G Herbo Credit: Bryan Lamb

Promoter Peter Jideonwo of Pete’s House says that on Friday night, when G Herbo was supposed to headline the Vic, the Chicago rapper had planned to present Chance the Rapper’s nonprofit Social Works with a check for $20,000. But earlier this week the venue canceled the performance, which Jideonwo had booked, after the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection contacted Jam Productions (owners of the Vic) and expressed concerns about “safety.”

This is the second time within a month that a concert featuring G Herbo, real name Herbert Wright, has been canceled at the last minute. In late March, CPD “advised” WGCI to cancel its annual Takeover Jam due to undisclosed “safety and security concerns.” According to the Chicago Tribune, police officials from the 19th District (which includes the Vic) raised concerns about Friday’s show because Herbo was arrested in February for aggravated unlawful use of a loaded weapon. Yesterday the rapper went to City Hall to try to figure out how to move forward with the show. As he told the Tribune, “It’s never been any problem, any acts of gang violence or anything like that, that should restrict me from trying to do shows, so I’m just trying to get to the root of the problem, whether I have to hire more security or whatever the case may be.”

I’ve seen Herbo perform twice in the past year or so, and neither time did I see any violence or anything else that would make me fear for my safety. The first of those two shows was a March 2017 collaborative set with Lil Bibby at Metro, which also happens to be in the 19th District. A couple protesters posted up outside the venue and yelled through a megaphone at fans waiting in line, but that’s the closest thing to an altercation that I witnessed.

I can’t recall if those protesters were religious fanatics or just generally angry, but nothing they said suggested that they knew Herbo as an artist or as a person. City and CPD officials seem to have the same blind spot about him: they see a young black man with a recent gun charge, not someone struggling against systemic injustice who’s achieved significant artistic success by drawing on his upbringing in the south-side neighborhood people call “Terror Town.” His self-released debut album, last year’s Humble Beast, peaked at number 21 on the Billboard 200, and he’s higher on the bill than any other Chicagoan playing this year’s Lollapalooza. He’d booked his headlining show at the Vic (capacity 1,000) before February’s arrest.

Jideonwo says the CPD and BACP contacted Jam and the Vic last Thursday. The officials didn’t mince words, if the account that reached him is accurate. According to Jideonwo, they told Jam, “If you do decide to hold a concert against our advice, and if anything was to happen in the area, or to the citizens of the area, you guys are liable for it.” (Jam has yet to return a voice message from the Reader.) Jideonwo says he tried to reach a compromise: When officials asked for changes in the lineup, he said he’d remove three rappers, leaving headliner G Herbo and frequent collaborator Lil Bibby. Herbo also offered to host a “keep the peace” event the week of the show.

But the officials weren’t satisfied—it’s almost as though nothing short of preventing Herbo from performing would suffice—and Jam was forced to cancel what would’ve been a lucrative show. Jideonwo says that around 900 tickets had sold in advance, and that between ticket revenue and money from renting out the venue Jam would’ve cleared roughly $30,000 for the night. Jideonwo has been booking hip-hop shows for more than two years, and he claims he’s never encountered any violence at his shows—this is the first time an event of his has been canceled due to pressure from city officials. “If they did it to me, if they did it to [WGCI parent company] iHeartRadio, they can do it to anyone,” he says.

I called the CPD News Affairs office on Tuesday and was asked to e-mail my questions instead, which I did—but I haven’t gotten any answers yet. Lilia Chacon, spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, replied to my e-mail only to say, “BACP had nothing to do with that show’s cancellation. It was based on an advisory provided by CPD and the decision was made by JAM and Vic Theater management.” Jideonwo says he’d like to see city officials come up with clear, useful guidelines for local promoters and businesses interested in hosting hip-hop shows, so that incidents like this stop happening. “Everybody needs to sit down and have a conversation on how to proceed with throwing shows,” he says. “The kids need something to do, and you’re telling the kids they need to stay off the street and ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.'”

G Herbo has a gift for helping you feel how he did as a kid, when he struggled to grow even though there was so little around to nourish him. He brings so much heart to his stories, and they’re stories that are largely missing from mainstream narratives about black Chicago communities—he feels affection for places that other folks see only as blighted. In a Noisey interview published yesterday, he talks at length about what it means to be a rapper from the streets:

Because when you’re in the street, the ultimate goal is to get out. When you’re in the street and you got a mom at home you wanna see, you got kids at home that you love, or a grandmother you gotta support, the ultimate goal is to make your life better and your family’s life better. So if you just talking about killing and putting all negative into the world, you gonna get negative back. You have to put positive out. That’s what makes us the people we are.

You can’t really judge a person if somebody is trying to kill them and they gotta kill to survive in order to get home to their loved ones. You can’t judge a person for that. Ultimately, that’s who I speak for. Those are the people I want to touch with my music. 

Herbo may be speaking for those who’ve lived lives like his own, but he’s speaking to everyone—and everyone can learn from what he has to say. I just hope people can be bothered to listen.

Update: This post has been amended to included a response from BACP.

Update at 4:45 PM: CPD chief communications officer Anthony Guglielmi has replied via e-mail. His response is below.

“At no point did the Chicago Police Department tell the Vic to cancel the show. As is the case with every event, concert, block party or other community gatherings, CPD District Commanders collaborate with venue operators to ensure the safety and security of residents and patrons. Based on a pending gun arrest from February, we asked the venue to enhance the security plan for the event and they interdependently made the decision to cancel the event.”