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‘Chi-Raq’ star Nick Cannon: ‘These young men [on Chicago’s South Side] are crying out’

Nick Cannon, in town Monday for the star-studded press conference about Spike Lee’s film “Chi-Raq,” (opening Dec. 4), talked about his character, the fictional Chicago rapper Chi-Raq, a dramatic turn from the actor-comedian-rapper that will surprise many, and the song “Pray 4 My City,” which becomes the anthem for his character and the film itself.

ON CREATING THE CHARACTER OF RAPPER CHI-RAQ (whose real name is Demetrius):

“It was definitely a task and a challenge to embody someone the world may have not seen me do before, the seriousness in really connecting into that authenticity. I thank Spike Lee and Father Michael Pfleger for introducing me to real people in the community and getting the opportunity to hear stories of pain from both sides — to speak to the victims and victims’ families and at the same time speaking to a lot of these troubled young men who lack guidance, who are actually crying out. I always say, ‘Hurt people hurt people.’

“And to know [that] this community and communities across the country are hurt because these young men don’t have the proper guidance. And so many things have been sensationalized: building up the male ego and the power and what they call ‘savage.’ Or the misconception of what a soldier is. These things that have been conditioned in our community, that have created these young men that are going down the path the wrong way. … If you don’t have the guidance, if you don’t have a father, you can get easily get misguided by the things that seem fascinating to you — the money, the cars, the women. And for me I tapped into that. I tapped into that idea of this is young brother who’s troubled who’s searching and crying out. And who thinks he is following in his father’s footsteps, but then realizes his father was also lost and his father was also searching for guidance.”

Nick Cannon (from left), Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Spike Lee, John Cusack, Harry Lennix and D.B. Sweeney in Chicago on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. | PHOTO BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO
Nick Cannon (from left), Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Spike Lee, John Cusack, Harry Lennix and D.B. Sweeney in Chicago on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. | PHOTO BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO


D.B. Sweeney: “Spike Lee is a one-man, African-American jobs program”

John Cusack: “You can’t talk justice … unless you address the hopelessness”


“To get into the character, I became part of the community in so many ways. To the credit of the [St. Sabina] Peacekeepers, these gentlemen introduced me to … a lot of these hungry, young, up-and-coming rappers [and producers] in Chicago. … We were supposed to do one song for the movie called ‘My City’ and we did that song first … with some of the hottest, realest, raw rappers in Chicago, and everybody, you know, trying to get on.

“This one brother [said], “I got a message: I really lived this, and I love my city and we need prayer. And he was just talkin,’ and I was like, yo, we gotta do this. Let’s get in a booth. To have a room full of these young, powerful minds, and to really say what’s true to the message. That’s how the song came about. … It helped me get into character but also let their voice be heard. I was just trying to give them the opportunity to say something positive about their city. … So many powerful words [in the song]. That statement [in the song’s lyrics]: “Ya’ll mad cuz I don’t call it Chicago/But I don’t live in no f—-n’ Chicago/Boy I live in Chi-Raq.” That was in that conversation [in which he also said]: “I don’t know that life. I don’t know the downtown life. I know this life and I love this life because this is all I know.” … And to hear him say that [was] just so powerful.”

Below: Video for “Chi-Raq” featuring Nick Cannon; explicit lyrics.