You can’t force-feed people your opinions, but make them laugh and they’ll open their mouths long enough for you to slip in a spoonful of something to think about. That approach has certainly worked for Korporate, who might be considered Chicago’s unofficial hip-hop ambassador.
“I take some relatable scenarios and a witty script and before you know it, I just taught you something,” says the rapper-actor of his hugely popular videos depicting everyday life in his hometown. His long-running #BlackChicagoBeLike series and other content have racked up more than 465 million views on YouTube alone.
By turn humorous, touching and provocative, Korporate’s 30-minute dramas—over 100 episodes to date—strike a nerve with people for their unvarnished and unapologetic style. “I love how you bring us to the ‘hood,’” wrote one fan on the artist’s Korporate Bidness YouTube page. “You show the tragedy, the reasons for violence, the complications of romantic love in the hood, absent parents, barely any economic opportunity and how it affects everything in the hood, you show that people in the hood ain’t just empty souls but are just trying to define their meaning in a tough environment.”
Korporate’s videos may be edgy, but they have a positive intent—helping counter the negative image of Chicago that focuses on the city’s violence. “Most typically, whenever you go somewhere and you say you’re from Chicago, the first response is, ‘Whoa, you’re from Chiraq? Don’t kill me,’” he explains. “But that’s only because that’s the majority thing that they’ve been given to feed on. My content shows a whole other light in Chicago. I’m helping to eliminate that stigma that’s hovering over the city of Chicago.”
Showing both sides
Korporate first discovered he had a gift for capturing people’s attention in high school when he was still Donovan Price. He took part in a poetry slam because there was a cash prize “and I was always a hustler.” Then he turned to music, inspired by artists like Jay-Z, Snoop Dog and Kanye West.
The latter has been Korporate’s greatest influence. When he first heard College Dropout he was “just amazed” because at that time a lot of rap was negative. “There wasn’t really too many people out delivering thoughts and ideas in a neutral fashion, talking about things that I could relate to,” he says. “That really gave me the courage to start delivering my own thoughts and ideas.”
Though he grew up on Chicago’s East Side, “I wasn’t one to be going and threatening and inflicting violence on others unnecessarily,” says Korporate. “That wasn’t anything that I could relate to. But as far as just daily struggles—trying to figure out where you were gonna get your next meal from, getting a job—everything that Kanye put out there impacted me so much.”
Part of the freshness to Korporate’s videos is down to his creative free-form style. In 2008 he started mentally composing everything, rather than writing it down, “and I’ve been doing that ever since. There’s no scripts or anything. I really don’t be knowing what anyone is gonna say until the camera is elevated and it’s time to shoot. So, I freestyle everything.”
Though Korporate draws some on personal experiences and real-life situations, “a lot of my stories are also mere figments of my imagination,” he says. “What ifs. I try to clear the whole spectrum and touch on everything—even sensitive topics: rape, child molestation, common violence in our neighborhoods.” He presents things from both sides, “both the victim and the person victimizing: I just want to touch and relate to everybody.”
The humor began when he was trying to build an audience for his music, and he has struggled with being labeled a comedian because of his knack for making people laugh. “I love music so much that I could cry about it,” he says. “I understand how to be an entertainer. One would say like, ‘You’ve gotta be a comedian delivering humor on that level.’ But, you know, you can have somebody that knows how to cut hair but that don’t mean they’re a barber.”
Over time, Korporate’s content has “started to get more dark and serious,” he says. “There’s still a comedic value to it, but I’ve kinda leaned more toward it being more TV-like, but I can’t eliminate the humorous factor in it because the people appreciate it so much.”
The videos have opened more doors for him: “I’ve garnered a musical presence that it probably would’ve took me years even longer to establish if I would’ve never gotten the content.” His first full album, The Proposal, was due out in January. He hopes it will help people understand “why am I so adamant that I’m an artist now.”
Drill’s bad rap
Some critics have blamed drill rap for some of Chicago’s violence. “Personally, I never agreed,” says Korporate. “Drill is an expression of different people telling their stories. Life in general is about love and war. Just as much as we need light, we need dark. Balance is necessary and that side of the spectrum, the drill rap side, they have the right and they deserve to be able to tell their stories as well.”
Having said that, there was a time when things got out of balance and too much emphasis on drill meant militants were being bred, he believes. “You’re constantly infusing this negativity into their veins; they don’t have any choice but to operate in that same fashion. But if there was equal energy put into music that’s going in another direction, like conscious rap, then that will help to create a balance.”
From small beginnings in 2015, Korporate now has a major social media platform—more than 4 million followers—and he is glad to share what he has learned with others who may be just starting out. “I’ve always been more than willing to share my knowledge,” he says. “Some of the things that I know it took me four or five years to find out, but if I can give someone that information and cut a lot of time in between them starting out and getting to their goals, then I’m more than willing.”
Given that some of Korporate’s material is pretty raw, will he let his three daughters (ages 12, 6 and 3) watch when they are old enough? “Absolutely,” he says. “You have different parenting styles; you can choose to hide your children from real life or you can choose to expose them to a lot of it. Personally, I prefer to make them aware of what real life is about.”
A lot of times, young people get into things out of curiosity, he adds. “My children are well aware of what’s going on out here. There’s a lot of different sides of this life. Some are good, some are bad, some are inappropriate. I prefer for them to just be knowledgeable of everything, but also understand the difference between reality and entertainment, because there is a difference.”
From an interview with Louis Carr