The Demonization of Chief Keef and Lil JoJo

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Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His newest project War Machine 2 was released on June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.

Every week in I'm Just A Rapper Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.

Gangster rap was once one of the most innovative demonstrations of free speech. I remember the first time I heard the Houston, Texas living legend Scarface. His voice pierced through my soul and demanded my respect as a listener. One of the most memorable lyrics from him is, "I never heard a man cry until I saw a man die". Something about that statement is so powerful it straight up changed my life.

Often in the media, when hip-hop heads discuss this form of rap music they are usually defending the artistry of gangster rap. I've always been bothered by this, because the art form itself is all about defiance. A true rebel doesn't care if you don't understand him.

My grandmother hates Kirk Franklin -- it's difficult for her to understand his place in Gospel music. Her generation is filled with traditionalists, and they view Kirk's music as new-school jibberish. In today's music climate, gangster rap now has traditionalists, and, like every other group of hip-hop old heads, they are not happy.

The genre has kind of changed from the original roots and transformed into something completely different. Everything changes -- that's kind of how life operates. Recently a young rapper from Chicago by the name of Lil JoJo was murdered. I feel sorry for JoJo: his life was cut short. He was allegedly knee-deep in a rap beef with the current midwest gangster rap sensation Chief Keef. I actually listen to Keef's music, so this column isn't about bashing Keef. I wish him much success; his crew recently signed a major deal with Interscope. I know some of you may view my praises of Keef as nothing short of blasphemy, but I have my reasons. There are a series of unfortunate and tragic events attached to Keef's name at the current moment.

There is a YouTube video of Lil JoJo and his homies approaching Keef and his partner Lil Reese. Jo and his cronies appear to be joyriding when they spot Keef and Reese, and they pull up and start verbally taunting Keef and Reese. A person that appears to be Lil Reese comes from around the corner into the camera's view and says "Jo I'ma kill you". Less than 24 hours later, JoJo was shot dead, and his murder is currently unsolved.

The Internet went crazy over this incident the day of JoJo's death. I believe JoJo was only seventeen years old. The only video I've ever seen of JoJo's is a video of him throwing gang signs and waving guns bigger than his body in the camera. He's surrounded by a mob of guys from his neighborhood doing the same exact thing. Most of these guys are more than a few years older than him.

The video shows you the war zone some of us are actually living in on a day-to-day basis. There are adults in this music video pushing young children deeper into a lifestyle they cannot back out of. Here's the Tef Poe reality check about the subject: I don't blame JoJo for what happened to him. People are casting plenty of speculation and theories about what actually took place the night JoJo was murdered -- most of these theories mention Chief Keef and his crew Glory Boy Entertainment. I pray JoJo's mother gets the closure and justice she deserves.

I wasn't there, however, so I can't elaborate on these events. Here's the second half of my reality check: I don't completely blame Chief Keef at the moment either. No, I don't agree with everything he's said about JoJo after his death. The Tweets of him laughing at JoJo's demise were unnecessary indeed. But this opens the door for us to discuss a deeper problem. The truth is gangster rap existed long before Keef and JoJo were born. The truth is black males have been dying in relation to gangster rap since the '80s. The genre was once rich with social commentary and moral dilemma.

Gangster rap music would once paint the picture of young men living in the ghetto with limited options from a harsh but artistic perspective. The music was hardcore and profanity-driven but still served a purpose and helped propel hip-hop into greater heights as a total, complete art form. I can't imagine my life without the likes of Ice Cube, 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, DJ Quik, Kool G. Rap, Dr. Dre and Ice T. In my humble opinion all of these individuals did it the right way.

Every gangster rapper doesn't have a political science degree, and even though some do, this art form was created for people who don't mind being politically incorrect. The problem lies in the fact that like everything else in American pop culture, once this form of music went mainstream, things started to spiral out of control. Record labels started signing anything that called itself gangster, and the quality control department was sent home indefinitely. So the artistic value and political edge of gangster rap was compromised before Keef and JoJo were even conceived. The substance was sacrificed for the commercial dollar, and here we are.


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12 comments
DarrenStarr
DarrenStarr

todays rappers must speak out about violence in our communities and not with veiled half-baked raps that can claim to be conscious if studied under a lyrical microscope  .  todays top rappers must work with all their strength and ability to teach the youth that it is not cool to be violent. more rappers in the spotlight must full-stop denounce violence. Intelligence, honor, love, humanity and the search for beauty in the world must be the new "cool", even at the expense of rap careers if necessary. Rappers must speak these truths, as the families that once could are in total disarray. what horrifies me is that instead of mainstream rappers pushing forward this radically positive agenda to our youth, the most violent and mindless rappers are not only NOT being rebuked, they are actually being co-signed by top-tier artists who seem to have sold their souls.   Thats why I applaud Lupe Fiasco.  More rappers must follow.  Refuse to co-sign Keef.  come out and say that the message that Keef spouts is wrong, and will only lead to more deaths.  But most ill not speak up.  Their up-and-coming rap careers are dependent on you getting along with the new "it" rappers, even ones that are morally repugnant.  It could also be that directly speaking out on such matters carries with it other dangers.  For those reasons, I cannot truly begrudge any rapper that chooses to maintain the status quo.  

TYBG
TYBG like.author.displayName 1 Like

I agree with dewarrenMiH below.  That said, I'd like to comment. If I take anything from this article, it's your premise that Chief Keef's rise is due to (or at least parallels) the overall rise of schlock gangster rap that was hoisted on us in years past, and that we as a society (and consumers) are somehow partially to blame for co-signing such wack, nihilistic garbage. (even though the 'garbage' is actually just a reflection of our F---'ed up society) That's fine.  I see your point, I guess.  BUT it should be also noted that it seems very clear to my ears and most of my friends who know as much about hip hop as you do, Tef - is that Chief Keef is pure garbage. This fact is vital, as it accounts for most of the backlash you are sensing in regards to this 'artist' as of late. From day one, it was clear that Chief Keef had zero musical talent. No flow, no unique voice, nothing. Frankly, His fledgling rap 'career' was based on nothing but hype, a few well-placed lukewarm reviews, and a lame co-sign or two by guys too busy to even research what exactly they were co-signing.  So please note, if there is now backlash against this clown rapper, it is because he is now rightfully being seen as ungrateful, moronic, callous in regards to a peer's death, and a tad too-dead-eyed/mindless and overhyped.  He didn't deserve his spot.  His songs are wack, his attitude is too immature.  There's nothing there to like.  When people realize they've been had by an 'artist', there is backlash.  Well we've been had by Chief Keef. As a side note, I hate burst your bubble, but there is likely no shining beacon of greatness inside of Chief Keef. Some people are just dunces.  Keef is likely one of them.  Some people are just scumbags.  Keef makes my scumbag radar go off. My advice to you is realize that some people are just bad news, and it isn't always society's fault. As far as positivity and hip hop, these days I only mess with Lil B the BasedGod.  He's more real and far more brave than anyone I see in the current hip hop landscape.

vikvaughn
vikvaughn like.author.displayName 1 Like

you need a copy editor.  do you really expect someone to read 4 pages of this?

kidmozaratii
kidmozaratii

 This article is bullshit you have none of your facts straight chief keef was not in the video jojo's beef was mainly with  lil reese so before you star incriminating people and speaking on stuff have your facts straight. 

c680425
c680425

THE PROBLEM IS MAJOR LABELS HAVE DROPPED ALOT OF THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES ... INORDER TO JUST MAKE MONEY ... 1. RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT DEPART.

2. ARTIST DEVELOPMENT  3. MOBILE DJ LISTENING SETS  ETC. 

ALL THE ARTIST YOU MENTIONED WERE GROOMED FOR THE INDUSTRY AT SOME EARLY POINT IN THEIR MUSIC CAREERS ... LABELS NO DAYS DON'T PUT THAT SAME EFFORT TO BLACK GANGSTER RAP ARTIST ... SWIFT"

dewarrenMiH
dewarrenMiH

It's time to revolutionalize the way the African American community takes care of its youth. We have organizations like the NAACP, Black Panther Party, NOI, and others aren't making an impact in the community and some black churches care very little about the communities they are nestled in as though its not their calling. The cards are stacked against our youth before they are even born. The conditions that create the environment in which we grew up, Keef. and Jojo was created generations ago and without a transformational leader a little closer to home, like a Tef Poe and others like him that are relevant and who speak truth to power we will continue to see numbers and senseless deaths rise in CHI and my own Northside of STL

DarrenStarr
DarrenStarr

 @dewarrenMiH I agree with most of what you say here, but no disrespect, but just  how is Tef a 'transformational leader', exactly?  Notice Tef Poe won't even speak out about Keef.  "I wish him much success".  HUH?!!!  You wish "much success" to a non-rapper with zero appeal spreading a poisonous, nihilistic message of hate and death to his peers during the middle of most violent times an increasingly violent city has ever seen?  As a student of hip hop, and a person who even understands that hip hop must have balance to move forward and remain relevant, I wish Chief Keef failure, NOT success.I'm sorry, but too many rappers are too afraid of the consequences of actually speaking out. Too afraid of appearing soft, too afraid of appearing to be another crab in the bucket.  A really brave rapper would speak out and ask the violent youth to look into their hearts and find love.  A really brave rapper would attempt to make positivity an attractive option (Mr. Lif, Lil B, Lupe Fiasco, De La Soul)  Instead, here we get a long screed about how society and consumers are to blame and how the author wishes Keef success.  I'm sorry, but its time for a different story.

dewarrenMiH
dewarrenMiH

@DarrenStarr I understand where you are coming from totally, but I believe Tef Poe is a transformational figure because of his work in the community and in particular Amnesty International. Youth violence is a problem but no artist can bring the necessary attention it would take to reverse the tide of destruction we see in today's youth. I believe Tef is transformational also because his artistry is not rooted in the glorification of violence, the exploitation if women, or illegal drug use. An artist can only do so much and in all actuality they are hoping to support their families. I think that's why Tef wished him success because he can identify with that aspect of Keef.

v_luscious
v_luscious

@StreetMadeTeam @tefpoe LOVE that blog! & everyone should look at my last RT & read it too!

mhdvn
mhdvn

@TefPoe we shouldn't lay blame. it's our world -- we should do what it takes to foster growth

TefPoe
TefPoe

@mhdvn thats what the article about..

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