Chief Keef at Pitchfork 2012. Photo credit: Andrea Bauer
- Lil JoJo Tweeted his location just hours before he was slain
- Anger over Chief Keef’s Tweet mocking rival’s murder explodes online
- Hip-hop is not the enemy
- Tensions erupt at wake for slain teen rapper Lil JoJo
- Chief Keef belongs back in jail for his own safety, prosecutors say
- After beating video goes viral, Lil Reese offers apology on Twitter
Updated: March 15, 2013 3:20PM
Chicago stands at the center of gangster rap revival that’s coming — “Straight Outta Englewood.”
The difference between the new breed of thuggish South Side rappers signing big-money record deals and gangster rappers that made Compton, Calif., infamous in the late ’80s could lie in the deadly details.
While the infamous rap group NWA used streetwise symbolism to rhyme based-on-a-true-story tales of the anti-police, shoot ’em up gang life in Rodney King-era Los Angeles ghettos, aspiring South Side teen rappers “diss” real, murderous street gangs in violent hip-hop anthems they hope will lead to lucrative record deals.
And Tuesday night, that may have gotten one of them killed.
Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman was gunned down while riding on the back of pal’s bicycle in Englewood, about a block from where Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson grew up and her family was slain in 2008.
The 18-year-old’s first-ever rap song — “3HunnaK” — was an attack on rap rival “Lil Durk” and it also called out a violent street gang.
The rap, posted on YouTube, included a line saying: “These n----- claim 300, but we BDK.”
Chicago Police say the number “300” is street slang for the Black Disciples gang. And “BDK,” meaning Black Disciple Killers, is a taunt from a rival who wants to kill members of the gang.
But Joseph Coleman’s half-brother, John Coleman, said the rap was meant to target rival rappers — not the Black Disciples.
“That BDK s--- was for the opposing rap team,” John Coleman said, referring to an emerging crew of Chicago rappers, Chief Keef, Lil Durk and their rap associates.
“The song was a Lil Durk diss. It was more music . . . killing them with rhymes.”
The YouTube video, showing Coleman and others dancing with what appear to be automatic weapons, has been watched nearly 800,000 times.
Now, Chicago Police are investigating whether the rapper’s online feud calling out a crew of more successful rappers, some that he knew from high school, and a raging Englewood gang conflict got him killed.
Hours after Coleman’s death, the Twitter account of Chief Keef, a 17-year-old South Sider who this summer signed a deal with Interscope Records, weighed in.
“Its Sad Cuz Dat N----- Jojo Wanted to Be Jus Like Us #LMAO.”
LMAO stands for “laughing my ass off.”
That mocking Tweet unleashed a backlash of online outrage against Chief Keef that could threaten the teen rapper’s record deal, sources close to Interscope told the Sun-Times.
On Saturday, several Tweets issued from Chief Keef’s account said he had nothing to do with the murder and said he was praying for Jojo’s family. They also claimed his Twitter account had been hacked and said he was going to stay off Twitter until his album dropped in late November.
“I didn’t know him but he young jus like me. i can assure everyone that i had nothin 2 do with this tragedy tho. my twitter acct was hacked,” said one Tweet from his account.
Another ended: “My prayers go out 2 Jojo’s family on their loss.”
Police have not named any suspects in Coleman’s drive-by slaying and no one was in custody late Saturday. Police also haven’t connected the “rap beef” to Coleman’s murder — or said if Coleman and his rivals are even in gangs.
But somewhere in the fractured gang turf that makes up Englewood, the thin line separating the art of gangster rap and the reality of gang life got blurred. And Lil JoJo ended up in the Cook County morgue.
Trial was pending
With rumors of a bounty on his head circulating on the street — even Coleman’s mom heard it — the tragic outcome seemed inevitable to some.
Coleman, who grew up near 69th and Parnell in Englewood, boasted in online raps of having allegiance to the Brick Squad, a faction of the Gangster Disciples.
Last year, he was arrested on a gun charge — one he was due to stand trial for in two weeks. Police say he dropped a .45 caliber pistol while running from them during a raid of a party attended by members of the Gangster Disciples, rivals to the Black Disciples.
Chief Keef also makes appareent references to gang life in his music and social media posts.
Some of Chief Keef’s songs and Tweets include references to “300” and “Lamron.” That’s Normal — as in Englewood’s Normal Avenue — spelled backward. Lamron is a reference to an Englewood faction of the Black Disciples, police say.
Chief Keef, who performed at Lollapalooza this summer, once spent time under house arrest at his grandmother’s home after he allegedly pointed a gun at a police officer late last year. It was during that time the homemade video for song “I Don’t Like” started getting national attention on YouTube. It now has nearly 14 million YouTube views.
Kanye West’s remix of the song, featuring Chief Keef, has more than 17 million views.
Coleman, trying to make a name for himself, began taunting Chief Keef’s buddies in his own raps.
Coleman knew Chief Keef’s allies — Lil Durk and Lil Reese, both signed to Def Jam Recordings — from high school. For months, Coleman taunted them in videos posted online.
On the day he was killed, Coleman made a video of what’s purported to be his street confrontation with Lil Reese. Someone on the YouTube video is heard saying, “I’m a kill you.”
In the days after Coleman’s killing, police searched for his killer, someone who fired six or seven shots from the back of a tan Ford Taurus that was riding low in the back.
They targeted known gang members, questioned potential witnesses and searched suspicious cars for guns, sources said.
“No one is telling us who did it,” a police source said.
Chief Keef’s manager, who wasn’t aware of the rapper’s Coleman-mocking Tweet until being told by the Chicago Sun-Times, said he believed it was just a mistake made by a “kid” and that did not mean “anything personally.”
Since then, Chief Keef and his manager have remained silent.
But Chief Keef’s maternal grandmother had plenty to say about the rap star who still lives at her house.
Spends a lot of time at home
Chief Keef boasts in rhyme about shooting guns, slaying rivals and silencing snitches.
But his “Granny,” Margaret Carter, paints a different picture of her gangster rapper grandbaby.
The real Chief Keef — whose given name is Keith Cozart — doesn’t leave the house much. He spends too much time on the Internet and plays his music too loud. He has too many girls in his bedroom and can’t spend a penny of his big-money record deal with Interscope without permission until he turns 21, the rapper’s grandmother told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Let’s be real, I’m always saying, ‘Cut that down, turn that off, that’s too loud’ when he’s doing all that music,” Carter said. “And girls is his thing. Girls, girls, girls. I get sick of all them girls.”
All Chief Keef’s bad-boy bluster — and the police investigation into his gang ties regarding Coleman’s murder — “ain’t nothing but bull stuff,” Carter said.
“How can he be doing all that gang stuff when he’s always home and when he’s not at home he’s out of town with me or his uncle. . . . And where’s this gang at? In my kitchen? In my basement? Where they at? In my refrigerator where he go all the time?” Carter said, referring her grandson’s regular routine around the house.
“Look, I’m granny. That’s what they call me and I didn’t grow up with none of that mess. That don’t go in my god---- house.”
In fact, Carter said Chief Keef used his new rap star status to steer his older cousins away from a thug’s life.
“He says, ‘You don’t have to do what you doing,’ ” Carter said. “And they say, ‘My little cousin pulled me out of the street.’ ”
What rap fans hear in Chief Keef’s songs is what he sees around him — not what he does, she said.
And Granny says she’s always been tough on her grandson, who she said got kicked out of school for saying “something stupid.”
“I be on his a-- all the time. I’m on his a-- now,” she said. “I tell him, ‘Things will not go right if you don’t do it right.’”
Carter said she believes her rapper grandson learned a valuable lesson while on house arrest for the gun charge, a two-month stint when he recorded the video that ultimately led to a record deal.
“I said, ‘Look at what you done now. Now they call your life. You gotta do what they say,’ ” Carter said. “Don’t let no one call your life.”
As for the online backlash against Chief Keef and his Tweet following Coleman’s killing, “that’s just jealousy of a little dark-skinned ugly boy and how smart he was to come up with all this,” Carter said.
And the 63-year-old, who also cares for Chief Keef’s 13-year-old sister, isn’t worried about his safety.
“I ain’t worried. Maybe I should be but I’m not,” she said. “Every time he leave out that door I ask the Lord to cover him in His blood.”
Rapped what he knew
Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman lived the thug life he rapped about — sort of, say both his half-brother and his producer.
“Most of the stories that he was telling in his music was reality. Truth. Some about gun violence wasn’t real,” said Smylez, a rap artist and producer from Englewood. “Catch them over a stretcher, that was exaggerated. It was took from reality and painted different. It was based on a true story.”
Coleman grew up just blocks from where he was murdered. His half-brother was just two months his senior. John Coleman grew up in the suburbs but remained close to the aspiring rapper.
“We got the same dad, but he got locked up when I was 8 months. Me and JoJo called each other twins from the start, and my mom always picked him up on weekends so we could be together,” he said. “I was definitely lucky to move to the suburbs.”
Before he became Lil JoJo, Joseph Coleman spent a semester at Buffalo Grove High School last year. He thought it was boring, but liked not worrying about violence, his brother said.
“Then something happened with his family and he had to go back,” the rapper’s half-brother said.
John Coleman said he was with Lil JoJo the day he died, in the car during the videotaped confrontation with rival rappers.
“I’m f----- up, man,” he said. “That was my blood.”
Now, John Coleman said he’s getting threats on social networks, but he’s not worried for his safety.
“God’s gonna let it play out how it’s gonna go,” he said. “I’m not changing my life for that s----.”
Smyles said Lil JoJo was trying to get the fame Chief Keef and his crew have attained. And he knew that meant trying to catch the eye of a record label by “giving them what they want.”
“It was a character and just an image that he was giving, because that image is hot,” Smylez said. “We’re not from the North Side. We’re not from the nice community. We’re from the ’hood. We’re from where m------------ are hungry and ain’t got s---, and it’s a matter of whether you’re a n----- that do eat or don’t. The n------ that eat do negative things to get it. Rap is a reflection of what happens.”
But John Coleman says his half-brother was involved in street life in Englewood. He talked about seeing rival gangs drive through the neighborhood shooting warning shots from car windows.
And part of the reason he wrote “3HunnaK” was to call out the rappers getting record deals who he thought were frauds, John Coleman said. And he wanted to get rich doing it — but didn’t consider the risk of angering the Black Disciples.
Dissing street gangs in general is a bad idea, Chicago’s top cop said.
“I don’t think it’s smart,” Supt. Garry McCarthy said. “That’s all part of the problem, they go back and forth. Tit for tat. On social media and in these raps the kid does he’s talking about violence and really taunting people.”
Record deal with Dr. Dre
Sources close to Interscope Records — the label of Dr. Dre, a founding member of NWA and a gangster rap legend — say Chief Keef got his record deal because people want to hear good music.
But label bosses won’t tolerate gang-affiliation or bloodshed or another “East Coast vs. West Coast” feud blamed for taking the lives of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur — the most famous rap feud of all.
Still, a “broad spectrum of people, white kids and Asian kids in the suburbs who don’t live in that world listen to it . . . and it resonates with them from a standpoint of perspective — kids making music with somewhat first-hand knowledge of what that life is like,” said an industry source. “In most art forms the folks who create it are very troubled. They’ve gone through strife in their lives and the expression of that strife is powerful.”
And that sells records.
But there’s comes a point where too much reality is a bad thing.
“In this case, all the sudden he signed a deal and started Tweeting about gang-related stuff and all this other stuff is going on,” the source said. “It’s like, ‘What do we really have now and what are we into?’ ”
And where does that leave Chicago.
The possible gangster rap connection to a gang-related murder makes Chicago — a city already under a brutal national spotlight for this year’s spike in shootings in murders — look even worse, McCarthy said.
“The attention is bad for Chicago,” he said. “Unfortunately, the success we have isn’t reported at the same rate as the failures. Shootings is a catchy, flashy, but not good at all impression of the city. . . . What’s being missed is we enjoy a crime rate low going back 30 years. The gangs we’re dealing with are violent, but we’re going in the right direction for the last five months.
“And what’s killing me is the perception.”