WorldStarHipHop documentary explores rap and violence in Chicago

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The incredibly popular, occasionally notorious hip-hop/shock site WorldStarHipHop posted its inaugural documentary this week, one that examines the intimate connection between gang violence in Chicago and the city’s up-and-coming rap scene.

“The Field: Violence, Hip-Hop, and Hope in Chicago” explores different neighborhoods of the city as well as the lives of many prominent Chicago rappers, including Lil Durk, Lil Mouse and L’a Capone — a 17-year-old who was fatally shot outside a recording studio in September.

Perhaps unexpected given the glorifying nature of WorldStarHipHop, the documentary is a decidedly sobering look at a genre that more often than not celebrates the violence that plagues the city. It also provides unique insight into the lives of the young men and women who quickly are becoming the voice of Chicago.

Far from adoring violence, this documentary lets Chicago’s rappers display an understanding of the city’s problems that don’t usually come across in their music.

“We all could walk to the store, play ball in the park. That’s all over now. There was more structure to it then,” Lil Durk explains, speaking to the widespread arrests of top gang leaders in the late ’90s that fractured the city’s hierarchy. “Everybody went to jail so everybody wanted a name. If you’re a nobody, now you’re a somebody, everybody’s scared of you. Everybody wants that type of name.”

Larry Wilson, CEO of Lawless Inc., laments, “The essence of hip hop, the art form, is a person that’s able to speak from the streets and give their perspective, that alone lets a voice to be heard from Chicago. Now who’s the voice to speak?”

“It’s always the youth. Who is most of these murders happening with? The youth.”

The documentary is not without its flaws — feel free to tune out any time “Chiraq” and casualty statistics are mentioned — but that doesn’t make it any less worth viewing. Like the city itself, it is as inspiring as it is depressing, sometimes both at once.

One of the closing scenes is particularly moving, an emotional plea from a member of the Kanye West/Rhymefest “Got Bars” program that aims to help Chicago youth through music:

“It’s hard, every day is hard. I’m tired of living like this. There’s no option. Some days you wake up and you want to be a good person, or you can be that bad person. And some days it just doesn’t give you no option. And some days you have to do things you don’t want to do. Some days you live the life you’ve got to live.”

“I keep losing people. Eventually it’s just going to be me by myself.”

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