Rapper Que B.I.L.L.A.H. discusses the motivation and creative process behind his video for “KKK: Kids Killing Kids”
By Cinque Muhammad and Que B.I.L.L.A.H.
CHICAGO (TLG Daily Plug-In) - With senseless violence continuing to besiege the city of Chicago and claiming the lives of its children within the inner-city areas; creating an atmosphere that robs them of a normal childhood and a promising future, rapper Que B.I.L.L.A.H. recently released his video for “KKK: Kids Killing Kids,” drawing the comparison between the Ku Klux Klan and youth killings throughout the nation. “In inner cities all across America, Trayvon is killing Trayvon, black on black crime,” states the artist. “If we don’t love, respect and protect each other, how can we expect America to protect us against the Zimmerman’s of this world?” The TLG Daily Plug-In caught up with the Austin area native to talk about his prolific work, his views on the causes of the problem, and what youth can do position themselves to survive their war-torn environment. Questions and answers were submitted via email.
Q. The video and song is an epic presentation! So many messages, visually and lyrically. I know it took quite a bit of time and effort to bring your vision to fruition. Take me through the creative process of writing the song and conceptualizing the imagery. What were your goals for this project?
A. Well, the song started with the video concept. That’s mostly how I create now. I have images and ideas in my head, and they often come together and spontaneously combust in my mind into an idea for a film. After that, I say to myself, “This would be a dope video.” I then run it by Noyz, the Director of Da Visionaryz and a good friend of mine whom I collaborate with often. Then I search for a beat and write a song (side note… I don’t write) that fits the concept of the video. I have actually had this idea for quite a while, at least since 2010. This idea actually changed a little over those 3 yrs. Originally the idea was to recreate scenes from films such as Juice, Menace 2 Society and Boyz In the Hood; and for every scene that showed gun violence, we would use Nintendo guns instead of real guns. I knew that idea would be expensive to pull off, but I was determined to do it. I was so determined because I actually have friends that look like characters from those movies. I have a friend that looks like Raheem from Juice…one that looks like Ice Cube. I have a friend that looks like the guy that shot Ricky in Boyz In the Hood, and ironically, the producer of The KKK song resembles Tupac in Juice… same haircut and all. I was really gung-ho about this idea. I just didn’t have the song or the money, so I sat on it.
In late 2012 the producer of The KKK, Chuck Lawayne, sent me some beats. The first beat ended up being THE KKK, but I didn’t like any of the beats, including that one. I thought they were all too ‘trap’-sounding. I even called him and told him like, “Man those are good beats, but not my style. Send me some more.” About a month later, I saw a post on Instagram that said ‘Kids Killing Kids, the new KKK’. Can’t even remember who posted it, but I was like, “Wow, that’s powerful.” So instantly I’m like, “That’s the song I’m going to use the Nintendo guns for.” Still had no beat at this time. So now a week or two later, I’m in the shower with the beats playing. The beat came on, and out of nowhere I started singing, “I believe the children are the future/Teach them well and let them lead the way.” So now I’m like, “That’s it, that’s the hook for The KKK.” Next, I take it to the studio and go in the booth with nothing written. That’s my recording process. I just have a general topic or video idea, and I just think of the first thing that comes to my head and build upon that, two lines at a time. So the first thing that popped in my head was that IG post ‘Kids Killing Kids the new KKK,’ and an hour later I had a song. Now I’m like, “Okay, this is a dope song.” I always surprise myself when I make songs, because before I walked in the booth I had no idea where I was going, and then I always arrive at dopeness. Originally I sang the hook myself, but then I decided to get someone who can really sing on this hook.
I wanted the hook to sound serious, because it sounded funny when I was singing it in auto-tune, lol. So I’m like, “Who could I get to sing this, because right now I sound like Randy Watson from Coming to America.” I ended up putting Gemstones on it. I had him coming to the studio to rap on another song, but when he got there I ran both ideas by him. He liked both, so we did both. That dude is a dope artist and a perfectionist like me. The first time we layed the vocals, we had spent like four hours recording another song, and then we did this. We kind of rushed through The KKK hook. We both ended up not liking the tone. So like a true professional, he came back for another session and we got it right.
So now that the song is done, I get a call from another friend and director, Brandon Riley. Brandon shot my first video, “Head in the Whip While the Chick Was Driving.” Brandon said, “Hey, I have this talented young director looking for some dope stuff to do, so I think you two should link up and do some stuff.” He said that he would shoot the video, and the other guy would direct and produce the video. I ran a few ideas and songs by them, and they liked The KKK, so we settled on that. This new director’s name was Seth. During a meeting Seth and I had over the phone, he told me to write all my ideas down as if I had a million-dollar budget, and we would scale it down. That’s exactly what I did, and I wrote the best treatment I have ever written. It was way too expensive though, lol. I had all kinds of crazy stuff in it… drug deals gone bad, drive-by shootings, and an actual war scene where fathers in prison uniforms would run through a vacant lot trying to protect their kids, while other kids in Army fatigues fired machine guns at them, lol. In my mind, we were going to film Black Hawk Down for a 3-minute song, lol. Seth was blown away, and he wanted to try to do it all, lol. He told me that anything was possible… where there is a will there is a way. I then said, “Man, how the hell are we going to burn a cross?” lol. He said, “Bro, I burned down a whole house for my last video.” He had my complete confidence at that point.
Brandon and Seth became extremely busy and couldn’t shoot the video, but they still were a tremendous help with the production process.
My goal for this video is simple… to show people that this is not a game, although many people think it is. These kids die in real life. No one cares, and people think it’s a game until the game comes to their home.
Q. You recently commented on Facebook that Kids Killing Kids is not the problem, it’s only a symptom of the problem, and the real problem lies with the imbalance of wealth in the world. Please touch on that for a second?
A. Well, much like a runny nose is a sign that you have a cold, which is a virus, Kids Killing Kids is a sign that America has a virus. Left untreated, it can lead to bigger problems. The imbalance of wealth is a serious problem, mainly because of the vast differences in living conditions. Chicago has the highest murder rate in the country. Where do these murders happen? Lincoln Park? Hyde Park? Bridgeport? Not at all. This violence that plagues our city is happening where the average incomes are the lowest in the city. Where does most of the crack and heroin get sold? In Wicker Park? Nah… in the Austin area. How many corners in the Ukrainian Village have people selling drugs on them in broad daylight??? Zero. Why is it that you can keep these crimes out of Roscoe Village, but not out of the Austin area or Englewood? I’ll tell you why… because if someone gets shot on Diversey and Sheffield, the Pritzkers, who happen to be one of the richest families in America, would move right out of the city and take their business elsewhere. So when Hadiya Pendleton gets shot in Kenwood and her family moves out of their house, what happens? Does it affect the city’s bottom line? Not at all! The bottom line is money… money talks, and if you don’t have any, end of conversation.
Q. For over a decade you have built a career, and stayed true to the cause that you believe in. What’s your opinion on the direction that rap music is headed in 2014 and the responsibility that rappers have to not only entertain, but also uplift their listeners?
A. Let me clarify that the cause I believe in is creativity. Yes I have made socially conscious songs like The KKK, but let’s not forget I’m the same guy that made ‘Head in the Whip’, lol. I think there is creativity in some gangster rap, trap rap, disrespectful women raps, and rap that glorifies drugs. Mind you, I said some, not all. Let’s not forget that all that is a reality as well, and some people just speak on their realities. Growing up with rap, we all were influenced by NWA, Geto Boys, Too Short, Kool G Rap, Big, Pac, and Jay Z. Those people were not exactly preaching positive messages, but that was their reality and they did it creatively. So it was art, and art is my cause. As far as where rap is going and the responsibility to uplift, I will say this; it’s not every rapper’s responsibility to uplift. If there was no Chief Keef, there could be no Lupe Fiasco. I think rap should be a world of variety and contrast. There’s variety out there now, but it was more of a variety in the 90’s. I think the 90’s is finally coming back, and those of us old souls who lived through that golden era need to get ready and get in tune with how music travels in the digital era. The main complaint of people over 30 is that there aren’t any rappers worth listening too now. But actually there are a whole bunch; it’s just people over 30 are not exposed to them because they are disconnected from the way the culture travels, which is totally the fault of the listener. Hip-Hop was all about being cutting-edge, staying ahead of the curve, and breaking the rules or changing the rules. But when the golden era kids broke the rules and made new ones, they didn’t expect or accept the rules changing on them. So expect 2014 to take us back to the golden era, but in a remixed version. I advise my older heads out there to get in tune, and don’t miss the movement.
Q. What would you say, personally, to all the children out there that may not see a way out of the hood; the ones that are so engulfed in this drama that they believe it is their only reality?
A. I would tell all the kids in the hood, the same hood that I live in, that don’t think there is a way out, to GET OUT NOW!!!! It’s that easy. It’s as easy as getting on a train and going downtown to take an architectural tour. Go to the Museum of Science and Industry. Go walk on the lake. Go to the top of the Sears Tower (not the Willis Tower, lol). Granted, after you go to these places, you will have to go right back to the hood. It’s not healthy to look at drug addicts, gangs and violence every day, corner stores selling food unfit for a human to live off, litter and trash blowing through people’s front yards, vacant lots and abandon buildings with red x’s on them. But at least get out the hood and see what the rest of the city has to offer. Then plan to go further every time you go. If you don’t have the money for the bus, ask a teacher. Tell them what you need it for. Tell them you want to see another side of life. You are the ruler of your destiny. Look for inspiration; and when you find it, embrace it and try to be in it as much as you breathe air. You are what you eat, and you are what you think. You are a product of your environment; so try your best to be in a positive environment as much as you can. You may have to live in the hood, but the hood doesn’t have to live in you.
Q. Lastly, what are you working on at the moment? What is next on the agenda?
A. Right now I’m working on a prosperous 2014. I have two projects lined up. The first project is called “1000 Words.” I call it that because most of the songs on the album were based on video concepts. I basically came up with dope visual ideas and wrote songs to fit those ideas. It’s kind of like scoring a movie. That’s why all of my videos are so epic and story-driven. “1000 Words” will release in March or April. The second project that will drop at the end of the summer is called “2094.” This project will be an ode to the 90’s music, culture and fashion. I will be fusing the golden era boom-bap style of beats with current club/trap style of beats, creating a futuristic sound called ‘Return of The Boom-Trap’ or ‘Hip-Hop Turnt Up On The Trap Music Tip Wit The Bop Appeal’. This project will bridge the gap between two generations of Hip-Hop. The 90’s is on its way back. Every generation recycles and remixes the culture from two decades prior. In the 90’s, it was all about the 70’s. In the 00’s, it was all about the 80’s. Now that we are in the Teen’s, it’s all about the 90’s. I’ll be touching on a little of this style on ‘1000 Words’ with a song called “Fux Wit Her.” It’s a song about my love affair with the 90’s lifestyle, personified as a woman. The video is going to be crazy. Besides music, I’m working on a clothing line called Art Official Clothing Drive. Along with the clothing line, I’m starting a line of wooden accessories and collectables called Morning Wood. I expect 2014 to be a prosperous year, and God willing, I will be on somebody’s tour by the time summer hits.