Updated: November 19, 2012 3:39PM
There probably ought to be a rule against a guy like me writing about somebody like teen rapper Chief Keef, the gulf between our worlds so vast that there’s no way I can relate to his life experiences let alone his music.
Yet Keith Cozart, as the Englewood product is known in real life, has crossed over, so to speak, by finding his way into the criminal justice system, which makes him everybody’s business.
The question before us is then whether the taxpayers of Cook County would be better served by allowing the 17-year-old Chief Keef to go on about his business of becoming The Next Big Thing in the thug music world or instead by sending him back to juvenile jail to teach him a lesson about respecting the law.
My first choice: Send Chief Keef to California with his handlers from Interscope Records under the agreement that he never come back.
Unfortunately, they tell me the law really doesn’t allow for that as an option.
Second choice: Haul Jimmy Iovine, owner of Interscope, into court to explain just how far he will go to exploit not only the talents of this young man but also the culture of violence he represents.
I didn’t even need to check with the lawyers to know that idea would never fly either.
Cook County Juvenile Court Judge Carl Anthony Walker is between a rock and a hard place here, undoubtedly an everyday occurrence in his courtroom as he tries to see into the future of accused young offenders.
What sets this case apart is the growing celebrity status of Chief Keef, who signed a big contract in June on the strength of his YouTube popularity, then got really famous when his name surfaced in connection with the investigation into the Sept. 4 murder of fellow South Side rapper Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman.
Cook County prosecutors followed that up by accusing Chief Keef, who was already serving 18 months probation for pointing a gun at a Chicago police officer, of violating the terms of his sentence by going to a gun range in New York in June. The gun range trip was recorded on video as part of an interview with Pitchfork Media, and in it, Chief Keef is shown holding a gun, a definite no-no.
My first inclination was to try to remove Chief Keef’s celebrity from the equation so that he would be treated like anybody else in his circumstance but that’s not really possible because his celebrity — or notoriety — is a major reason he’s in this situation.
It’s obvious that Keef’s adult handlers sent him into that interview at the gun range for the very purpose of furthering the thug image that they expect will help sell his music.
“The whole incident was for commercial benefit,” said Dennis Berkson, Chief Keef’s lawyer, arguing his client should not be held responsible.
You may be wondering why I’m not jumping to embrace the more obvious option of giving Chief Keef a timeout at the Juvenile Detention Center exactly as prosecutors are requesting, given the seriousness of the underlying crime that landed him on probation in the first place.
That’s simple. I don’t think it would work.
The more the criminal justice system tries to make an example out of Chief Keef, the more it will feed into his popularity. If he is taken into custody for anything short of another crime, that will just give him even more street cred with the target audience for his music. And somebody will end up making a bundle on “Free Chief Keef” hoodies.
I decided long ago there’s no value in old white guys wagging their fingers about the dangers of rap music lyrics that glorify guns, drugs, violence and other criminal activity. I don’t like them. So what.
“He’s speaking to an audience that understands the life experiences in which he’s grown up,” Berkson told me. “Obviously, there’s a need and a desire on behalf of people to hear what he has to say. He raps about what he knows. Unfortunately, it’s a violent world.”
More unfortunately, there are record companies that specialize in feeding off this culture of violence and with each signing of an artist like Chief Keef, push the boundaries of bad behavior for those in the neighborhood who hope to emulate their success.