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Chicago Rapper G Herbo Pivots To Vulnerability — And Scores A Hit

Written by on April 3, 2020


G Herbo came up in Chicago’s drill scene — a style of music praised for its lack of affect and criticized for its portrayal of violence. But on his new album PTSD, he drops the mask and cries.

For all of the criticisms of rap music for glorifying violence or hyper-masculine posturing, every generation, every scene has produced a moment that strips away the armor. And I’m not talking about underground sleeper hits.

“You gotta get that out. It’s human,” says Herbo. “You got to get it out. And I think that record is me telling people, it’s OK to get it out, because they look at me like, oh, Herb is tough. He a gangsta. He this. You know what I’m saying? But I’m human. I cry, too.”

Herbo’s new album contains more than one mask drop. Its animating emotion is empathy for the young men and women surviving terror and violence of those sections of Chicago with very few options.

“You can’t make someone get off the corner. You don’t have a alternative for them. This is how they feed their family. You don’t have a alternative for them when they get off of that corner. What are they going to do – let the economy eat them up? You know what I’m saying? You wouldn’t do it. No one would do it.”

Herbo did get off the corner, but what he saw there haunts him.

“I talked to my therapist before, and I told her some of the stuff that I’ve been through. And she said she’d never even heard of it or seen it besides watching a movie. And it’s normal, a regular Tuesday for us. So drill music was really speaking our truth.”

Drill is the style of music that Herbo came up in. It originated in Chicago and has been praised for its lack of affect as often as it’s been excoriated for its cold-blooded depictions of violence.As Herbo’s star rose through albums and mixtapes and freestyles gone viral, so did drill’s. There are currently iterations of the genre coming out of both Brooklyn and the U.K. But drill has never managed to outrun its critics.

For them, Herbo has words:

“If you see kids living like this, obviously, there’s something wrong. Something’s going on. You judging it, but you need to be helping us. Why are we 16, 17 years old, living life like this? Where are the adults? Who’s there to help us? That’s what you need to look at. It’s not about, oh, what we’re doing is wrong. Of course what we’re doing is wrong. We don’t know it’s wrong because it’s our life.”

On his new album, Herbo doesn’t shirk from describing his lived experience. It’s just that his life now includes a useful diagnosis, mentors and a sense that his story has real value. Herbo says it’s important for him to sometimes express that without the pageantry of music.

“Because when it’s coming out of my mouth and it’s not on an instrumental, it’s a totally different feel,” said Herbo

He’s done some speaking at the Cook County Juvenile Center

“It’s surreal. It’s weird going there because I used to get arrested and go to court there. And so I’m able to relate to those kids.”

Herbo’s had to go to court as an adult as well, including for a domestic violence misdemeanor. He addresses that incident on his album, and I asked him if he’s also brought it up with the kids at the juvenile center.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s just about choices, the decisions you make. And a lot of times, I am hurt. You know, a lot of times, I am frustrated. But I feel this way for a reason, so I can’t fight that. You know what I’m saying?”

“I’ll go through it on my own. I’ll face my fears because I think that is how you clash. That is how you end up hurting someone or putting your hands on a woman when you try to run from that. I think I learned how to face my fears as a man, and that’s what helps me maneuver.”

G Herbo’s soul-baring on “PTSD” means his maneuvers are available to everybody who hears it. But he’s right. What he’s got to say does land differently when he just says it.

“You don’t have it figured out at 18, 15. You don’t have it figured out at 25,” Herbo says

Try 35.

“Thirty-five, you don’t have it figured out, absolutely. So bet on yourself.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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