Edited onOctober 24, 2022

Welcome To Chi-Raq - The Origin, Definition, The Word Of The World Of The Dollar Boyz


The term Chi-Raq, now synonymous with Chicago street violence has drenched the media with attention following the December release of Spike Lee's Chicago based film Chi-Raq. The meaning of the word Chi-Raq, the fusion of Chicago and Iraq, may owe its origin to the assimilations the Chicago news media furnished in wake of the Iraq war - comparing war statistics to Chicago crime statistics. Moreover, Chi-Raq could have been born from Chicago gang presence in Iraq. In the realm of street poetry anything is game and it is only natural that these words embrace culture and news media. The word Chi-Raq is the street poet's spin on the news media's representation of the Chicago streets - and the Chicago street's presence in the Iraq war. Could this be a self-fulfilling prophecy? We may never know, but the facts are the facts and one things for sure; the word is old - at least 10 years old. Here's the story of the word of the world of the Dollar Boyz. "Welcome to Chi-Raq".

Let's rewind in time to the year 2005. The Iraq war had been front page news for years. With countless troops returning to Chicago a strong connection between the regions existed. Many soldiers returned to find home in just as critical shape as the war torn world in Iraq. A massive overhaul on Chicago's housing projects forced many from their dwellings, opening a new wave of turmoil in the city. Change is rough in light of city politics, media, and gentrification. The term Chi-Raq was an inevitable conclusion in street rap music, born of the streets of Chicago, and best exhibited by the Dollar Boyz series of albums/mixtapes "Welcome To Chi-Raq" first released in early 2006.

"I remember clear as day the word Chi-Raq spilling out of the microphone at Studio 11 in the throws of the Iraqi war. It may have popped up here and there - as we had a ton of rappers returning home from war at the time, but the real statement came with the Dollar Boyz first mixtape hosted by D.J. Pharris with the powerful 'Welcome To Chiraq' intro. That record is the best early example of the use of the term" - Notes (Engineer/Producer - Studio 11)

In the midst of the recent 'Chi-Raq' clamor we received a call to the studio. "Yo! This is Caine from the Dollar Boyz, we came up with that Chiraq shit in 2005. You guys still got all the files over there?" At Studio 11 we keep a database of almost 20 years of material ranging from analog storage mediums, CD ROMS, DDS tapes, through DVD's - of which total around 7000 pieces. Needless to say, an album is a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, all DVD data is in updated databases. We told 'Caine' we'd give it a look. We had never really considered that the word Chi-Raq had in effect originated at any particular point. But a bit of digging found the earliest Dollar Boyz recordings at Studio 11 to be from 2005-2006. Namely their album/mixtape "Welcome To Chi-Raq" Volume 1 featuring rappers Caine, White, and Cash and hosted by acclaimed Power 92.5 WPWX Chicago D.J. Pharris.

While Spike Lee may have brought the term Chi-Raq to the mainstream in 2015, and King Louie may claim to have coined Chiraq in 2009, the origin of the term Chi-Raq is best exemplified in the Dollar Boyz series of releases, "Welcome To Chi-Raq" Volumes 1-3 stemming from the mid-2000's and the Iraqi war. These volumes are stacked to the CD's edge with hard hitting Chicago beats and street rhymes. At the 74 minute brim of a CD's length they are the reminder that Chi-Raq is about word play and reflection - tales of the world at hand.

Our blessings go out to King Louie in lieu of his recent tragedy. He has been an active recording artist at Studio 11 for many years. We wish him well in his recovery. One of our studio favorites featuring King L can be found HERE. Studio 11 does not condone street violence in any way. Rather we promote artistic expression as the best possible means to channel energy. We wish for a better, safer, and more honest Chicago in the future - clad through constructive, educational, and artistic outlets.

Covers From The Dollar Boyz "Welcome To Chiraq" Series

We caught up with Greazzy (formerly known as rapper Caine) for an interview with Notes of Studio 11:

Ol’ brotha Caine! Watup? Now you know as well as I do the word Chi-Raq was born of the war and that was around 2003-2005. As I recall - it was the Chicago media posting up about Chicago gangs in Iraq and the comparisons and connections therein. If I wanted to dig further I could probably find the word on a tape here and there, but it was the Dollar Boyz who brought the term official on the “Welcome To Chi-Raq” mixtape in 2005-2006. Tell me about the time period when you made the record and your reflection on the word...

It was our way of embracing the thought process of a Soldier trying to survive war time ... Because growing up in Chicago you need the same if not more survival tactics than a soldier... See they kno who the enemy is sometime in the streets - Yo enemy could be next door or across the street ... The neighborhood we were in at the time (44th an Vincennes) we 1st came up with it was because the GD's was actually wearing with the BD's... So it was our way of comparing how bad the streets are... More & more kids, adults, and teens die everyday where I'm from - so in my eyes the streets are like a real battle field... So we wanted to bring that to the light... We had Dj PHARRIS(92.3) & Dj VDUB(107.5) 2 of the biggest djs in Chicago Host the tape "WELCOME TO CHI-RAQ" they were doin a series back then called "THE DEALMAKERS" (Bump J, Cap 1, Sly Poloroid, Gotti) they all sent us drops cause they were behind us an in support of what we was trying to do.. We put 3 volumes out - part 3 was hosted by DJ SEAN MAC... We also sold hand to hand 50,000+ copies of all 3 volumes in every hood in Chicago!!!

Now that's real - because most of what we've done in Chicago has worked out this way; Real home cookin' - What was it that originally got you into music?

I use to sell candy at my moms job when I was in 7th & 8th grade... It was a guy (Eugine) there who use to have a promotion company named RAGS PROMOTIONS he asked me did I listen to rap 1 day I said yes of course he made me a offer of 'If I could sell 5 tickets Me an 2 of my friends could come to the concert an meet an take pics with the artist' Along with movies like Juice, The reason, Krush Grove an it just being a great time in hip hop history the originality of some of the music back then was jus attention grabbing an I been in to an doin music since it's a passion I have for being in that booth creating an then hearing the playback... Knowing that ppl wanna actually hear what I have to say is an extreme motivation. To be honest I jus love music something about it just has the power to make u feel good energized & rejuvenated. I like all kinds of - its dope it's dope.

Chicago's a really tough town - we all know that. Most of the Chicago "successes" - aren't Chicagoans... they left town! What do you think needs to happen in Chicago to make things right for art to flourish here?

We need some record label offices in the city of Chicago the last one I remember being there was JIVE RECORDS. And that was so long ago... I think ppl are scared to invest in Chicago artist due to our environment the chances on a young black male in Chicago getting killed is high ... Which makes them scared to work with us... I Also think Chicago artists are gonna have to start working with each other - Most ppl don't wanna pull you in but sometimes that's what's needed... Like if you buzz'n an he buzz'n why not do something together an just kill shyt ... But the reality is it's easier said than done....CHICAGO ARTISTS gotta start working with each other an make a stand if we show our unity an strength 1st!

Do you think that music A&R; might have no power? No ability to truly find art at relevant times - this is what we're talking about right? Reincarnation of old ideas...

I definitely agree... But that goes back to what I was saying when we start uplifting and supporting each other then maybe they will.

What are your thoughts on the streets of Chicago?

The same it's always been... Chicago Streets are FUCKED UP... But to be honest they been fucked up since Daley was in office.... But back then we knew where the crime was - mostly in the projects on State Street... But when they tore the buildings down it was like spilled milk now it's a bunch of niggaz on tha block u been on for years.... An there u have it - instant tension ... It's more drugs involved now. We wasn't poppin zans an percs - it was jus weed an maybe some alcohol.

What makes Chicago rap music unique?

You wanna kno what's going on? - Listen... Not to the beat but listen to what we're sayin' close. Yo eyes an visualize these stories an u can see, feel, and hear the pain.

What's your craziest memory growing up?

When I was 13, I was over my cousin Toney house & we was taking a shot cut thru 86th an damen & saw 2 dead bodies in the alley... 1 of'em half his face was blown off... & I lost my best friend Shelby when I was 11 to a senseless gun incident...

Where are you living at these days?


What musical projects are you working on now?

I'm workin on a project titled C.R.E.A.M. SLOWDA an I'm workin on B.I.G. 2 an tryn to kill every stage they let me on.

How did the Dollar Boyz get together?

To be honest we all grew up gettin' money & everybody just linked Cuz u want yo crew to be the illest out there.... So we wasn't fuckin wit nobody who wasn't gettin no paper... Our 1st managers Paris an Dean gave us the name...

Tell me about "Welcome To Chiraq Volumes 1-3...

Classic Chicago street music...Gotti, Bump j, Cap 1, Sly Polaroid, DJ Pharris, DJ V Dub, Sean Mac, every body was fuckin wit us cause we was the young fly niggaz pulln up in dat tv shyt benzs ranges caddys all kind of shit...

Who are the artists who most inspired you?

Biggie, Jay Z, NWA, Scarface, Camron, Jim Jones, and Bun B.

What are your favorite spots in Chicago?

Harold's, Greek town, an Pepe's!

Greazzy And 2 Chainz
Enjoy the Chicago classic "Welcome To Chiraq"

Volumes 2 & 3 will be added in the following weeks so check back....

-The Studio 11 Team -

Special Note, Studio 11 at 209 W. Lake Street is currently being demolished. Call us at 312-372-4460 for details on studio time at our new location at Music Garage in Chicago.

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