within the first 10 days of that year, a number that sharply ascended to over 4,000 by the time 2016 was over. It fogged Chicago’s streets with upwards of 3,000 shooting incidents. It overcast communion with carnage as 876 Chicagoans suffered gunshot wounds over the Fourth of July weekend. It drenched the Windy City with dread as 66 fatalities and almost 400 shooting victims bloodied the summer with its deadliest Memorial Day weekend in 20 years. The city topped more homicides and shooting cases than both Los Angeles and New York combined. Though the rate of shooting victims who survived their wounds saw significant increase, Chicago’s murder rate blasted off to 72 percent in comparison to 2015 by the final days of March. The murder rate was just a pinch higher than the national average. And though the next two years saw a decrease in these fatal numbers, the media, the crime analysts, and everyone else looking from the outside in forced Chi-Town to wear the “Murder Capital” scarlet letter around its neck.
Chicago—home to the world’s most legendary figures like Michelle and Barack Obama, the late Bernie Mac, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey—was self-destructing right before the nation’s eyes. But Chicago’s hope for reclamation was not lost upon the bloodshed. In fact, they discovered that hope in the hearts of millennial Chicagoans, the youth—the future, who now becomes the vessels through which the spirit of Chicago lives.
Enter: G Herbo, hip-hop’s 23-year-old voice of the streets, one of Luc Belaire’s youngest and latest envoys, and more than just another Chicago success story.
I feel responsible for the youth when 14-year-olds go out and kill each other, and it’s 8-year-olds getting killed, and women getting killed in cars.
Homegrown from the Eastside of Chicago between 75th-79th and Kingston, G Herbo (born Herbert Wright III) was dealt what one might consider a better hand than the average rap hustler bred from the streets of the Chi: A two-parent household. A big brother promotion at the age of seven upon the birth of his now-16-year-old sister. An older cousin, Jeffrey, who worked at a library, pioneering his love for reading and wordplay. Perhaps most prominently as a hip-hop artist, it was G-Herbo’s late uncle, K-Tone, who chaperoned Lil Herb’s love for locution to the breeding grounds of music artistry.
Uncle K-Tone was in deep with the Chi’s ‘90s hip-hop VIP circle at the time, from the world’s fastest rapper Twista, to rap trio Do or Die, all the way to the underground beginnings of Common. Like any emulating nephew, the rap seed inevitably planted in G Herbo before he’d even hit puberty, though it wouldn’t sprout until about high school.
In conversation with CEO of Luc Belaire Brett Berish, G Herbo admits that these were his “knucklehead” years, so his typically supportive family turned a cold shoulder to his interest in rap as a lifestyle. “They didn’t really want me to rap ‘cause they thought it was gonna lead me to destruction, you know?” He recollects of his early days watering his rap skill. “Self-destruction.”
This parental vexation wasn’t totally baseless either. Early on, G Herbo traded in his bedroom beneath the roof of his nuclear family lifestyle for a plot out on the merciless streets of the Chi with his N.L.M.B. family (Never Leave My Brothers and No Limit Muskegon Boys). Herbo described the collective as a brotherhood, not a gang, though it is widely known as a sector of the Almight Black P. Stone Nation— “Chicago’s most powerful and sophisticated street gang.” Herbo keeps the explicit details of this period in his pre-stardom life scant, though a previous recollection of his decision to dropout of high school fills in the blanks. Herbo faced just as high a risk of mortality on the concrete as he did in the classroom of his high school, he shared with VladTV in 2016. The illicit behavior he got tangled up in from the streets would inevitably follow him behind the school’s double doors: the place where he grimly recalls death waiting on him.
“It wasn’t no point in going [to school] because I already know what’s going to happen once I get into it with a motherf**ker,” he shared. “It’s going to go one of two ways so I ain’t finna keep going to school doing this clown-a** sh**.”
I want to be just as good as Nas and Hov. That’s who I compare myself to. Not my peers.
Herbo admitted that the risks of taking his last breath on the streets ran neck and neck with taking his last one in a classroom. “I was risking my life and risking my freedom,” he said of his attendance. “We was already in the streets. Yes, you can get killed going to school. People got killed going to school. Early in the morning. That’s when you get killed on bus stops going to school, on your way to school, leaving your house at 7 in the morning sh** like that. You’ll get killed like that easy in Chicago.”
Naturally, Lil Herb’s mother and father wanted to shield their children from the horrors of a city notoriously spotlighted for its unsightly rates of violence. To witness their only son journey down one of its most virulent paths, they’d also be forced to shield their eyes from what they could warn him of but could not protect him from. Thankfully, something else rescued G Herbo from their nightmares, despite his parents not understanding any of it at first. “But rap saved me,” he told Berish. “It was a way for me to kind of get everything off of my chest.”
It wasn’t until the age of about 12 or 13 that Swervo realized—and later accepted—how his Chicago nativity would introduce him to the world in the same way a handshake does during a first encounter. A few years later, he decided to allow rap to precede his presence instead of his hometown. That kind of relationship with hip-hop takes sacrifice though and even more finger-wagging from his parents. “I had to stop going to high school because of music,” he said. “I was doing music, making a name for myself, and it was just too much. It was becoming dangerous, people was starting to see me at school, like I was really becoming kind of a local Chicago celebrity.” As a rap pupil anxious to foster his longtime love for wordplay into a rap career, Swervo was okay with that. Ultimately, he revered, the greats he bowed his mic to weathered their own stormy rap humble beginnings as well: Juelz Santana, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne.
It’s never been this kind of negative light shined on Chicago because I feel like there is no leadership. There is nobody to say, ‘Hey, let’s love each other.’
The support of Swervo’s peers replaced the absence of his parents’, who couldn’t connect to (let alone want to hit play on) the content of his music. His mother did, however, acknowledge her son’s transparency through the forbidden content, and had only two words for it that G Herbo must have heard a thousand times over by then: stay safe.
“Kill Sh**,” the single that lifted Herbo’s entry level street rap to senior level hip-hop notoriety alongside Lil Bibby, didn’t necessarily heed her caution:
Know a couple niggas that's down to ride for a homicide
When it's drama time
Run up on a n**ga with the llamas flyin
Leave his loved ones all traumatized
150, I'm really wit' it
I'll drop his a** and then forget it
I'm the man round my side of town
Might see a b**ch and forget I hit it
Ironically, this same record that made for a red flag of the relentless street culture of Chi-Town’s violent present and past became the basis for which Toronto hip-hop icon Drake would dub Swervo and Bibby “the future.” Swervo fell into the earshot of Drizzy’s Young Money co-star and femcee megastar Nicki Minaj as well, prompting her to snatch him up to lend the same annihilating bars of “Kill Sh**” to her “Chiraq” single.
I feel like I am the voice for the people. It is my responsibility to give back and help people.
The lyrics and cadence of G Herbo punctures like bullets on the track. In a lateral correlation, he understands how that touches the people too. “I feel like I am the voice for the people,” he asserts. “It is my responsibility to give back and help people.” For most 23-year-olds, the honor to carry an entire city on his back would be profound, but improbable. It’s a good thing that G Herbo isn’t most 23-year-olds then, and an even better fact that he doesn’t align nor limit himself to them either. “I want to be just as good as Nas and Hov,” Swervo says. “That’s who I compare myself to. Not my peers.” Aside from them, Herbo challenges himself as his only opponent. While the XXL 2015 Freshman acknowledges the distinct talents of his hip-hop peers, he’s in no race against them either. Such competition would only slow down his chase to the finish line in the race against his better self: a better performer, a better album (his forthcoming project, Swervo), a better entrepreneur and a better leader of Chicago’s youth. Pedaling back to Chicago’s darkest year of the 2000s, stats held that 41 children under the age of 14 were murdered or wounded in the dastardly gun violence endemic smogging the city in 2016. Even without pulling the trigger himself, G Herbo volunteers himself as tribute to those burdensome numbers. “I feel responsible for the youth when 14-year-olds go out and kill each other, and it’s 8-year-olds getting killed, and women getting killed in cars,” he exclaims. “I feel responsible for it!”
A difficult subject matter to speak on, G Herbo confesses, the murder rate among the youth is an unavoidable realism. As is the lack of leadership, which he also recognizes among his peers. “It’s never been this kind of negative light shined on Chicago because I feel like there is no leadership,” he says. “There is nobody to say, ‘Hey, let’s love each other.’” From the pavement of the streets to the larger platform of the music industry, Herbo plans to change that.
They didn’t really want me to rap ‘cause they thought it was gonna lead me to destruction, you know? Self-destruction.
Currently, the Welcome to Fazoland rapper is constructing 150 Dream Team, a company and label inspired by his neighborhood where he’ll sign aspiring musicians with hopes to remove them from the streets and land them into the studio. In that same breath, Swervo doesn’t wish for his fans to depend on narratives of homicide and armory war zones to cement their legacies in the Chi. After all, his entire city leans on him now for everything—from funeral costs to his family’s mortgage.
This is what heightens G Herbo among hip-hop’s humanitarian posse. This is what dissolves the illusion of bullet holes in the “Welcome to Chicago” sign out-of-towners may anticipate while driving through midwestern territory. This is the Chicago dream and the streets’ nightmare.
And in the words of Mr. Berish himself, “this is beyond self-made.”
But rap saved me. It was a way for me to kind of get everything off of my chest.