Credit: Robin Carnilius for the TRiiBE

This article was co-published in partnership with The TRiiBE.

For as long as Chicago has been on the map as a dominant cultural hotbed, the city’s Black population has been a target of lucrative exploitation and racist scapegoating from right-wing and mainstream news, gossip blogs, and fringe hip-hop media. 

On Instagram and Twitter, for example, thousands of posts pop up when searching for any artist or buzzword pertaining to Chicago drill music. Varying from local to overseas-based accounts, each post contains tabloid-styled headlines that either sensationalize Chicago’s gun violence or spread unsubstantiated rumors and lies about the world of drill music as an extension of it.

Recently, hip-hop gossip blogs en masse circulated misinformation across social media about Parkway Gardens, aka O-Block, being sold and set for demolition in 2023. Consequently, this incited derogatory jabs against Black Chicagoans, particularly Parkway Gardens residents. 

Public comments under each post were filled with anti-Black sentiments such as “Place is a shithole known for crime and murder” and “That’s why purge season is gonna start Oblock close in 2023 and in January Illinois has no bail for violent crimes it’s over get ya grips stay dangerous.” Another wrote, “Don’t die for the block yo momma renting,”  invoking bars from Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn rapper Jay-Z’s 2017 track, “The Story of OJ,” in the name of cliché moralism.

Not only does the spread of online misinformation lead to real-world harm, but it also gives legs to fearmongering tactics specifically aimed at Black communities—as we continue to see with the ongoing Republican-funded campaign against the SAFE-T Act

Mainstream media is certainly not immune to irresponsible news aggregation, sloppy reporting, or rushing to get stories out for clicks. But when it comes to hip-hop gossip blogs, the damage is intensified toward Black audiences as many of them, unknowingly or otherwise, play a role in the frequent misinformation campaigns against Black Americans.

“It’s hurtful because they already go through enough and they have enough going on,” Alderperson Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) told The TRiiBE, referring to the constant trauma experienced by Parkway Gardens residents and ongoing disinvestment in the community.

“I don’t think people understand that they’re used as people’s talking points. [Atlanta-based rapper] Soulja Boy was on his tour bus and wanted to see O-Block ‘cause that’s what they call it in rap culture,” Taylor said. The community is often referenced by local rappers such as Chief Keef and the late King Von. “But that’s home to some people. That’s the only home they know.”

Formerly a gated community, the Woodlawn-based Parkway Gardens housing complex was completed in 1955. It’s home to many esteemed Black Chicagoans in addition to Chief Keef and King Von, including OTF Records general manager Ola Ali; former First Lady Michelle Obama; rappers Cupcakke, Boss Top, Shoebox Baby, who is painted in a famous mural in the neighborhood that is drawing global tourism but has drawn ire from some residents in the neighborhood. The area is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The neighborhood grew to infamy in the turbulent 1990s; the height of power and organization for Chicago’s most notorious street gangs and also the disastrous War on Drugs. The Black Disciples (BDs) became the dominant gang at Parkway Gardens, marking their territory from the 6300 to the 6500 block of South King Drive as “WIIIC City (Wild, Insane, Crazy)”. 

As a younger generation of kids who grew up in Parkway Gardens were born into the escalating gang war between the nearby rival Gangster Disciple factions between the late 2000s and early 2010s, WIIIC City would be rechristened by the younger BDs as “O Block” in honor of their slain member Odee Perry.

As soon as the rumors began to spread offline among Parkway Gardens residents, Taylor said she received dozens of calls from upset constituents. She informed Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative president and CEO Ghian Foreman, who also serves as president of the Chicago Police Board. She collaborates with him on issues related to Parkway Gardens and Related Midwest, as the realty company owns properties in the South Side neighborhood.

Taylor urged Foreman and Related Midwest to put out a statement to quell the rumors. Taylor shared the realty company’s message with The TRiiBE:

“It has come to our attention that there are rumors circulating on social media about the sale of Parkway Gardens and the relocation of residents. These claims are completely false and we want to make it absolutely clear that Parkway Gardens has not been sold. Any information about Parkway Gardens that affects residents will always come directly from Related and/or Related Management. We are committed to investing in Parkway Gardens and look forward to continuing to provide the best possible services to residents of the community.”

Misinformation about O-Block being sold dates back to April 29, 2021. That’s when the Sun-Times first reported that Related Midwest put the apartment complex up for sale. The news crossed over to the hip-hop blogosphere when, during that same month, Englewood-bred superstar Lil Durk declared on Twitter that he wanted to buy the property. “I’ll buy it don’t matter how much it is,” he tweeted in his reply to Chicago-focused blog Kollege Kidd’s post on April 30, 2021.

Soon, Texas-based blog Say Cheese TV picked up the topic, but deeply misrepresented the issue with falsehoods. To an audience of 300,000 followers, Say Cheese TV tweeted on April 29, 2021, that “O-Block will be disbanded and relocated,” without citing a source. 

In May 2021, AllHipHop and Media Take Out ran with it, publishing on their websites that O-Block was sold for an “undisclosed amount” to “some mogul” or “corporate group,” but neither specified who. To make matters worse, some larger and more reputable hip-hop publications such as The Source, Hot New Hip Hop (HNHH), and HIPHOPDX further spread the misinformation by citing Say Cheese TV in their respective online articles.

The fake story about O-Block resurfaced again in September 2022, around the same time that the “purge” law misinformation campaign took off. This time around, Say Cheese TV and a litany of fringe hip-hop accounts such as RapTV and Daily Loud added an additional lie: that Parkway Gardens “will be set for demolition in January 2023.” Say Cheese has since deleted the tweet, but also shared the inaccurate news about the SAFE-T Act. The latter has not been deleted.

To this day, none of these outlets have circulated the June 2021 follow-up story from the Sun-Times, which reports that Related Midwest took Parkway Gardens off the market. As of Sept. 27, Parkway Gardens is still listed on Related Midwest as one of their properties. 

“Maybe the plan is to get families to get their moving papers and move,” Taylor said. Born and raised out south, and elected 20th Ward alderperson in 2019, she said she believes the mass circulation of lies regarding Parkway Gardens may have something to do with the owners wanting to “take the heat off themselves” when it comes to the years of severe neglect by Related Midwest. 

“I’ve always thought that. Even in my late 20s, I’ve always thought the plan was to make it a gated community again,” she added.

Taylor also noted that Parkway Gardens is located near so many landmarks, including the University of Chicago’s ever-expanding campus and the forthcoming Obama Presidential Central. 

“I was looking at it like this was not a kid sitting in his basement finding something to do,” Taylor said about the false narratives about Parkway Gardens. “This was some adults who put this together to get the pressure off what’s actually going on at Parkway. So instead of addressing it, you make up some stuff.”

Since she was elected in 2019, Taylor said she’s attempted to work with Related Midwest, believing that they simply “just don’t know” or understand what’s happening in Parkway Gardens. But now she thinks that it needs new management in order for them to take responsibility and “do what they’re supposed to do.”

“Honestly, if Related Midwest doesn’t get it together then the Urban League and the NAACP could sue them. ‘Cause I’m just tired. And there are people who’ve been there 40 years who were born and raised there who are just tired. I don’t live there, but I feel their pain,” Taylor said.

What’s The Word TV, one of Chicago’s popular and respected hip-hop blogs, chose not to post about Parkway Gardens. Cordero “Cody Mack” McKee, who owns What’s The Word TV and works as director of content at Power 92.3, said there was no reliable source to verify the alleged news.

“We’re living in this age where people want clicks. If I tweet out a fake story about O-Block and I put it out first, I’m getting hella engagements, hella likes. My next tweet, I can charge people promo because now I got clout,” Cody Mack said. 

Listed in the bios of many of these hip-hop and culture blogs are the words “promotion” or “advertisement.” Selling ads and promos while building engagement and followers with shocking headlines and videos has become a lucrative business for some of them, ranging from small companies such as Daily Loud to multinational corporations such as RapTV. Others are seemingly random accounts, without websites or any public information about owners, that also post graphic and violent content.

None of these blogs, however, list any trained journalists on their staff or seem to follow any journalistic ethics.

“Some people really don’t care if your page is valid,” Cody Mack explained. “They just know that people are coming to your page so I need to figure out how their interaction can be valuable to me.”

Chicago native and MTV’s True Life Crime host Dometi Pongo said that fake stories circulate online easily because of the negative stereotypes about the city related to gun violence, which is a popular deflection topic for conservative media pundits and politicians alike.

“It’s the same thing that happens when police brutality happens. ‘Why are you crying about this when y’all kill each other?’” Pongo explained, comparing whataboutery comments aimed at Black Chicagoans as a deflection from systemic issues that plague predominantly Black communities like Parkway Gardens. 

“It’s a never-ending cycle because multiple stories continue to come out that reinforce this narrative,” Pongo continued.

He also mentioned the use of memes and jokes online, which often spreads misinformation further. 

“People started making jokes and saying, ‘Damn, Durk lost India and O-Block in one day.’ So now the meme is traveling,” Pongo explained. “So even if the news story is corrected, the meme is funny, so it’s gonna keep traveling.”

There’s an unhealthy obsession with Parkway Gardens in hip-hop culture. Part of it comes from the allure that Chief Keef and King Von have given it through years of glorifying their territory and its violence in their raps. It’s similar to the natural curiosity fans had for other housing projects turned into hip-hop landmarks by native lyricists: Jay-Z and Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, and Juvenile and the Magnolia Projects and Master P and the Calliope Projects in New Orleans. 

“Chicago is a hot place for the blogs because of the national stigma of “Chiraq,’” Rolling Stone hip-hop reporter Andre Gee said. The city has birthed some of the most impactful music and cultural figures of the last 20 years. Therefore, Gee said, it’s easy for Chicago to become a character in the hip-hop sphere.

“We know gun violence is pervading just about every American metropolis, but Chicago rap has garnered such a worldwide following. It’s given us the names of their hoods and even nonartists with mere proximity to the rappers have notoriety,” Gee explained. “It’s easy engagement because fans are eternally invested in the myth of ‘Chiraq.’”

For celebrities, blogs, and social media personalities who continue to use O-Block for content creation and engagement, Taylor has a strong demand.

“When are you going to invest in our community while you’re making us feel like a circus?” she asked. “We ain’t no circus act. These conditions were created. And they weren’t created by the people in Parkway. They were created by the institutions who are paid to serve them. So that says something about our evil-ass system.”

One solution to holding hip-hop and culture blogs accountable could be suing them for defamation. This happened recently with rapper Cardi B’s case against blogger Tasha K, who published “multiple false and defamatory statements” about her.

But that can be challenging since the owners of many of these accounts keep their identities separate and untraceable from the content they produce. 

“If the kitchen ever gets too hot, they can just rebrand with a new page. Outside of [DJ] Akademiks or Shawn Cotton, we don’t know the people running these pages, so it’s easy for them to evade accountability for tactless ‘reporting,’” Gee said. 

Another solution, Gee explained, is to teach students how to spot misinformation online. In 2021, Illinois became the first state to require by law that schools teach media literacy in curriculums across every grade level, but laws like this are uncommon across the rest of the country.

“In theory, the best thing to do would be to stop paying attention to these pages, but that’s as likely as turning around a speeding 18-wheeler on a dime,” Gee said. “Schools now need to be more cognizant of this environment and help kids be more discerning and know what to look for before believing what they see.”

What Taylor wants the fans and the rest of the world to know is that Parkway Gardens is more than a meme or high-profile gang territory.

“These are real families and real people in Parkway who deserve to live in peace and in safe conditions like everybody else,” she added.

The TRiiBE examined seven prominent hip-hop and culture blogs that have posted content about Chicago drill and to an extent, Black Chicago issues, and whether they’ve done so responsibly or not.

Daily Loud

Do they have a website? Yes, it’s https://dailyloud.com/

Social media reach:

  • Twitter — 518,000 followers
  • Instagram — 175,000
  • Facebook — 36,000
  • Soundcloud — 81,000
  • TikTok — 5,400 followers
  • YouTube — 1,500 subscribers on YouTube.

Who are they? Daily Loud calls itself a music website that is “dedicated to the cultivation of hip-hop from all over the world” and aims to be “your #1 source” for hip-hop music and news. The site primarily premieres and promotes new artists and music. The site solicits customers to buy slots for promotions and advertisements. The site launched in 2012.

Who owns it?: Jake Stotz and Taylor Maglin, who are both white. Neither of them has a background in journalism. According to LinkedIn, Stotz is from Pittsburgh, but very little is available online about him. Maglin is from Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, according to a 2015 article from TribLive. He was the manager for late Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo, and formerly worked digital marketing campaigns for another Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In 2017, Maglin’s clientele list included Atlanta rapper YFN Lucci, NYC’s Smoke DZA, and Brooklyn’s Troy Ave. On his Instagram bio, he’s written that he’s the digital music marketer behind “On Me” by Lil Baby, “Whole Lotta Money” by Bia, and “Big Purr (Prrdd)” by Coi Leray and Pooh Shiesty.

Location: Based in Pittsburgh, PA, according to a 2015 article from TribLive.

Do they post about Black Chicago? Chicago hip-hop artists are covered by Daily Loud, among other popular rising hip-hop artists across the country. The website is primarily focused on posting new music while their social media accounts reshare Instagram videos of hip-hop figures, new music, and news stories, but is never attributed to a primary source. 

In September, Daily Loud wrongfully posted on Twitter and Instagram that “Chicago’s infamous neighborhood ‘O Block’ has been sold. Residents will be relocated and the property will be demolished in 2023.” It garnered thousands of likes and shares. At the time of this writing, the tweet still remains and has not been corrected. They also have not shared any graphic or violent content pertaining to gun violence in Chicago.

RapTV

Do they have a website? Yes, it’s https://raptv.com/ 

Social media reach:

  • Instagram10.5 million followers
  • Twitter — 760,6700
  • Facebook — 77,000
  • Snapchat — 402,000
  • TikTok — 8.8 million
  • YouTube — 140,000 subscribers

Who are they? On its website, RapTV claims to be “the largest hip-hop community in the world.” On their About page on YouTube, they describe themselves as “the pulse of the hip-hop industry and home for all things moving in the Rap culture today.” The site solicits promo and advertising from customers. 

People can also send video and story submissions for them to post. There are original Q&A-style interviews with music artists published on the website, and a tab called “News,” with mostly aggregated stories from other websites. 

Their YouTube channel is home to their video interviews with popular hip-hop artists, hot takes on the latest news in mainstream music, and deep dives into hot topics. Their content is notorious for its controversial headlines and inflammatory social media posts designed to provoke readers to respond which, in turn, boosts their engagement. 

Who owns it?: Daniel Snow. His race is unclear. He also is the CEO and founder of The Snow Agency, a performance and social media marketing agency that he launched with his brother Jonathan in 2019, according to its website. 

In a January 2022 article, Business Insider reported that both of his enterprises—RapTV and The Snow Agency—are multimillion-dollar companies. RapTV launched in 2016 and was on track to net $5 million in revenue in 2020. On his LinkedIn page, Snow said RapTV works with “many of the largest record labels and artists in the world,” and has the ability to cultivate massive followings for artists large and small. Neither of the Snow brothers has a background in journalism. 

Location: Based in Miami, according to Business Insider.

Do they post about Black Chicago? RapTV has frequently covered drill music between Chicago and other regions along with mainstream rap. After they posted the false information about Parkway Gardens being sold on their various social media accounts, on September 15, RapTV posted an extensive video speculating on the rumor titled, “What Will Happen To Chicago’s Infamous O Block After Being Sold?” The video is a mixture of historic background information about Parkway Gardens with misleading information, contradicting narratives and tweets, and sources that are not credible. The video was never updated with the correct information.

Street Juice TV

Do they have a website? Yes, it’s https://streetjuicetv.com/. Viewers are asked if they are 18 or older before entering the site. 

Social media reach:

  • Twitter — 15,00 followers
  • Instagram — Upwards of 200,000 
  • TikTok — 5,000
  • YouTube — 94,700 subscribers

Who are they? Its website doesn’t offer much information. On YouTube, the description says, “they call me ‘King Of The Blogs’ for a reason.” The website mainly posts new music and aggregated hip-hop stories. The majority of the posts contain shocking or inflammatory content. 

There are original interviews conducted by an interviewer dubbed “Street Juice TV” who never discloses his real name on their YouTube channel, along with graphic video content ranging from extreme violence and gore to soft-core nudity. According to its website, Street Juice TV charges $300 for a one-page promo, $400 for a two-page promo, and $500 for a three-page promo; there’s an additional $75 fee for same-day posting. 

Who owns it?: Emanuel McKenley, according to trademark registration documents for Street Juice TV. Although there isn’t much information available online about him, the website’s About page states that the Street Juice TV owner was “born in the summer of 2000” and has “a passion for going viral from posting whatever content he liked on Facebook since the age of 11.” According to the website, he grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. 

Location: Based in Gaston, South Carolina, according to various public records.

Do they post about Black Chicago? Street Juice TV has only posted aggregated stories and videos pertaining to drill lore and gun violence in regard to Chicago on their website and social media accounts. On their website, the very first headline that appears in its news section says “Chicago Man Shot In The Head Daughter In The Car Who Was Graved [meaning: grazed] In The Head Also” with a horrific picture of the bleeding child. There is also a post that shows pictures of alleged “NBA Youngboy fans” dissing King Von near his mural.

Chicago Media Takeout

Do they have a website? No.

Do they have social media accounts? 

  • Facebook — 32,000 followers
  • Instagram —  243,000 
  • Twitter — 513

Who are they? In its social media bio, Chicago Media Takeout describes itself as “Entertainment/News Media for Chicago.” But readers should make sure that Chicago MTO postings are backed by a credible news source, as they often place at the bottom of their captions. 

Who owns it?: “Lisi,” according to a WGCI video interview with Zach Boog. However, her full name has not been revealed publicly.

Location: Based in Chicago, according to the WGCI video interview.

Do they post about Black Chicago? The anonymous social media blog is hyperlocal. Recently, it posted that the iconic Pink House in the neighborhood of Austin was being torn down, which, as reported by Block Club Chicago, is not true. 

At the time of this writing, the post remains on Chicago Media Takeout’s Instagram account and was never corrected. However, in September 2022, it did not share the fake story about Parkway Gardens being sold. Some of its social media content consists of photos, videos, and news tips submitted by readers or aggregated from local mainstream news outlets, but sometimes it is presented without context or any reporting. 

In addition, it shares fliers and community resources on Instagram while also directly engaging their audience, whether it’s asking for feedback or checking in on mental health. Although it regularly posts advertisements and promos, how to advertise is not publicly listed in their bio. They do not always specify if something is a news post or an advertisement.

What’s The Word TV

Do they have a website? Yes, it’s https://whatstheword.tv/ 

Social media reach:

  • Twitter — 2,100 followers
  • Instagram — 47,000
  • TikTok — 925
  • YouTube — 14,000 subscribers

Who are they? What’s The Word is primarily a blog that posts the hottest news and rising stars in Chicago hip-hop. It aggregates both local and mainstream entertainment news pertaining to a Black audience. It also creates customized independent promotional campaigns for rising artists, as they’ve done with the late JuiceWRLD, and holds 30-minute consultations for $25. On its website, there is information about advertising and promotion with What’s The Word TV; a basic package begins at $100 and includes a post on its Instagram feed and story.

Who owns it?: Cordero “Cody Mack” McKee. He also works as director of content at Power 92.3.

Location: Based in Chicago, IL

Do they post about Black Chicago? Yes. The outlet cites its sources when posting national or local news and has been intentional in not sharing violent content that promotes negative stereotypes about Chicago. It also does not promote music videos with guns in them. 

They frequently release original interviews on their YouTube channel primarily done by Cody Mack and sometimes alongside Power 92.3 personality Bree Specific. Their website and Instagram also publish aggregate entertainment stories pertaining to Black entertainment.

Say Cheese TV 

Do they have a website? The website is no longer active.

Social media reach:

  • Twitter — 304,700 followers
  • Instagram — 2.2 million
  • YouTube — 1.06 million subscribers

Who are they? Say Cheese is one of the most recognized and watched hip-hop blogs that straddles mainstream and underground rap online. According to a 2018 LA Times article, the website launched the career of incarcerated Texas rapper Tay-K. 

According to a 2021 Complex Magazine article, Say Cheese accidentally posted unsourced and incorrect information in the early days, but does its best to avoid posting unsourced rumors now. Say Cheese focuses on the latest happenings with rising rappers and big-name stars.

Who owns it?: Shawn Cotton. According to a 2018 LA Times article, Cotton quit a minimum wage job in 2011 to start SayCheeseTV.com. He conducted interviews and filmed Texas rappers freestyling, editing the videos himself for his website and YouTube channel. The website launched the career of incarcerated Texas rapper Tay-K. In 2018, he maintained the Instagram page with one full-time employee.

Location: Based in Texas, according to Complex Magazine.

Do they post about Black Chicago? Say Cheese posted fake stories about both Parkway Gardens and the SAFE-T act. The Texas-based blog has thoroughly documented drill music for years, among other regions. They have posted music from Chicago rappers, exclusive interviews with Chicago drill rappers and adjacent figures, and reposted Chicago news. One exclusive interview included Cotton’s 2022 interview with Dominique Boyd, the mother of the late Shondale “Tooka” Gregory, which many from Chicago deemed as “exploitative.” 

DJ Akademiks

Do they have a website? No.

Social media reach:

  • Twitter — 1.3 million followers
  • Instagram — 5.1 million
  • TikTok — 670,000
  • YouTube — 2.7 million subscribers 

Who is he? According to a 2018 LA Times article, DJ Akademiks is one of the most popular—and controversia—contemporary bloggers. On his social media accounts, he posts about current events and rap, while also commenting on both. Any “news” from DJ Akademiks should always be taken with a grain of salt unless it is first reported by a reputable media outlet. 

Who owns it?: Livingston “DJ Akademiks” Allen. According to the previously cited LA Times article, the New Jersey-based Jamaican émigré began chronicling (read: exploiting) Chicago drill and gang violence culture in 2012.

Does he post about Black Chicago? He has shared and speculated about the fake stories about Parkway Garden. During one of his regular chats on Twitch, he gave his thoughts on the fake news about O-Block and while he mentioned that the story “could” be fake, he did not give a hardline answer that confirms that the “sale” is a fake story. 

Much of DJ Akademiks’ following was built off of his now-discontinued “War in Chiraq” YouTube channel where he, by his own admission, “satirized” much of the rap beef and gang violence that occurred in Chicago between 2012 and 2017. He has even credited himself as the one who “made Chief Keef’s career,” which the Parkway Gardens native strongly denied.

False alarms

Ankle-monitor alerts garner phone calls and visits from sheriffs officers—­but more than 80 percent are bogus, according to a University of Chicago analysis.