Last week local rapper G.o.D. Jewels released "The Lost Childhoods," a stark tune about growing up surrounded by violence. The track is part of an in-progress compilation mixtape—which also includes music from Dave Coresh, Prince Jericho, and the Boy Illinois—created in collaboration with a nonprofit called the Lost Childhoods, based in Englewood and Woodlawn. The mixtape, The Lost Childhoods: Never Forget Derrion Albert, drops Mon 9/24.
"I do believe music is one of the main components that can either hurt or help people," says Lost Childhoods creative director Maxwell "Emcays" Mkwezalamba. He hopes to use it to address issues that affect youth violence. "Recently we're realizing how powerful Chicago music is as it's being recognized nationally, and I really wanted to do something positive in our city."
Mkwezalamba is referring specifically to Chicago rap, which has surged into the national spotlight this year largely thanks to the east-side drill scene and its celebrity face, teenage phenom Chief Keef. The drill sound—a local variant of the popular strain of southern hip-hop called trap—combines dark, aggressive, often brutally minimalist beats with lyrics that can be just as bleak. Young MCs growing up in some of Chicago's most notorious neighborhoods tend to make music that reflects or even embraces the gunplay that surrounds them.
Keef and his peers have been criticized for their lyrics, but that hasn't stopped the press from crowning him the new voice of Chicago hip-hop. The Fader put Keef on the cover of its August/September issue, and its story focuses on his inner circle and a few key collaborators, not the city's rap community as a whole. Recently the conversation surrounding Chicago hip-hop has been intertwined with the issue of violence, a connection strengthened in the public mind by this summer's dismaying homicide numbers. So long as Keef remains the poster boy for the whole city's hip-hop scene, there will no doubt be plenty more think pieces linking local rap and local violence.
Mkwezalamba hopes to offer a different perspective with The Lost Childhoods. The project is about engaging positively with communities and spreading awareness of youth violence—and its release date is the third anniversary of the death of Derrion Albert, the honor student beaten to death near Fenger Academy. Albert's murder attracted widespread attention, but only briefly; Mkwezalamba is determined to keep his memory alive. The mixtape's track list isn't settled yet, so if you want to submit material, e-mail email@example.com.