Gangsta’s Paradise Lost

Words Mani Orr Illustration Handselecta

America’s third largest city, Chicago, has been given a nickname recently — Chiraq. Chicago was given this nickname because there are more murders and violence that occur in Chicago than the war in Iraq. Walking the streets of Chicago is like walking in Iraq with all the murders, robbery, gang bangs, and acts of violence. — Urban Dictionary

Are you serious? That’s what it’s come to, Chicago? This is not our legacy. And Urban Dictionary is wrong.

I’m just saying, I’m from the South Side of Chicago. Like, for real…the South Side…Around the corner from Cole Park, down the street from the Canfield’s factory. The home of Happy’s Liquor, Harold’s Chicken, Box Chevy’s, Pelle Pelle jackets and The Rink. The birthplace of NBA MVPs, Grammy-award winning musicians, Nobel Laureates, the First Lady, and even Walt Disney…you know, the SOUTH side. So please believe, it’s out of love when I say, Chicago, I’m fucking disappointed. Really and truly, it’s not even the actual nickname Chiraq that bothers me. Who among us hasn’t done something stupid or embarrassing that earned us a less than desirable nickname, at least temporarily? I get it, I truly do. Chiraq…it’s kind of clever in a way.

And honestly, it’s not even the violence that disappoints me. Chicago has a long and storied history of violence. The city has been home to an all-star list of mobsters, gang members and serial killers. I can personally recall a time in the early 1990s when Chicago carried body counts well over 800 per year. And somehow, even with a war in Iraq going on then as well, there was no “Chiraq” moniker. What’s so disheartening to me is the sense of pride that so many young Chicagoans seem to have regarding the name. Wearing it like a badge of honor. A surrealistic tourism slogan that’s being printed onto hipster hats and t-shirts and then sold right next to Derrick Rose and Patrick Kane jerseys. A misguided civic identity embraced with the same fanfare as “The Big Apple” or “Hollywood.” Don’t you know how great we are?

We gave the world Quincy Jones, Chaka Kahn, Mahalia Jackson, and Kanye West, YEEZUS!! Chicago is where a skinny kid from North Carolina became “His Airness,” a young black woman from Tennessee established a media empire, and a community organizer from Hawaii became the first black president of the United States. CHIRAQ?!!? REALLY?? WE’RE REPPING CHIRAQ?!!? The desire for an identity is one of the strongest of all human desires. I mean, I get it, we all want to belong to something. And in this day and age, the Internet is right there to provide an identity for anyone without the creative or intellectual maturity to create one for themselves. On any given day you can log on to HypebeastComplex, or sometimes even our own Mass Appeal and there will be a post telling you how to become exactly who you want to be. Don’t know what sneakers are cool? Put on these Jordans. Well, Kanye wore this, you should too. But here’s the problem. Trends are all surface, and you have to dig deeper for the substance. Jordans became popular not only because they said “Jordan” on them, but because there was a level of artistry in the design never seen before in an athletic shoe. Also, because the man was amazing on the court. The term “Chiraq” has no substance. If anything, we should be repelled by it. We are a city of great artists, intellectuals, and trendsetters. People who achieve greatness do not let themselves be defined by petty stereotypes.

Right now the Chicago rap scene is on fire. Chief Keef and his G.B.E. collaborators have a special opportunity to be mentioned in the city’s deep musical history. Although controversial, their sound is magnetic, and it is pretty much dictating the current tone of the industry. But let’s all just stop and think for a minute. Chief Keef is 18 years old. 18. And really, not the brightest 18-year-old on the block. The shoot-em-up, Wild West image of Chicago might sound pretty dope to a younger, undiscerning listener. And apparently, it really sells records. But I just can’t get down with it. I’ve made too many trips to Oak Woods Cemetary for me to agree. I truly do wish the best for Keef and his crew. I hope that he continues to be successful and provide for his family. But I also hope that he grows as a man and learns that some things are more than entertainment and are better left unsaid.

Chicago is an amazing city and no matter where I lay my head at night, it will always be home. The Windy City, The City of Broad Shoulders, The Second City, The Go, Chi-City, Chi-Motherfucking-Town. But Chiraq? Nah.

This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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