primary education stage would affect the rest of my life. The same is true of Chicago youth—and they’re facing infinitely more destructive choices than I was. There were no lives or “penitentiary chances” in the balance of my day-to-day qualms. I had no idea how to get my hands on a bazooka, much less make the decision to take a picture with one. To be a fan of drill rap is to essentially see an entire movement of Bobby Shmurdas and Lil Snupes.

A multitude of the people who defined the initial drill rap wave in 2012 are no longer free or alive. Rondo, Lil Jay, and D-Rose are in jail for extended periods of time. LA Capone, Lil JoJo, Capo, OTF Nunu, and Pac Man—the genre’s arguable originator—are all gone. The drill wave was bound to cool off, but did anyone expect it to be from the constraints of cold steel bars and creepily frigid morgues? Houston rap fumbled their moment because of a lack of unity. Oakland’s scene was probably never meant to venture past the Yay Area. Chicago is the only scene of artists that “fell off” because the shit they’re talking is entirely too real.

The most resonant hip-hop has been that which highlights pressing social issues. Ice Cube, Public Enemy and Tupac are just some who are revered for translating our oppressed testimonies in a manner that the privileged can understand. Though Chicago drill rappers make fleeting references to the lack of a trauma center on the Southside and the peril that their lifestyle has forced upon them, many are too young to properly encapsulate their cities’ problems like Noisey has tried to and Spike Lee should have. Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper are just two who have made admirable attempts, but they offer an outsider’s perspective.

So many of the MCs are dying and being incarcerated that we may never see that well-rounded, “frontline” perspective that Chicago desperately deserves. Hopefully the drill scene’s forced silence—from death and incarceration in a cranny of America resigned to both–can speak volumes for the plight of youth in Chicago and every other left-behind neighborhood. Hopefully the waste of Black lives occurring throughout the drill scene can eventually serve as more than DJ Akademiks’ clickbait.

Andre Geechicago, drill, music