Credit: Jordan Esparza

Thousands gathered this year for the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, just outside of Chicago. Every year this festival brings to town some of the hottest talent in hip-hop. But this year was special for the hometown crowd as the legendary, mythical Chicago artist Chief Keef was slated to headline the final night of the festival. Chief Keef has essentially been living in exile from his hometown for the past twelve years, due to a mixture of legal issues and a general fear that his presence may result in violence. Keef’s attempt to perform via hologram in 2015 would be canceled when then-mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office released a statement stating that his music “promotes violence” and his performance posed a “significant public safety risk.”

As a pioneer of drill music Chief Keef broke into the Chicago scene back in 2011 with his grungy yet realistic music videos and provocative lyrics, visually bringing us into his world and explaining the violence he was living through. He was a teenager who brought street life to the masses, as Keef and his friends fought to survive around poverty, violence, and their high school’s pending closure. 

Sunday started out as a normal sunny, hot Chicagoland day. With everyone’s mind on one person: “Sosa,” aka Chief Keef. From the start of the day a severe weather warning loomed but didn’t seem likely. 

Around 5:15pm dark gray clouds began to engulf SeatGeek Stadium, followed by a written and verbal message to festival attendees urging event goers to evacuate due to severe weather threats. But the crowd was not having it. Almost nobody moved towards the exits and the crowd quickly began to hurl items such as toilet paper and water bottles at the stage. 

It wasn’t until an absolutely chilling gust of wind swept through the area and the first drops of rain fell when people started to exit. Upon leaving the festival, my friends and I ended up in a food plaza’s parking lot, where we spotted DJ Kenn, the host of Chief Keef’s first ever mixtape “Bang.” For me, this confirmed that Chief Keef was not only performing, but was on festival grounds.

Credit: Jordan Esparza

As the clock struck nine almost the entirety of the festival had converged onto the lyrical lemonade area to witness history, but Chief Keef was running late. He was scheduled for 9pm and the show had a hard 10pm curfew. 9:10 passed, 9:20, 9:30…and shortly after, he emerged from behind the stage, saying “Sosa back in the ‘Raq” as he put on a show for his hometown crowd.

The moment was phenomenal. The man, the myth, the legend, the pioneer, in an all-white silk button up shirt, and all his “mothafuckin’ jewelry on,” blessed Chicago with an approximate forty minute set, containing classics such as “Faneto,” “Earned It,” “John Madden,” as well as songs from his newest sixteen track album Almighty So 2 which dropped in May of this year. He ended with one of his biggest hits, the timeless, “Love Sosa.”

Chief Keef was also accompanied by his daughter, his Glo Gang affiliates such as Ballout and Tadoe. And later being joined by another hometown hero G Herbo to perform his classic “Kill Shit” and “Who Run It (Remix).” People climbed portable toilets for a better view, and screamed every word from the heart for the hometown hero.

Credit: Jordan Esparza

As fate would have it, nothing was going to stop Chief Keef. Much like in his tumultuous upbringing, Keef was determined to persevere on a day that was reminiscent of his entire story. After twelve long years, Chief Keef performed in Chicagoland and got to witness the love his people have for him in person. 

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Jordan Esparza is a photojournalist covering the arts, culture and social movements in Chicago.

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