Having three major stars and many of their peers leave Chicago has had negative effects on the scene’s growth. Mark Buol moved back to Chicago in order to put on for the city, but expresses the challenges trying to grow in a city where dill artists can rarely throw events.
“There was a certain allure to things pre-internet that can’t be felt nowadays,” he says. “I can go on Instagram and see Drake every single day. So I feel like in order to cut through a lot of the internet stuff, the physical presence is almost more important than it’s ever been. Whether it’s a pop-up shop for merch or a meet-and-greet or a show, those things are so much more important nowadays, because you’ve got to cut through all the internet stuff and really touch the people. So for an artist not to be able to go and do a show in their hometown, makes it a lot harder to build a fan base. Because every artist, for the most part, builds their fan base in their hometown.”
Those difficulties often cause labels to pull newly signed artists out of the city, as Merk Murphy says: “If you are showing interest, number one, get them out of Chicago. Take them west. Develop them there. Put them in a hotel for a couple months. And that’s kind of always been the routine.”
Indeed, Chicago native and new Atlantic Records signee Lil Eazzyy says the label helped move him from Chicago to LA to develop his craft “as soon as I got signed.” But he tells us he doesn’t mind, because there’s not much industry infrastructure back home.
“It ain’t really nothing going on in Chicago,” he says. “Motherfuckers end up dead or in jail in Chicago. It ain’t a lot of energy out there. There’s good energy in LA. LA makes you want to get on your shit.”
His feelings echo Polo G’s, who told Complex, “[There’s] so much shit going on [and a] high [murder rate]. [Rappers aren’t] gonna have to worry about that shit no more [if they leave Chicago]. If you come to a city where you ain’t got street beef, nobody is going to be mad to see you make it out.”
Herbo expresses the same feelings about LA, noting, “I’m motivated every day I wake up to make myself better, learn new things. Or just be around an environment where I don’t have to stick out like a sore thumb trying to be successful or trying to do something different. It’s limitless opportunities here.”
But Herbo, Polo, and Durk, have still tried to put on for Chicago in their own ways. Herbo and Durk have both participated in food and back to school drives. Last August, Herbo provided 500 hours of free therapy for Chicago residents through his “Swervin through Stress” program. Polo started an AAU basketball team for his former elementary school and has been open about wanting to further support Chicago. They’ve all kept a positive presence in the city and have done what they can to give back. But it seems like for now, they feel better off being based outside the city.
In a perfect world, these artists would be able to find the opportunities they seek in Chicago, the third biggest market in America. But in this world, the Windy City establishment has worked overtime to stifle them.
“They made it so difficult for them to be here and there was so much negativity surrounding them being here that they’ve all moved away,” Barber says, also ruing, “It’s like people are really trying to see these kids fail no matter what, and I hate it.”
Eazzyy says that there’s actually “hella shit going on in Chicago” from a performance standpoint, but they’re usually located in the suburbs or at small, private engagements. “Joliet is always bustin’,” he says. “And it be quiet shows, too. They do a lot of birthday party shows. They might book somebody and turn it up in their backyard.”
At least artists are getting some chance to get on stage, but backyard performances are nothing like selling out a hometown show at a large venue. That said, he doesn’t think drill rappers should give up if music is their passion.
“If [drill music] what you genuinely love, then keep rapping,” Eazzyy implores. “There’s plenty of Drill artists out here that [have] made a name for [themselves], so I feel like it’s not impossible.”
Buol, who moved back to Chicago from San Francisco, says he’s trying to contribute to bringing more industry to Chicago. “One of my goals was I really want to put on for the city and start to try to play my hands in building an infrastructure here, so that the city can self-sustain, similar to how Atlanta does now. You don’t got to leave Atlanta.”
There’s a new generation of Chicago-born talent with proximity to drill, like Polo G, Calboy, and Eazzyy, but they’re experiencing some of the same old show issues locally. Merk did get to pull off a Polo G show in the city, but there were numerous stipulations.
“We made huge donations and had to make sure that it was a daytime event,” he recalls. “We wrapped up by like 5 or 6 o’clock. The parameters set around anything remotely linked to drill doesn’t fuel the local industry. The support of the city [doesn’t] exist. Chicago is just a toxic environment when it comes to fertilizing its home-grown products, especially that of our descent.”
While Durk’s team notes that he’s had difficulties, they’re optimistic that a meeting he had with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot near the beginning of 2020 is a step in the right direction.
“That was big of Mayor Lightfoot to do, to talk to the different artists in the city of Chicago,” Ola says. “That was a disconnect from the past mayor [and] the past police chief. Because if you really sat down and got to know these kids, and talked to these different artists in Chicago that are making these drill rap songs, [you’d realize] they’re really good people with good hearts. And I think if you just understand them and know where they come from, then you’d know, ‘OK, I shouldn’t be stopping them from trying to perform in Chicago or doing events in Chicago, because the youth actually fucks with them.’”