Until last Friday, I was going to buy Chief Keef’s new album, Finally Rich. I’m a big fan of Chicago hip-hop. For those of you who think Keef is a guitarist for the Rolling Stones, Chief Keef is the biggest new star in the genre, a 17-year-old from Englewood named Keith Cozart who became famous after his homemade video of the song “I Don’t Like” blew up as a huge hit among Chicago Public Schools students.
Keith belongs to a school of rap called Drill, which is inextricably linked with Chicago’s gang violence, as Salon explains in an excellent story on the roots of Keef’s music:
Since the early summer, Chicago has been racking up hundreds of murders the police largely blame on an explosion of gang factions — neighborhood splinter groups that may identify with the heritage of the older gangs by borrowing elements of their name more as a brand but aren’t bounded by their rules.
The result is a shift from historic feuding between monolithic crime organizations controlling thousands of members each to intrapersonal squabbling and retaliatory conflicts among smaller hybrid groups whose control extends just a few blocks…The toughened reality of living in these neighborhoods is what shaped Drill.
Chief Keef was arrested last year for pointing a gun at a police officer. This year, he filmed a video with the music site Pitchfork in which he fired off a few rounds at the gun range. Police also want to know whether Keef was involved in the in the gang beef that led to the murder of Joseph Coleman, a 16-year-old aspiring rapper who went by the name Lil JoJo. After Coleman was killed, Keef mocked him on Twitter, then claimed his account had been hacked. None of this was enough to cost him his $3 million recording contract with Interscope records.
It should’ve been enough to put me off his music, which, from what I’ve heard of it, is pretty lunkheaded: unimaginative rhymes, simplistic beats. But it’s also a window into the world that has made Chicago the murder capital of America, and that piqued my curiosity.
Since last week’s murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, though, I haven’t had the stomach for any violent entertainment. While I was watching this Sunday’s Bears game, ads for the movies Gangster Squad and Django Unchained came on TV. Both ads packed two or three shootings into 30 seconds. I don’t want to see either. A culture that glorifies the sexiness of the man with the gun is one reason we have 300,000,000 guns in America. I also don’t want to pay $14 for the minstrel show of listening to a real live South Side thug. I don't want to support a scene that makes gangbanging a resume builder for music success.
Drill, though, is only one strain of Chicago rap. There’s another strain that attempts to carry on the socially conscious tradition of Kanye West, Common and Lupe Fiasco. This fall, I went to concerts by two of those rappers: Rockie Fresh and Chance the Rapper. Even at those shows, the crowd broke into the chorus of “I Don’t Like.”