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‘We [mostly] carry guns for the internet’: Visibility labour, social hacking and chasing digital clout by Black male youth in Chicago’s drill rap scene

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Much negative attention has been given to the ‘drill’ music genre, a subgenre of gangsta rap that was born in Chicago’s underground hip hop scene in early 2010s. Previous scholarship has highlighted how social media has shifted how gang-affiliated youth in Chicago carefully manage their street reputations, communicate with peers and fuel gang rivalries through platformed creation. Yet still, in the context of drill, I argue that social media self-branding practices also provide these youth a way out of containment and sequestration to gain visibility in the music industry and empower their neighbourhoods. Based on interviews with drill recording artists and their support workers, I explore the content and character of their work, the centrality of work ethic to their racial identity construction and the way they use social media work to build and maintain status, authenticity and cultivate connections with fans, friends and other cultural producers. Bridging traditional theories of urban sociology with emerging new media scholarship, I suggest this group of artists is a representative case of how the digital practices of disadvantaged Black youth have typically gone mischaracterized in the literature. This study offers new insights into ‘capping’ as an important tenet to hip hop’s visibility labour on social media and how the ‘always on’ nature of digital labour adds another dimension to the typical utilization of street authenticity in narratives of hip hop music. This article concludes by illuminating the many deep contradictions and misconceptions about technological ingenuity, Black youth agency, hip hop culture and street credibility in urban communities.

Keywords: drill music; hip hop; media literacy; microcelebrity; platformed creation; popular music; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 000000009075106XUniversity of South Carolina

Publication date: August 1, 2020

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  • Global Hip Hop Studies (GHHS) is a peer-reviewed, rigorous and community-responsive academic journal that publishes research on contemporary as well as historical issues and debates surrounding hip hop music and culture around the world, twice annually.
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