Earlier this week, Nicki Minaj released "Chi-Raq," a song featuring steely-eyed Chicago street rapper Lil Herb. Herb's been riding a wave of positive publicity since his debut mixtape Welcome To Fazoland, but nothing drew as much attention to him—not even our "Who Is Lil Herb" article—as this Nicki Minaj collaboration.
But Minaj can rarely move without controversy following her these days. Earlier this year, her "Lookin Ass Nigga" single art was criticized for its confusing use of an iconic photo of Malcolm X. This time around, it was her use of "Chiraq," a term that's sparked controversy from a number of different angles. One article from Ebony's Jamilah Lemieux argued that she was "sick and disgusted and tired and tight" about Chiraq references—particularly from people not from Chicago, and from anyone over the age of 25: "It’s not cool, it’s not bad ass and it’s not accurate." On Twitter, @RustyMK2 even called it "death marketing."
Chicago rapper Mic Terror had a different point of view, arguing that the city "is #ChiRaq until the reason it got called that is fixed," and said further:
Acknowledge the genocide and economical warfare being waged on the colored folk of chicago, it is #ChiRaq— MIC TERROR 20/3 (@MicDaTerrible) April 8, 2014
The day after "Chi-Raq" dropped, Chicago rapper Dreezy dropped her own remix of the track, rapping "Soon as you set a foot in Chiraq, you will feel uneasy."
Chiraq's been used in Chicago for several years; rapper King Louie, who recently appeared on Kanye West's Yeezus, released a (great) mixtape called Chiraq, Drillinois back in 2011. More recently, it's been co-opted by outside forces; Vice recently published a documentary called Chiraq, which received criticism in some corners for being exploitative. Complex commenter "lemme tell ya" recently described his shifting attitude toward the word "Chiraq" in a comment on our "Who Is Lil Herb?" story:
Being from Chicago, I think it's time to put the "Chiraq" name to bed. I hear that word and it doesn't remind me of gansgter shit anymore. Now it brings to mind the image of a cornball hipster running through the westside with a camera. The name has become a tool for exploitation. It's a bunch of hipster dorks sitting around in brooklyn thinking of a way to bring page views while pretending to care about a section of the city that is slowly eating itself alive.
But what does Lil Herb himself think of the song, and the ensuing controversy? We spoke with Herb briefly, to find out how the collaboration came together, whether or not the track will appear on her album, and his thoughts on the "Chiraq" controversy.
How did she first reach out to you?
She reached out to me on my own. SB [Safaree], he called. Her assistant. It just went from there. We didn't know how serious it was at first until—they tried to fly us out the same day they spoke with us.
Did you fly out that day?
Nah, we flew out maybe a week later. They said I was actually the hardest person for them to get in contact with, almost.
When did they reach out?
Maybe a week and a half ago.
Did she tell you how she first heard your music?
She didn't tell me really how she first heard it. But she told me she was always familiar with it. That the song best fit me, so that's why she decided to put me on it. It was my flow she was using, from "Kill Shit," so she thought it was best for me to get on the track.
Do you know if this is going to be on her album?
Yeah, she said she was going to put it on the album.
What was it like in the studio?
It was real good. She's cool. We had a good time, it was just work and fun. All work and fun at the same time. Down to earth. Real normal, natural girl. Cool and helpful. We was laughing, she had suggestions on shit. She was real cool, you know. Somebody I could be around.
How many songs did you guys do together?
Just that one. We might work [again] in the near future.
I saw she tweeted you out too. Did you get a whole bunch of new Twitter followers?
Almost 20,000 [more] followers already. I went from like 50k to like 68k.
How long did it take to do your verse?
We was actually in the studio together the whole day. But to record it probably took a few hours. To finish it, write it, make sure it was all good. Have it perfect? Maybe three hours, four hours tops.
There were people who thought it was a bad idea for Nicki—since she's not from Chicago—to call a song Chiraq. What do you think about that?
I don't even really pay attention to it. I don't think it was a bad idea or a bad anything. I mean, she reached out to me, to put me on the song. She's rapping about shit that's going on in Chicago. That's what I rap about. That's what I'm known for. That's what she reached out to me for. So why would we rap about flowers and heart shapes?
RELATED: Who Is Lil Herb?
RELATED: Listen to Dreezy's Remix of Nicki Minaj's "Chi-Raq"