Ballad of the Bullet
Gangs, Drill Music, and the Power of Online Infamy
Aims and Scope
How poor urban youth in Chicago use social media to profit from portrayals of gang violence, and the questions this raises about poverty, opportunities, and public voyeurism
Amid increasing hardship and limited employment options, poor urban youth are developing creative online strategies to make ends meet. Using such social media platforms as YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, they’re capitalizing on the public’s fascination with the ghetto and gang violence. But with what consequences? Ballad of the Bullet follows the Corner Boys, a group of thirty or so young men on Chicago’s South Side who have hitched their dreams of success to the creation of “drill music” (slang for “shooting music”). Drillers disseminate this competitive genre of hyperviolent, hyperlocal, DIY-style gangsta rap digitally, hoping to amass millions of clicks, views, and followers—and a ticket out of poverty. But in this perverse system of benefits, where online popularity can convert into offline rewards, the risks can be too great.
Drawing on extensive fieldwork and countless interviews compiled from daily, close interactions with the Corner Boys, as well as time spent with their families, friends, music producers, and followers, Forrest Stuart looks at the lives and motivations of these young men. Stuart examines why drillers choose to embrace rather than distance themselves from negative stereotypes, using the web to assert their supposed superior criminality over rival gangs. While these virtual displays of ghetto authenticity—the saturation of social media with images of guns, drugs, and urban warfare—can lead to online notoriety and actual resources, including cash, housing, guns, sex, and, for a select few, upward mobility, drillers frequently end up behind bars, seriously injured, or dead.
Raising questions about online celebrity, public voyeurism, and the commodification of the ghetto, Ballad of the Bullet offers a singular look at what happens when the digital economy and urban poverty collide.
- 2 b/w illus.
- PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
- The Digital Street; Jeffrey Lane; Taylor Park; street life; street violence; drill rap; black super-predator; ghetto violence; gang rivalries; gang conflicts; youth culture; urban sociology; gang warfare; drug economy; attention economy; digital slumming; social media fame; social media celebrity; urban studies; urban ethnography; micro-celebrity; South Side Youth Violence Prevention Project; SSYVPP; social media policing; urban communities; urban violence; representation of urban gang violence; violent crime; music videos; self-made entrepreneur; Pierre Bourdieu; The Wire
- Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;
"In this pathbreaking book, Forrest Stuart blends classic ethnographic reporting on gangs and urban violence with cutting-edge observations of how actions in social media reverberate in real life. Ballad of the Bullet is the single best study we have on the interplay between the street and the screen, and an unforgettable account of culture and conflict in the twenty-first-century city."—Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People and Heat Wave
"With persuasive analysis and an engaging narrative, Ballad of the Bullet presents a compelling account of young men in Chicago who are actively engaged in the production of music and online videos that revolve around violent rivalries in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of the city. It will be difficult for readers to avoid feeling invested in the lives of the people featured in this book."—Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace