Overnight Nicki Minaj dropped her new track "Chi-Raq" featuring Chicago rapper Lil Herb, after teasing her fans on Twitter about it over the weekend. At first glance, it's refreshing to hear Nicki ditch the bubblegum, Idol-friendly hits and get back to her roots.
But, standing out even more on the record are Lil Herb's verses, highlighting the psychology of gang violence that afflicts young black men in the rough streets of Chicago, particularly in the "drill music" scene. (VICE recently depicted the scene in the eight-part docu-series Welcome to Chiraq, below.)
Lil Herb appears to differ from his peers, though, showing a glimmer of values that seem almost admirable. His guest lyrics on Nicki's "Chi-Raq" primarily revolve around tales of unremorseful bloodshed, but also around a kind of undying loyalty that's sad, but respectable.
Herb spits, "And if any n—-a ever try to end me/Imma die shooting praying God forgive me… Straight killers I can call so many/I don't love no bitches but my mom, my sister, my gun and Nicki."
Growing up in an environment where the lines are blurred between love and loyalty, Herb raps like he doesn't have a choice. And even death doesn't seem to phase him.
As he blankly puts it: "Know a couple n——s that's down to ride for a homicide… Leave his loved ones all traumatized…I'll drop his ass and then forget it."
It's the forced loyalty that comes across as the most bittersweet in the song: "Imma stay 100 till I'm 6 under/Matter fact I gotta keep it 150/For every n—-a that's gon come with me."
The purity of adolescence seems to have vanished, like so many his age in the same circumstances. Fortunately the story might not end badly for Herb himself, who probably just caught the biggest break of his life thanks to Nicki. The world now has the chance to get to know him and possibly bring life to a musical microcosm dimmed by so much death.
Listen to "Chi-Raq" here: