Two Tales of One City
I was walking on the quad one day, earphones in with my music on shuffle and as "Malcolm" by G Herbo was ending, "Summer Friends" by Chance the Rapper started. This made me think of dichotomy of these two artists and their totally different portrayals of the city they both hail from: Chicago.
The obvious answer to this is the two different upbringings the two artists had with Chance being from a middle class background and G Herbo from poverty. I found myself wondering how would a person who didn't know this information react to finding out Chance the Rapper was not only rapping about the same city, but the same 79th street that G Herbo was. The 79th that G Herbo experienced so many shootouts and death of his friends on is the same street that Chance raps about so lovingly.
With how heavily the Southside is demonized and generalized by the media, this may confuse many people. I feel they would actually be shocked, but that polarity is why my age group from the Southside can appreciate and love both artists because they are two sides of the same coin. This dichotomy of identities are present throughout the black community and neither invalidates the other.
September 22nd marked the release of Chicago native rapper G Herbo’s highly anticipated debut studio album "Humble Beast". The album consists of a grimy and earnest description of the rapper’s trials and tribulations while growing up over east, his current life of a rising star in the music industry, and his dreams and aspirations to further change his and all of his loved ones' lives.
From the beginning, G Herbo instantly separated himself from the rest of Chicago’s drill rappers with not only his flow and lyricism, but also his ability to tell stories with songs like "Gangway" and "Kill Sh*t" in 2012. On "Humble Beast," he continues with the traits that initially gained him notoriety, but we see a maturity and wisdom that is rare for someone of only 21 years of age. He is very introspective of his life up to this moment and as he looks back, he brings the listeners into his mind and soul to take this journey with him.
He uses his platform as a way to tell his story and teach those who may be in a similar situation that he is in. Humble Beast works as a cautionary tale, memoir, and celebration of the life and times of G Herbo. I was 15 years old when I first heard of Herb (he himself was only 16 at the time) and to see his progress from his first mixtape of "Welcome to Fazoland" to "Humble Beast," I can't help but be amazed with his growth as not only an artist but as a person as well.
It is well known what a masterpiece "Coloring Book" by Chance the Rapper is. It has gained commercial and critical success having won three grammies along with other accolades. "Summer Friends" is a song on Coloring Book where Chance remembers his days as a kid on 79th playing with friends during the summer, getting in trouble, and going in when the street lights came on. It is a heartwarming tune which causes the listener to get nostalgic and remember their own childhood whether they grew up on the Southside or not.
On the other side of the spectrum, G Herbo has a song called "Malcolm" which is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. It tells the sorry tale of a young black man named Malcolm who is born into poverty and an unstable environment on the Southside of Chicago. He unfortunately becomes a product of that environment and by the end of the song, he is arrested for murder. What is so powerful about "Malcolm" is that it is not about one person, but a culmination of stories and experiences G Herbo pulled from his own life and the lives of his friends. Malcolm can be anyone who has had the fate of being consumed by the streets of the Southside.
These two songs seemingly have no connection, but they actually do. The same children Chance is talking about playing with on 79th possibly grew up to be Malcolm. I, like many other young adults from Chicago, have fond memories of summertime in the city. We can remember playing outside with friends just like Chance is talking about. I, just like many, know a few of those same friends took a similar route as Malcolm and are now in prison or have had their lives taken. Chance can probably say the same about knowing a Malcolm or two he played with on 79th just like G Herbo can recount those summer days over east running around and playing with his friends.
Those are the two sides of the same coin I speak of when it comes to Chance and G Herbo. Everyone from Chicago can tell the same stories whether it has happened to them directly or someone they are close to. That is why we, Chicagoans, hold artists like Chance and G Herbo on such a high pedestal. They are a voice for the younger generation of the city who may not be able to tell their stories, whether it is through grimy and earnest tales of life on the streets or nostalgic and sentimental remembrance of juke jams at the rink on 87th.
The Southside is not the war zone Fox News and conservatives would have you believe. While there is violence and problems that need to be addressed, which we as a community are and have been doing, there is beauty as well. The people, the culture, the vibe of the Southside is a truly beautiful thing and that is something that is not talked about by the media as much as it should. The other day my mom asked me, "why do you love Chicago so much?" I told her that if I love myself, I have to love Chicago. It is part of me and has played a major part in the development of the man I am today. For all the good, the bad, and the ugly that may happen in Chicago, it will always have a special place in my heart no matter what just like it will with everyone from there.