After listening to Chance the Rapper’s “Paranoia” more intently, I feel it is important to understand the context behind the song to fully appreciate and understand what is being said. I think the song is powerful as a social commentary on the state and culture of Chicago, addressing the gun violence that plagues the city. As a popular artist and Chicago native, Chance’s decision to speak on this sensitive topic makes the dialogue more genuine. The chorus of the song is striking in tone, providing imagery of Chance driving through Chicago on what seems like an ordinary day.
“I been riding around with a blunt on my lips/ The sun in my eyes and a fun on my hip/ paranoia on my mind got my mind on the fritz/ Because a lot of niggas dying so my 9 with the shits”
The chorus seems to convey what may come off as a feeling of indifference. That people dying in the city is one of Chicagos harsh realities. The “coldness” of this chorus may just be the hesitant acceptance that this is just a part of living in Chicago, and one should come to terms with the fear or paranoia. In 2013 interview with Sirius XM’s Sway In The Morning, Chance explains the culture of paranoia and fear in Chicago that cause people put on a front to avoid “being caught lackin”. He says the “idea that everyone is out to get me, and know one’s on my side” illicit a paranoia that you have to act tough, and that showing weakness or appearing vulnerable can make you a target.
The reasons for gun violence in Chicago are complex, and it is hard to pinpoint a single cause. “Poverty, unemployment, lack of access to education, and the fragmentation of gangs across the city are some of the factors that play a role in the violence. Also, the recent decision to close nearly 50 public schools has put thousands of children going to school at risk of violence or death.” (amnestyusa.org)
In 2013, the year that the album Acid Rap debuted, 414 people were killed in Chicago. 80 percent of those deaths were attributed to gun violence. “While amounting to an 18 percent increase from 2012, which saw a total of 506 homicides that year, Chicago had the highest number of homicides across the country in 2013” (data.cityofchicago.org)
“I really don’t know what the center point of it is, or where all the violence is coming from but I mean, it’s fucking festering in the city”. Having lived and grown up in the city, Chance knows that gun violence is widespread and affects men, women and children alike. In the same interview he states,“Them 15 year olds got guns, 14 year olds got guns, 13 year olds got guns. It’s because how how accessible that shit is to kids.” Though the reasons for carrying a weapon may very, it is likely fueled by the paranoia and the prevalence of violence. Being able to protect oneself instead of “being caught lacking”.
Though reluctant, Chance admits to carrying a gun whenever he is in Chicago. “N***** know that i’m not lackin’. When i’m in Chicago, i’m good. I’m not the n**** to promote violence or having a gun, but I know what the situation is, and it’s very real”.
Just from the chorus, we are able to get a sense of how gun violence affects the city, having no single root cause it appears to be more of an amalgam of issues. The song illustrates the complex feelings toward vulnerability. A dynamic that forces one to be caught in a vulnerable position, or to put on a front and carry a weapon. I think this song could most likely be connected to gun control and reformation. Looking at gun violence in Chicago specifically, I also believe that this song could be connected to the representation of African American people within news or media.
“They murking kids, they murder kids here/ Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here/ Where the fuck Matt Laura at?/ Somebody get Katie Couric in here”
Despite it being common for teens, kids and young children to become victims of gun violence, nobody seems to talk about it. There is no mention in mainstream media of the crime in Chicago as news outlets choose to turn a blind eye or shine the spotlight elsewhere. A reason for the lack of attention in the news could be because the kids being murdered in Chicago are black and or latino, not white. It is apparent that there is racial bias in the media with the portrayal victims of color, something that has been addressed in movements like the #IfIWasGunnedDown hashtag on Twitter.