In the span of two weeks, Chicago-based rapper Chief Keef has been demonized by a variety of media publications. They have attacked the content in his music, his negative image and even his young mother (she’s 32) for being what some have called an irresponsible parent for condoning her son’s erratic behavior.
What’s missing from the discussion that scrutinizes his every tweet is what circumstances birthed him and how he was able to massively capitalize on a murder culture while being on house arrest in America’s murder capital.
Last week Chicago police arrested 300 people and recovered 100 weapons in a 3-day gang and drug raid and March, May and August all recorded more than 50 homicides; 2012 saw homicide victims in the city outnumber troops killed in Afghanistan. It is no secret that the violence in Chicago has been linked to gang activity. Last year the most frequent murder offenders were 17 and 18 years old.
Annual Chicago police statistics show a majority of both homicide victims and offenders are young black men with criminal records… A deeper review of the numbers shows males ages 15 to 35 made up nearly three-quarters of African-American homicide victims… In communities where the cycle of violent crime — disputes, violence and retaliation — has become the norm, young people who have seen too much death develop hardened attitudes about violence startlingly early.
Over the past few years, Chief Keef’s Englewood neighborhood has experienced almost 150 deaths. Being a 16-year-old kid on house arrest in this deadly community, creating songs like “Bang” while pantomiming firing a gun and reciting lyrics such as “choppas get let off, they don’t want no war, throwing clips from the 4-5 gotta go back to the store,” he makes it easy to imagine that the people who are sparking the violence in the city look similar to him and have a similar background. Lupe Fiasco touched on this last week when he was interviewed about Chicago artist by a Baltimore radio station. Fiasco stated:
Chief Keef scares me. Not him, specifically but just the culture that he represents, specifically in Chicago…When you drive through Chicago, the hoodlums, I don’t want to call Chief Keef a hoodlum, but the hoodlums, the gangstas and the ones you see killing each other, the murder rate in Chicago is sky-rocketing, when you see who’s doing it and perpetrating it, they all look like Chief Keef. He looks just like Chicago…he could be any kid on the street…To hear the things that he rap about specifically comparing it to you open up the news papers and there is 22 shootings this weekend, it scares me.
After hearing Lupe’s comments, Keef took to Twitter and wrote:
Lupe Fiasco a h*e a$$ ni**a and when I see him I’m a smack him like da lil b*tch he is #300.
Violence is what he knows and violence is what he is advocating, and he makes no apologies for it. Lupe responded to Keef via Twitter with a touching declaration to make peace and ended his portion of the conversation by unveiling that his album Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, to be released September 25 via Atlantic, will probably be his last. Lupe wrote:
But my heart is broken and i see no comfort further along this path only more pain. I cannot participate any longer in this … My first true love was literature so i will return to that … lupe fiasco ends here.
Violence in Chicago is not a new occurrence and neither is the imagery of violence portrayed in hip-hop. Chief Keef is not the originator of gangsta rap nor is he the first gang member to be signed to a major record label. Jimmy Iovine has proven before that he has a soft spot in his heart (or room in his bank account) for trash-talking-gang-representing-attention-grabbing rappers like Snoop Dogg was in the early 90’s. What is notable about Keef’s rise to the top is that he emerged from Chicago at a time when the nation is zoomed in to Chicago violence. He’s emerged as the bad guy, the face of Chicago violence and the voice of a thugged-out culture.