The Gospel of Slim Jesus: Drill Music, Appropriation, and Authenticity

Written By: Kev Morris

Let me start off by saying this, Slim Jesus this isn’t your fault. You aren’t to blame for the mass appropriation of a genre of music that has penetrated middle America. I’m not quite sure of your background, you may have grown up in some unfavorable circumstances seeing how you are from Ohio and there are a laundry list of financial woes that has hit that region now known as the “Rust Belt”. And I also respect the fact that you yourself admitted that the music you make is purely out of appreciation for the genre and not in any way indicative of the lifestyle you actually lead. But you are representative of a dilemma in hip-hop where authenticity and realism is compromised by people like you who abstract the reality of this music. But lemme back up a bit and really lay out the issue at hand.

We’re here to talk about the hip-hop sub genre of “drill” music which falls under the larger umbrella of “trap” music which has its roots in Southern based hip-hop. Drill comes out of Chicago, primarily the Southside of the city and is characterized by the gritty, violent, and graphic nature of the lyrics over slowed trap-like beats. Rappers like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Bibby and Lil Reese popularized drill on a mainstream scale dating back to about 2012. This was a sharp break from the hip-hop that people were accustomed to hearing out of Chicago from rappers like Common, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Twista. Drill came on the scene at a time when Chicago was undergoing demographic transformations with the gentrification of many areas around the city and was reflective of the chaos brought about by the dislocation of many poor working-class families.

“Chiraq” became the new name of the city which saw countless acts of violence and the reporting of this violence on loop throughout different media outlets. The reality of what was going on in Chicago was vividly represented by rappers like Chief Keef who for better or worse shed light on the mentality of black youth in the city amidst the heightened violence of the last few years. Drill music in all of its violence and underlying despair raised some serious questions about the quality of life experienced by Southsiders in one of America’s most vibrant cities. Drill music is or was representative of a rap phenomenon growing out of the experience of one of America’s most marginalized and alienated groups – poor young black men.

Fast forward to 2015 and the drill music world was taken by storm by the incomparable Slim Jesus. With his debut single “Drill Time” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRo48zg2iyU) makin’ crazy waves on WorldStar and YouTube, the questions about the reality that was attached to drill music had been white washed – pun intended. This is another case where a style of hip-hop that had initially formed as a direct response to social conditions was appropriated and depoliticized. This isn’t to say that Chief Keef, Durk, or Reese were politically conscious, but the graphic nature of their music was certainly reflective of something really happening on the streets of Chicago. Insofar as that is true, it carried some major social and political implications. But now with Slim Jesus, Drill’s lord and savior, those conditions have been overshadowed by the spectacle of listening to some scrawny white kid from Ohio rap about a lifestyle not his own. And granted this isn’t the first time a rapper (black or white) has rapped about something he/she hasn’t really done before, but this is interesting in that the nature of drill is so Chicago, so specific to a certain experience, that to hear or watch this kid rap about gang life, guns, and money is really off putting.

But Slim Jesus does offer the opportunity to engage some important questions around the topic of authenticity in hip-hop. The fact that he openly admits to not living the life he raps about calls into question the truth behind the stories most of these rappers are presenting today. I mean, how important is authenticity when you can become a YouTube sensation by riding the wave of a popular rap style and where one’s content does not have to match one’s real life experience? We are left with the dilution of reality in the music. The messages being purported through drill tracks reflect real life issues surrounding urban poverty, gang violence, and homicide crisis. When we listen to music appropriated by rappers like Slim Jesus we are also undermining if not completely ignoring the social and political issues at hand. Slim Jesus makes drill music into surface level entertainment that is not grounded in any real experience. I’m not saying I’m all for the violence and rage that comes out of the drill scene, but I see the potential of using the negatives of this music to shed light on larger issues facing Chicago. But with the appropriation of drill happening now the prospects of that are Slim… Jesus help us.