Chief Keef

The Creation of Chief Keef: Fixing Chicago’s Teen Murder Culture

“She said you left ya kids and they just like you/They wanna rap and make soul beats just like you/but they just not you.” -Kanye West, “Home”

Chief Keef is the son of Kanye West. Not biologically, of course, that progeny will soon be delivered by Ms. Kardashian. But, metaphorically speaking, Kanye, Keef is yours to claim. The age is right, at 35, Kanye could have a 17-year old child who grew up watching their parent mature and change. A child who likes all of the same songs and movies, who at times feels like a sibling, but is your own seed, the product of your youthful indiscretions whom you love, but who also represents everything you should have done differently when you were their age.

And young Keef grew up without his metaphorical “father.” By the time, he was walking, Kanye was producing. As Keef entered kindergarten, Kanye entered the mainstream making records for Roc-a-fella Records and headed for superstardom. And he never looked back. It was a chance encounter that would reunite the two. The “I Don’t Like” remix launched Chicago’s Drill music scene into the mainstream, kicked off dozens of signings by record companies looking for the next hot thing, and, arguably, contributed to a bitter rivalry that has resulted in death.

In honor of Lil’ JoJo, JayLoud, and Johnny Boy Da Prince, AllHipHop examines three potential causes and solutions for the violence in Chicago.

Chicago Has a Rich History… of Youth Violence.

In 1984, Chicago was rocked by the untimely death of high school student and basketball superstar Benjamin Wilson. His death brought national attention to Chicago’s crack-fueled murder rate. He was the 622nd murder victim that year.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “Benji,” recently depicted the tragic story of the 17-year-old, gunned down on his way home from school after an argument. His convicted killers; two teenage boys. Wilson’s death is still a painful memory for many Chicagoans. Three young lives, just beginning, snuffed out before they each had a chance to fulfill what was clearly destined for them.

Last year, there were 506 murders in Chicago — the highest murder rate in 20 years. Unlike in the 80s, there is no clear culprit like crack. Most murders are taking place in Chicago’s poor, predominantly black and Hispanic West and South sides. They’re also considered to be gang-related. One disturbing trend fueling the current violence in Chicago, especially among young African-American males, like Lil JoJo, is retaliatory violence.

To combat the violence, the University of Chicago Crime Lab drafted a Youth Violence Prevention Plan which called for the launching of various prevention, intervention, and response initiatives, including a Gang School Safety Team where members of the Chicago Police Department Gang Enforcement unit and school officials work with and provide counseling to affiliates of shooting victims to discourage them from retaliation. The plan is important when one considers these numbers:

  • In 2010, 1,109 school-aged youth were shot
  • 216 of those were killed.
  • Nearly half of Chicago’s homicide victims are young people between the ages of 10 and 25

 Source: National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.

Young People Feel Invisible

In his masterpiece novel, Ralph Ellison wrote about an Invisible Man. The nameless character was smart, talented, but found himself surrounded by one bad situation after the other. He was rarely seen — unless being used to push someone else’s agenda –, stereotyped and misunderstood until he self-destructed.

By the time Chief Keef’s video for “I Don’t Like” hit the internet, he was already a rising star in his hometown. The 4-minute clip was polarizing.  Blunt after blunt was being smoked, lidded eyes, guns, and male posturing from a bunch of little boys who were on house arrest instead of in school. While some accepted it as entertainment, others saw past the music to a larger issue. Reality sets: For every Chief Keef we see on Youtube or hear on the radio there are thousands of young “invisible men (and women)” who go unnoticed until something bad happens.


Keef was accused of being connected to murder even sending tweets that mocked the death of enemy rapper Lil’ JoJo. We called him careless and a troublemaker. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t rap. We rooted for him to go to jail, for his album to flop; we damn near wrote his obituary. Record executives saw a cash cow and signed him to a reported $6 million deal.

We treated him like a grown man while ignoring the fact, “He’s only 16.” He’s no Diggy Simmons. Keef was in the big leagues, where most of the stars are twice his age.

As hip-hop gets older, its artists get younger.  Their knowledge of hip-hop’s origins and principles are limited. Being part and respecting the legacy isn’t important. Therefore, when 50 Cent and Young Jeezy tried to mentor Chief Keef, he snubbed their mentorship. Now Keef is left on his own surrounded by inexperienced peers and enablers while he spends 60-days in an Illinois youth center for violating parole, fights a child support case and navigates a music industry that cares more about instant sales than longevity.

Real mentorship has to be put in place for rising stars, and they have to accept it. In Chicago, programs like Becoming a Man (B.A.M.) teach young men socio-emotional skills and train young people to understand their thoughts and actions. Mentorship can and will help young people realize the value of their own lives making them less likely to take someone else’s.

Gun Laws are Largely Ineffective in Inner Cities

After the tragic mass shooting in Newton, Connecticut — which killed 26, including 20 children — President Obama’s quickly set the ball in motion for stiffer gun controls. The President’s plan includes:

  • Criminal background checks for all gun sales
  • Reinstating the assault weapons ban
  • Restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines
  • Eliminating armor-piercing bullets
  • Providing mental health services in schools
  • Allocating funds to hire more police officers
  • Instituting a federal gun trafficking statute

The plan will be debated for its effectiveness in stopping mass shootings. But, it clearly will have little to no effect on inner city violence. Most urban gun violence is committed with illegal or stolen guns, experts agree that what will be required in cities is a change of culture. In Black and Brown Chicago, with its high number of broken homes, a high unemployment rate (contributing to robbery homicides), and a strong gang culture,  no political plan is enough to reverse generations of violence. Add to this, thousands of illegal guns, a culture of anger and a lessening sensitivity to violence and the powder keg erupts.

Chicago is a tale of two cities.

There’s are the high murder rates and violence in the hood. Then, there the city that President Obama and Oprah call home; the city where the First Lady and First Daughters were born. The President was a Senator from Illinois before his meteoric rise to the White House. Now, former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmauel is Mayor of Chicago. There was a hope he would bring some of this Obama power to help change the city. No such luck. Perhaps, people don’t know how bad the situation is. When the media focuses its attention on gun violence, it’s on mass shootings, deadly, but rare. Not cities like Chicago where more locals were killed in 2012 than American soldiers in Afghanistan.

It’s easy to point fingers or ignore what is going on in Chicago. Tweeting RIP isn’t enough to evoke change. It’s time that we recognize the young people growing up on our music and acknowledge that some of it may be affecting them in a negative way. It’s time to mentor emerging rap artists. It is time for hip-hop to put less emphasis on guns and murder in lyrics. It is time for hip-hop to establish a true social agenda and use our power for the good of the communities from whence we came and to whom we speak. Because Chief Keef, belongs to all of us, and his story is all of our story and the ending is ours to write.

ALSO READ: A History of Violence: The Black Gangs of Chicago

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