Here’s How You Really Write a Song About Violence in Chicago

Chicago’s problems deserve better art than Wyclef’s new “Bang Bang Bang.”

Photo: Courtesy of BJ the chicago kid

BJ the Chicago Kid

Today, one-time motorcycle model Wyclef Jean released his new mix tape, April Showers.

It contains the single “Bang Bang Bang,” an execrable acoustic lament about Chicago gun violence. (Sample lyrics: “Everywhere it’s a bang bang bang, moving around like orangutans. At the mall, it’s a bang bang bang. Even in front of the church, they bang bang bang.”)

Not only is the song indicative of the sort of concern-trolling, vaguely patronizing fare that has made Jean infamous. The song is also, frankly, unnecessary.

If you want to hear a song that really captures the capriciousness of urban violence, look no further than rising R&B star BJ the Chicago KidGoofy moniker notwithstanding, his 2012 single, “His Pain ” featuring Kendrick Lamar, is a plaintive, chilling reflection of growing up in the inner city with a litany of problems, including violence.

Over a melancholy piano melody, Kendrick and BJ sing over and over again, “I don’t know why He keeps blessing me,” as they regale various ghastly scenarios of friends whose brothers were shot, custody battles, and homeless relatives. But they’re not sensationalizing these issues. They’re asking existentially why they’ve been spared.

“I wonder will it get better,” croons BJ, before singing a story about getting a bad feeling at a club, leaving, and finding out the next morning that three men got shot there later that same night.

What’s most horrifying about gun violence, after all, is how random it is. Shooters miss. Bullets ricochet. Innocent people get caught in the crossfire.

Instead of generically listing all the ails that plague the inner city, as Wyclef does, BJ and Kendrick are introspective. They’re aware that they’re lucky—they would argue, blessed.

We need musicians to grapple with these problems thoughtfully. Wyclef should stick to party music.

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