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The Inward Turn of Chicago Drill Rap

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Drill rap, a subgenre of hip-hop intimately connected to Chicago street life and brought into the nation’s musical mainstream by Chicago rapper Chief Keef, sounds and means differently than traditional forms of hip-hop. Unlike most hip hop, drill is outwardly unconcerned with mobility. This project explores drill’s departure from hip-hop’s traditional aesthetics and messaging, considering what about Chicago gave rise to this departure, the extent to which the departure categorizes the subgenre, and what the departure says about the counter-public of young people that create and consume drill rap in the city. This project is highly interdisciplinary: the contextualization of the departure relies on history and urban studies; the consideration of the extent of the departure incorporates content analysis and literary studies; the discussion of the significance of drill turns to cultural studies and political science. My research suggests that a sense of hyper-containment underlies drill’s non-engagement with mobility, or what I deem the subgenre’s inward turn. This hyper-containment, I determine, resulted from the fallout of the demolition of the city’s high-rise housing projects (part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation) and the gang fragmentation that followed the prosecution of many of Chicago’s gang leaders in the 1990s. I then conclude that this hyper-containment should inform policy in Chicago, particularly policy that relates to young people on the city’s South and West sides, and call for further research into drill, what I believe to be a tremendously significant yet under-researched cultural form.

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  • 04/20/2018
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  • American Studies
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