As the man with “love lost” teardrops tattooed on his face exited Taste Buds on Chicago’s West Side with two Italian beef sandwiches, he chastised his companion for taking a seat in the restaurant.
“You trying to get us killed or something? Never sit down in a restaurant over here. I mean it’s probably OK now, but definitely not at night time.”
Marzett, a Chicago rapper who is getting a lot of attention following the release of his recent video “Gangsta City,” raps about the danger that looms on the streets, but his perspective is different from other Chicago rappers.
The video, which features lyrics laced with expletives that could be deemed offensive to some, was featured on Chicago hip-hop blog, Fake Shore Drive, which was ranked 13th in Vibe magazine’s hip hop blogs and was voted XXL magazine’s top 100 best websites. Andrew Barber, who runs the blog, is known for bringing local artists more listeners.
“Everyone in Chicago is a rapper nowadays. It’s currently the most flooded and oversaturated of any occupation out there,” said Barber, who receives hundreds of submissions weekly that are often copycats of current Chicago artists.
“Every now and again someone will catch my attention and Marzett did just that,” he said.
‘I was born and raised in the gangsta city’
Marzett, 24, wrote “Gangsta City” while he played the instrumental track and drove around the city thinking about how to rap about the things he saw. After he pulled his car over to write in the notepad of his iPhone, he couldn’t seem to find the words for some of the subjects he wanted to cover.
“Really the [stuff] I wrote wasn’t half of what I wanted to say. It’s just hard to put everything in 16 bars,” said the West Side native.
Barber said the first thing he noticed about the song was the beat and then the perspective Marzett had on Chicago was different from other artists.
“Typically, rappers are either rapping about violence or they’re preaching against it,” said Barber. “Marzett found middle ground and rapped about it from a third-party perspective, which really stuck out to me.”
Marzett hails from “L-Town,” an area on the West Side where the streets are in alphabetical order. These blocks are adjacent to “K-Town” where Grammy-nominated rapper Twista grew up.
The “Gangsta City” rapper spent most of his life with his single mother.
“When I was a shorty, [my dad] was there, but when I really needed him he wasn’t there. His presence wasn’t felt,” said Marzett, “The times when you really need your daddy is in high school.”
Marzett, who goes by only one name, found a way beyond the books to make money.
“I was never a good student. I wasn’t stupid. I was just lazy,” he said.
During his high school years Marzett would come to school with a full bag that didn’t have any textbooks. Instead, the young artist filled the bag with inventory. He sold chips and juices to his classmates, making upwards of $200 dollars a week.
During those years Marzett witnessed a lot of violence. His tattoo “love lost” on his face represents two of his friends he lost due to violence. One of the teardrops is an ode to his friend who was shot and killed while driving, while Marzett was in the car with him. He raps about this kind of violence, and his views of the police, which he sees as just another gang, but with badges.
“Every day you know of [someone] that got killed. It may not have been your man, but it’s [someone] you know of or somebody your cousin knows,” said Marzett.
‘My whole city is cutthroat’
Chris Densmore, 25, said he is very familiar with what Marzett is rapping about. Densmore is owner and creative director of Fly Society, which produces music videos, interviews and photography.
Densmore said the rap scene is popular because everyone wants to get paid. Chicago rapper Chief Keef, 17, came to prominence after recording a music video while under house arrest and posting it to YouTube. Chicago native Kanye West remixed the song and caused Chief Keef’s publicity to skyrocket.
“A lot of these rappers aren’t making money from albums. They are making money from mixed-tapes and then doing 15-minute club performances for 30 grand,” said Densmore.
The Fly Society owner said it is important for people to look at the intent music artists have. He said Chief Keef makes sure his grandmother’s house is paid for and his artists are taken care of.
“Do the ends justify the means? Not necessarily,” said Densmore, “If you got to choose between rapping about shooting someone in the face or putting food on the table, I mean what are you going to do?”
Marzett would like to have the same success, so he can take care of his year-old daughter. But he takes a different approach from Chief Keef, who many see as glorifying violence in his lyrics. Marzett said he hopes people don’t think he’s advocating violence because he talks about it in his songs.
“I’m doing my part, ’cause once I grab these [guys’] ears from my music, then I’m able to be that bigger brother to [them] and I can go on their block and they can listen to me then,” said Marzett.
“I’ve got to get my people out of the struggle. I’ve got a lot of people that’s waiting on me,” he added. “My momma told me everybody is three people away from their destiny. I know my destiny.”