MD

Music

Monday, October 20, 2014

Advertise with us »

Notebook: Smartphones and Instagram show us hip-hop culture in real-time

By Thomas Klepacz, For the Daily
Published November 20, 2012

The video is slightly blurry and unsteady, recorded in typical “smartphone” quality. It begins with a confusing muddle — tall men, red hoodies, loud women, pushing, pulling — too disoriented to truly follow, but just crude enough for basic human understanding. Around 30 seconds in, one of the scattered women orders a red-clothed man to “Keep your hands to yourself, doe.” Following an ambiguous comment of “They ain’t stop making guns when they made yours,” the man demands the woman to “Quit talkin’ like that,” speaking in both a soft and defined manner. He’s clearly irritated — he creeps slowly closer to the woman, poking at her chin, inciting some form of reaction. At 42 seconds in, he gets it.

The woman swings first, her hand a quick haze in the iPhone camera. The man dodges and approaches, pinning the woman against a wall. The cameraman quickly begins to follow the action, but isn’t fast enough — the attacking woman is obscured against the cream-colored wall, only to be identified by her subsequent yelp.

As the camera confusingly leans in the opposite direction, the man fades to the right and strikes, an outreached arm and slap confirming the hit. Screams, yelps, screams, yelps, taunts, red, arms flying, bodies twirling, “WORLDSTARHIPHOP.COM” panning across the screen — the video is a mess. Suddenly, the woman is thrown to the ground, grasping her attacker’s leg as he shakes her off like an annoying dog. He then jumps on her — yes, jumps, in a Super Mario-like manner — stomping on her body amid screeches of “Why, why why?” And just like that, it’s over.

If you haven’t seen the video, you’re almost out of place — hundreds of thousands already have. Identified as “Lil Reese BEATS A CHICK” on YouTube, the video exists on innumerable different websites with innumerable titles, all along the lines of “Lil Reese Beats Woman” or “Lil Reese Goes Wild on a Woman.”

No matter the title, however, the content is clear. Lil Reese, a 19-year-old rapper of the Glory Boyz Entertainment collective — founded primarily by rapper Chief Keef — pulverizes an equivalently aged woman, only stopping after sufficient stomps and punches. The attack is ferocious, if not animalistic. Morals aren’t even in question.

The video isn’t the first instance of moral ineptitude within Chief Keef’s crew. Keef himself has had several digital missteps: Following the death of a rival Chicago rapper, Lil JoJo, Keef tweeted “Its Sad Cuz Dat N*gga JoJo Wanted To Be Jus Like Us #LMAO,” only to later claim that his account was “hacked.” When Lupe Fiasco responded to the taunting tweet by claiming that Keef “scares him,” Keef shot back at his fellow Chicagoan by writing that he will “smack him” when (if) they ever meet in person. Keef even had his Instagram account deleted after posting a picture of himself receiving “sexual favors” from an anonymous woman (you can figure it out), with an uploader comment of “#GettinTip.”

Understandably, Keef and his GBE crew have received a tremendous amount of criticism. Aside from the usual trolling YouTube comments of “Chief Keef is killing Hip Hop!,” “Hip Hop is officially dead” and “Listen to 2Pac if you want real rap!,” Keef has garnered displeased responses from innumerable “professionals.” The Chicago Sun-Times put a dread-veiled, smirking Keef on their cover, asking in typical yellow-journalism bold whether the rapper should be sent to jail.

The “regulators” of hip-hop, megasite WorldStarHipHop, constantly dot GBE’s reactionary videos with dramatic catchphrase titles (“This Is F***** Up: Lil Reese From GBE Caught On Camera Beating Up A Female!”), all the while understanding that their own success is derived purely from the degradation they so criticize. Lupe Fiasco even claimed that the current perpetrators of Chicago’s endemic crimes “all look like Chief Keef,” and that he fears the “culture that he represents.”

Sure, certain musicians have “risen out” of the ever-present disarray in their hometowns. But in 1996, the only glimpses the world had of rappers like Jay-Z were directed shots of brand new Lexuses. In contemporary American culture, the musician who once may have appeared “flawless” (though they rarely did) is now barraged with Internet-born criticisms. We all put our lives out for the world to see, and the true elements of many individuals can now be fully perceived through the distorted lens of saturated Instagram photos. The raw truths of men like Lil Reese are now evident to all, whereas the truths of past rapper’s societies were oft hidden — save the content in their oft-unreliable lyrics.

While the actions of Keef and his crew are indefensible, to criticize GBE for the “degradation” of society or hip hop is absurd. Hip-hop culture has always been risque — it has always documented the elements of American life that many choose to ignore. Greats like The Notorious B.I.G. made entire songs about dealing drugs and killing: “Ten Crack Commandments” is literally a list of instructions on how to deal crack.

Yes, rappers such as Biggie and 2Pac were certainly criticized in their time, but to glimpse them in an entirely positive retrospect is not only incorrect, it’s ignorant. These are the men who helped to craft modern hip hop, doing the same things Keef and his GBE crew are constantly lambasted for. To claim that videos like the Lil Reese attack are killing hip hop is entirely contradictory to the concept and background of hip hop in itself.

These things have always happened, do happen and will happen. Hip hop’s purpose is only to document the events, often displaying them through raw poetry over electronic drums. Now, we just see the events through the distorted lenses of iPhones. The world of rap hasn’t gotten any better or worse — our perspective has just changed.