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Chicago’s most outspoken and street-certified rap veteran and entrepreneur Bo Deal takes himself to task by being hands-on in every hood he touches in Chicago. He’s one of the few rappers who has earned universal respect between every warring faction in the city. 

Since 2020, Bo has been on the front lines with his violence prevention nonprofit, Perfect Vision Empowered (PVE). From its inception, PVE has been involved in various forms of charity work, community outreach and conflict resolution, and has provided career resources in Chicago and other cities such as Memphis. Bo was honored by Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition by being given the Visionary Award at the 2022 PUSH Awards and collaborates with West Side-based organizations like Breakthrough, IMBC, YouCan, the Metropolitan Peace Initiative, and Together Chicago. 

According to a 2018 Atlantic report, about 34 percent of African Americans in Chicago live in poverty. In 2021, Black Illinoisans had a poverty rate of 25 percent, about twice as high as other racial or ethnic groups in the state, according to a 2022 report by the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. The work Bo does with PVE is intended to alleviate some of the impacts of racist disinvestment and generational poverty.

Bo’s personal Instagram page shows him and the PVE community performing acts of service such as clean-ups and toy drives. PVE’s violence prevention work also addresses the city’s ongoing wave of Black femicide, be it domestic or police-related.

“Our campaign is big on saving the lives of women, children and elders. It’s more so making them aware of [the fact that] a lot of women are being killed in domestic disputes,” he said. “They might be looking for love in the wrong places. They’re feeling that if a man don’t beat ‘em, he don’t love them, until they realize that that type of behavior could cost you your life. Get up out of it early.”

In his earlier years, violence prevention wasn’t something that Bo had an interest in. He initially viewed the field as a “regular job,” especially compared to the rap game, where he’s made money off the strength of being respected in the streets for his hustle and from being a well-known affiliate of Waka Flocka Flame’s Brick Squad Monopoly (BSM) imprint. He released his first mixtape, The Chicago Code, with BSM in 2011.

Years later after he fell back from rapping and became a manager, one of Bo’s close friends suggested that he use his credibility as one of the most respected survivors of the streets to make a difference. At the time, he was becoming an influencer on Instagram with his daily motivational messages, called “Botivation.”

“Who better to talk to the shorties than somebody who they respect, who been through it? You tell me,” Bo said.

Raised by his single mom in Albany Park on the North Side, Bo said his mom provided him and his sisters with everything they needed—a luxury that many of his peers didn’t receive. When he enrolled in Taft High School (before transferring to Roosevelt and later Senn), he became one of the more charismatic and popular kids who naturally drew a crowd.

Life changed for Bo at age 13. A man brutally knocked his teeth out, causing him to have a slight lisp in his voice. Enraged and traumatized, Bo swore he would never let anyone harm him like that again. That led him down a complicated path of crime that nearly destroyed him in his adulthood.

“I promised myself that I’d never let nobody else harm me like that. Before I let anyone harm me like that, I’mma get them first. And I’mma go hard as the next man, if not harder, just to prevent anything like that from happening again,” Bo said.

While living in public housing in the Albany Square area, Bo bonded with other boys and young men in the neighborhood. He became a big brother to them.

“We was our own fathers. We raised each other. The guys over there and I kind of took the initiative role, like the big brother role. I taught ‘em all how to fight. We was a family,” Bo said. “None of them had their fathers either, so I guess it kinda seemed normal.”

Bo watched that type of brotherhood devolve as he got older. He saw the streets become more violent as then-Mayor Richard M. Daley tore down Chicago’s public housing projects in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

“I definitely believe that dispersing everybody into these communities played a major part in the violence that we see going on right now. You tear down these buildings and send people from these environments that they’ve known and have influence in and now you’ve forced them to go to other areas with no means to survive or make ends meet,” Bo explained. “It’s human nature that you’re going to do what you got to do to survive.”

Additionally, the frequent drug raids and mass arrests of the most influential gang chiefs and founding members helped splinter the young and older members, causing them to lose valuable intra-communal structure.

“They took away all the people who had influence and could stop certain things from happening. If you cut off the head, the body will fall,” Bo said.

Chicago is in the midst of a heated municipal election season — and, as usual, public safety and gun violence are among the hot topics. Some of the nine mayoral candidates are pushing “tough on crime” messaging that includes increased policing, while others are reimagining safety by investing in people instead of cops.

However, a significant population of Black Chicagoans living in under-resourced neighborhoods across the city still feel left out of these campaign promises. For decades, mayors have come and gone, and there have been no improvements to their everyday lives and communities. 

Bo said the years of hollow mayoral campaign promises are one of the reasons he doesn’t feel empowered to vote.

“I just don’t vote. If I felt somebody was running that was worthy of being in office then I would probably vote then,” Bo said. “A lot of people feel like it doesn’t affect or benefit us in no way, shape, form, or fashion. That’s how they feel.”


He’s also witnessed the deepening disconnect between Chicago’s political figures and the local hip-hop community. In the 2010s, for example, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration shut out Drill pioneers like Chief Keef and the late Fredo Santana, blaming their music for surges in gun violence.

“The promises they make, and the things that they say, they don’t live up to it,” Bo said about elected officials.

When discussing public safety during the 2023 Chicago election cycle, some candidates for mayor have suggested that increased funding for the Chicago Police Department will solve the city’s long-standing challenges with gun and gang violence. Bo doesn’t necessarily disagree.

“I think [there] needs to be more police too!” Bo said. “I ain’t one of these dudes who sit around and say, ‘man I don’t wanna see my worst enemy locked up.’ I don’t care. If he’s out here killing kids, women and things of that nature, your ass needs to be locked up. That’s just how I feel.”

However, Bo also raised another important argument. He doesn’t believe that Chicago police can prevent violence.

Bo said that PVE does not, nor plans to, collaborate with law enforcement. However, he isn’t against the police either. He understands that their role is to incarcerate people. 

“Police can’t solve violence at all. Police got a job to lock people up, and we got a job to save people and help them. We got a job we’re doing and they got a job they’re doing. It’s two different things,” Bo explained. “We’re into violence prevention and they’re into locking up the people who are doing the crime. We’re trying to stop the people from doing the crime.”

There’s an evolving ideology around abolition within Chicago’s grassroots organizing community, which is calling for reallocating excessive police funding to building safe communities through more affordable housing, free and accessible mental health programs, quality education, and more — all things related to the root causes of violence.

In January, the Welcome to Klansville rapper walked into 2023 in a dream-like fashion. He has a new film, Just Like That, premiering at Cinema Chatham on March 5, the same day as his birthday party. He’s the face of his wife’s new bakery, Carmie Cakes, located in west suburban Elmhurst. On March 13, Illinational Radio will honor him as its 2023 Icon Award winner. And he’ll be earning his bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Northeastern University later this year.

Despite having so much to look forward to, Bo’s still had to wake up to a frightening reality. In January, gun violence took away a young member of his PVE team, Gabe

“He was like a little brother to me. I’ve been knowing him since he was a shorty selling CDs on Madison. He was looking forward to change, making legal money, and doing something positive in the hood,” Bo explained.

He’s known Gabe since he was a child, taking him under his wing as a mentee after Gabe returned home from federal prison. Gabe became enthusiastically involved in Bo’s nonprofit work.

“He wasn’t out there taking nothing or sliding or dissing no opps, so it hurt to see somebody like that fall to a war he didn’t contribute [to],” Bo said, somberly. “Just affiliated with a certain group. It’s crazy, but we got to change that narrative.”

Wounded, but not defeated, Bo will continue to help heal the streets of Chicago. He’s witnessed the impact of his violence prevention work, and the difference it’s made in many under-resourced neighborhoods across the city.

“It makes me feel like, man, we’re doing all this work for nothing,” Bo said, thinking about Gabe, “but I have to think about all the people who we are helping though. We can’t give up on everybody, man. We just got to keep pushing.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.