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Chicago, resplendent with its towering skyline, has always battled with its reputation as a city plagued by corruption and crime. Just a short distance from the sparking downtown “Loop” area, the South and West sides of the Windy City show evidence of neighborhoods hit hard with poverty and gang culture.  Atop the heap stands Chief Keef, a snarling, menacing youth whose smash hit “I Don’t Like” landed him a lucrative record deal with Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope Records label. Now the 17-year-old finds himself in the middle of a controversy that may have led to the demise of a rival rapper and gang member, sparking the ire of critics and others nationwide.

The murder of 18-year-old Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman kicked off a day that won’t be soon forgotten in the world of social media. An aspiring rapper with obvious gang ties, Coleman was known to have issues with Chief Keef associate Lil Reese. A chilling video posted to YouTube just hours before Coleman’s death on Tuesday (September 4) show the rapper arguing with Lil Reese, then someone in the clip yells “I’m a kill you!” at the top of their lungs in response.

After news of Coleman’s death hit the Internets, Chief Keef and countless other Twitter users tweeted tasteless jokes about the killing. The beef eventually spilled over into Chicago rap veteran Lupe Fiasco reaching out to Keef, who was met by insults from the rapper and his legion of fans. Distraught by the reaction, Lupe wearily vowed to stay far away from the fracas and mentioned that he will be retiring from music.

Gangs have certainly existed well before the rise of these tough-talking teenage rappers. Yet the current spate of releases from Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Reese and baby of the bunch at 13, Lil Mouse, has given gang culture a thriving audio and visual component it has never enjoyed before. The gang-plagued neighborhood of Englewood where Keef and JoJo hailed from is represented heavily in their handful of videos and countless songs. They spoke about their Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples gang affiliation as a thing of honor, and both rappers have loyal followings of young people who look up to them.

Rappers claiming gang ties isn’t a  new phenomenon. West coast rap group N.W.A featured Ruthless Records owner Eazy E, a known drug dealer who had reported ties with gang members. In later times, rappers Jim Jones claimed connection to the notorious Bloods gang; Lil Wayne and Birdman both claim Blood affiliation as well. A part of Strong Arm Steady rapper Mitchy Slick’s content is focused on gangbanging in San Diego. While Chief Keef and cohorts didn’t pioneer “banging on wax,” previous acts never had their involvement play out in the media quite like this.

Chief Keef’s antics on Twitter were dismissed by the rapper, who claims he was hacked. But before he made this questionable claim, the glee and delight Keef or his ghost hacker tweeted with was a disgusting display of humanity. Editor-In-Chief of The Well Versed Andreas Hale wrote a scathing opinion piece regarding the incident and rightfully threw other involved parties under the bus. The Smoking Section’s Greg Whitt also had a few choices words surrounding the matter. TheGrio’s Taleah Griffin has also chimed in about the Keef’s gang ties and the deadly violence surrounding him.

The outcry was loud and justifiable on a variety of media channels and should continue for some time until further details emerge from the case. Interscope Records is curiously quiet as police investigate Keef’s involvement and if the allegations hold true, it should be expected that the record label will dissolve all ties to him. The remarkable rise of a gangbanging rapper that, by many measures shouldn’t have received his record deal, could all be wiped away due to a senseless war of words and turf. Regardless of what one thinks of Keef’s musical ability, he should not be rewarded for perpetuating a culture that continues to erode the very core of the city he claims to represent.


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Photo: Chief Keef