I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my city. While I was in undergrad at the University of Virginia, people would often tell me “Joshua, you rep Chicago pretty hard!”. For me it was hard not to. A young black male coming from the southside of Chicago to a relatively small college city in central VA was tough, and I felt extremely isolated and out of place. But one thing that helped me retain a sense of identity was through letting everyone I knew know the fact that I was from Chicago. It was a great conversation starter (since I was one of two black males in the entire university hailing from the inner-city of the Chi), and in some way, that pride in where I come from helped me ease the transition into college life as an out-of-state student. Because as cliche as it sounds (and I know I’ll regret this) you can’t be comfortable in knowing where you are going unless you know where you are from.
I’m proud to be from Chicago. I grew up on the south and west sides of the city, and I appreciate all the things I went through growing up, good and bad. Chicago will always be closest to my heart.But as I started to pack up my apartment in C-Ville after graduation, the loathing side of my love-hate relationship with Chicago started to rear its ugly head. Going back home has its tough negative aspects. Leaving C-Ville also meant leaving behind a huge part of my life: my college days. Leaving UVA meant I would be leaving many of the simple things I enjoyed; slower life of VA as opposed to the hustle-and-bustle of the city; the ability to go to the Aquatic Fitness Center whenever I wanted to play basketball instead of going to play on an outside court, in neighborhoods where on the wrong day I might have to fight or might get shot; the safety of the community of scholars and not the danger of being outside my house too late.
But not only that, going back home meant I had to go back to the most segregated city on the face of the planet, back to being around some of the same people with the same mentalities and values as when I first left for college. It meant I had to go back to the south side. If you ask anyone from Chicago how the city is doing, you probably are gonna get one of two answers. If you ask someone who was born and raised on the north side, their answer sounds like “It’s amazing! I love it here. I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else.” If you ask someone from the south side, their reply will sound a little something like “I wanna get out here as soon as I can!”
Neighborhoods, particularly on the south side (and some in the west side) of Chicago have erupted with youth violence. With death tolls increasing year by year, more kids have died in Chicago than US troops in Afghanistan. Seemingly every year, more and more Chicago Public School students have passed from shootings during the course of a school year (and we won’t even get into how the numbers skyrocket as soon as summer hits). Too long have news headlines brought me to tears (like the first time my friend showed me the video of Derrion Albert getting beat to death), just like Lupe Fiasco when he saw old footage of him in his neighborhood with now fallen friends, or our beloved humble superstar icon Derrick Rose at the unveiling of his new shoe.
This epidemic of killing has almost left myself and many like me with a deep sense of hopelessness. It’s very difficult to cope with, and many of us just want to get as far away from the violence as we can. The constant RIP Facebook statuses and daily local news are heartbreaking. So now when I come back home, after I see my family and few friends, to be honest, I wanna get out of here as fast as I can. Enter Chief Keef.
The first song I heard from Chief Keef was this song called “Everyday”. I was in VA and one of my friends sent me the song on Facebook. At first I thought it was a joke. The lyrics were horrible, and the 20 dreaded up drill niggas bobbin up and down seemed like clowns to me. I never knew the word “nigga” could be rhymed with itself so many times. But the ratch in me thought the beat knocked pretty good. It was the type of music you would never listen to for deep rumination, but you could turn it on while getting ready for a party. It was a “get in my zone” track. I never would buy a Chief Keef album, and let’s not even talk about going to a show. But trap music has its place, and I, like all people, enjoy my share of guilty pleasures. Plus I’m at that intermediate age where I know his music is wack, but I can still dance to it.
Needless to say, I didn’t really think much of anything about him or his music, until I came to back home. I was sitting at the kitchen table when my niece walks by listening to “3 Hunna”. I shook my head, knowing that while it may seem hypocritical for me to listen to some of his garbage but not like when she does, I am a whole lot better equipped to distinguish it from music with real substance.
Kids her age listen to the radio and watch music videos for the vast majority of their new music intake, unlike young adults like me in the blog-surfing generation. For the most part, only artists with pop relevance like Chief Keef are what they regularly listen to (if you need an example of how I know this I once asked her who Erykah Badu was and she didn’t know. But she can recite Nicki Minaj songs verbatim). A few days later, I heard my little cousin bumpin “Monster”, lip-syncing “Never trust a bitch, shit you gotta watch em“. Skip to later in the week, when another one of my teenage cousins scrolled through my iPod and asked ”Who are all these people? You got any Chief Keef?”.
This was the day I would have never expected to see. The face of the City of Wind, the hottest rapper or artist in Chi-town wouldn’t be Kanye West, or Common, or Twista, or Lupe Fiasco, or Naledge, or Mikkey Halsted, or Kids These Days, or Chance The Rapper, etc. It’s Chief Keef. I thought I was dreaming. This is who Chicago picked to show the world our talent? But I wasn’t dreaming. One “I Dont Like” G.O.O.D Music Remix, and a multi-MILLION dollar publishing deal with his own Beats By Dre headphone line and movie deal later, and I was in shock. Fast forward the tape.
Lupe Fiasco was quoted in an interview, saying “Chief Keef scares me. Not him specifically, but the culture that he represents.” Chief Keef felt that Lupe was dissing him, so he tweeted, “lupe fiasco a hoe ass nigga And wen I see him I’ma smack him like the lil bitch he is #300“. My first reaction to this was again, ambivalence. It was a mixture of sadness and disappointment. A smh and a sigh. The smh was at his ignorance, and the fact that this was the way he felt he had to handle his perceived personal defamation. I cringed at the thought of the impoverished youth in Chicago and in the rest of the country who are supporters of Chief Keef, who might revel in this type retaliation and view it as justified. I winced at the thought of suburban kid entertained by this “real niggatry”, while their parents utter a dismissive “…….Niggas (Niggers)”.
The sigh was in the fact that though this reply seems irrational, how can you even expect Chief Keef not to react this way? A kid from his background doesn’t understand what Lupe meant with his words. He doesn’t understand that it was not a direct attack on his character, but more so an indirect attack on the system that would give a 17-yr old kid who pretty much only raps about guns, his distrust for new niggas, fuckin bitches, and smokin dope millions of dollars. I agree with 50 Cent when he said “Chief Keef is can only respond to that as ‘why is he talkin about me?’” You can only expect that method of retaliation from a kid that young, from the environment where he came from, who (whether it is true or not) feels he has nothing in common with a person like Lupe. Fast forward the tape a little more.
South side rapper Lil Jojo was shot and killed on Sept 3. His death is believed to be linked to his beef with one of Chief Keef’s affiliate Lil’ Reese. Jojo had previously posted YouTube videos saying that he was BDK (for people not from Chicago, this is a diss towards the Chicago gang Black Disciple Nation. Replacing the “N” for “nation” and adding a “K” for “killer” to the moniker of any gang is a huge gesture of disrespect to that gang. It’s effectively saying you will kill anyone who is in that gang) and that he was going to kill Lil’ Reese and Chief Keef. Chief Keef responsed to JoJo’s death with a resounding “LMAO”. He tried to say his account was hacked, but I won’t even dignify the thought of showing you “his” tweets trying to deny and cover up the situation (tweets clearly written by his publicists).
I was both saddened and infuriated at his response. Irate because even if someone is your “enemy”, to laugh at them is the ultimate disrespect to them, and their loved ones. But also sad, because this death was senseless, solved nothing, and Chief Keef probably doesn’t or wouldn’t see anything wrong with laughing at someone else’s death until enough people boycotted him and Interscope dropped him from the label (which for both right and wrong reasons, won’t happen). Fast forward even more.
Instagram shut down Chief Keef’s account because he posted a photo of him receiving a sexual act by a girl.He said that account was hacked as well….(sigh) Chief Keef is the embodiment of my ambivalence towards the home I love. He is a success story of a kid from one of the worst neighbors in the Chi who got a multi-million dollar record deal, all from making YouTube rap videos at his grandma’s crib. He is proof that even when you are at the bottom, you can still ascend from your misfortune. Despite the negative message in his lyrics, he may spark some inner city youth to get off the streets and into the studio. He’s from my city, our city.
But on the other hand, he is every single thing I hate about the media, record labels, and pop culture. Record labels are exploiting not only his image, but the mass of violence in our city, just for the sake of making a few bucks. And no rappers will say he’s wack, has limited talent, or speak out against him because they might be affiliated with the same label or don’t want to come across as a “hater” (a word I think should be stricken from the hip hop vocabulary).
He is the symbol of the pimping of the negative aspects of the black community without prognosticating the affects it has within the media. He is the portrait of white America’s infatuation with the implosion of the black community, a picture that is commodified if and when it becomes profitable, but met with apathy and disdain when it is the controversial topic of social conversation that investigate its cause and affects. He is the progenitor of this new wave of, in the words of Naledge, “Nigga nigga……nigga nigga……add a hook” trap rap that saturates our airways. He is the product of a segregated city that seems to care less about some parts while others are flourishing. And most of all, he’s just a kid. He’s a kid from my city, who seems to value all the wrong things in life, because life seems to not doesn’t place any value on him. RIP to all the lives taken by violence across the nation, and here in Chicago. God Bless the Youth. Save Our Students.