How was he able to stand on such a pedestal? If he is really all that the critics say he is, then why has he achieved so much success and why did he get a record deal? The answer is a simple one: YouTube. His original fan base is made up of young people primarily under the age of 18. While some of them don’t have laptops and computers at home, most of them have smartphones. With the ability to access his life from one destination and a mobile device, YouTube has been the most frequented destination for teens looking to find out whatever they want to know about the Chicago rapper, no blog needed, not even a search engine.
However, Chief Keef wasn’t an unknown before he started uploading his videos to Youtube; an alleged known member of the 300 Black Disciple gang, hinted at by his use of the hashtag #300 in his tweets and his popular song “3Hunnaz,” his name rang bells, so to speak, among Chicago youth. With the ‘hood behind him and the suggestion from producer DJ Kenn to “stop saying so much” in his raps, he focused on simplifying his lyrics and was able to connect with his audience and create such a stir in hip-hop that labels were flying to Chicago to court him at his grandmother’s house (he was on house arrest at the time) and even woo his close friends with deals first as a means get his attention.
It’s not a mistake that three of his closest friends and collaborators all signed deals will various labels before he signed with Interscope. Lil Durk and Lil Reese made the announcement that they both signed solo deals with Def Jam in April, and Young Chop announced his signing with Warner Brothers in April also, but Chief Keef did not announce his deal with Interscope until June. Label executives wanted him so bad that they were willing to put his team on to prove their loyalty, and despite his decision to sign with neither Def Jam nor Warner Brothers both labels will reap the benefits of capitalizing on the gang banging because “wild shit sells.”
Through his deal with Interscope he was able to solidify a movie deal, a Beats by Chief Keef line of headphones, and his own GBE (Glory Boyz Entertainment) imprint, making him the youngest major label head in history.
True, his music speaks to the culture he was derived from, but it also shows teens who are still facing similar situations of gangs, drugs and poverty that they too can reap the benefits of musical success that comes with glorying murder and violence.
In Chicago, it is hardly about Keef’s music, but about a Black Disciple being so visible in today’s musical culture and levitating above the streets, seemingly above his enemies. Call it envy or vested interest, but if Keef is a member of the Black Disciples, then they now have an imprint with a major label and nationwide notoriety using the outlet of hip hop. It’s not surprising that this would ruffle some feathers in the Chicago streets.
A vocal Joseph “JoJo” Coleman, the young man that was murdered Wednesday after an altercation with Lil Reese, was barely a rapper and probably did not consider his beef with GBE a rap beef. It was personal; by creating the song “300hunna,” he inadvertently represented the 300 Black Disciple gang and that was a diss to JoJo’s set, so he released “300hunnak” a diss track where he proclaims to be a Black Disciple killer with the lyrics “these ni**as claim 300 but we BDK”.
The beef quickly took to the streets when JoJo posted on YouTube a video of him and a friend harassing Lil Reese while they drove past in a car. The altercation would eventually be taken to Twitter and hours later JoJo was shot dead while riding his bike. After learning of the murder, Chief Keef responded on Twitter by posting the message “It’s sad cuz dat ni**a JoJo wanted to be jus like us #LMAO”–LMAO stands for “laughing my ass off.” While Lil Reese had a much more direct response when he tweeted “Damn I just wke up 2da jojo sh*t f**k Em….”
Maybe over time (and with some guidance) Chief Keef will evolve into a pop culture icon — after all, Snoop did. He is now far removed from the 21-year-old gang banger that was charged with murder in 1993 while signed to Interscope and Death Row Records. Keef will not be seventeen forever and perhaps one day he will be able to stand against the very machine that made him.
Taleah Griffin is a writer born and raised on Chicago’s south side. She has worked in radio as a media personality and is a frequent contributor to CMJ.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @Taleah_G.