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Chief Keef digs weed, guns, sex and ... Northbrook?

Keith Cozart AKA Chief Keef leaves Cook County Juvenile Court 1100 S. HamiltStreet following hearing Wednesday October 17 2012.

Keith Cozart, AKA Chief Keef, leaves Cook County Juvenile Court, 1100 S. Hamilton Street following hearing, Wednesday, October 17, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 8, 2013 6:21AM



A dozen years ago, I moved to Northbrook and wanted everyone to know.

“My name is Neil Steinberg and I live in the suburbs...” the column began, “a confession of unblinking shame,” which asked readers “to imagine was spoken in a church basement, to a group of sad-eyed men shifting uncomfortably in metal folding chairs.”

My motivation was simple — I knew Chicago newspaper columnists who pretended to live in a walk-up above a bar on Division Street while really being comfortably nestled way the heck out in, oh, Western Springs or some such place. I didn’t want to be like those guys in any way. So if they hid their true identities, I would boldly broadcast mine, dubbing my new home the “leafy suburban paradise,” a parody of Homeric tropes like “wine dark sea” or “long black ships.”

I don’t write about Northbrook too much, I hope. Occasionally something will catch my eye. The old water tower — the first “Horton Waterspheroid” ever built, appearing in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The schools — first-rate as advertised, buffing my two teenage boys’ minds to a high sheen. I’ve been meaning to mention the $10,000 village officials spent to install bulletproof panels in their public meeting room desks, to give them cover should an armed lunatic open fire at a zoning board hearing. But I could never quite decide what I thought of it — costly cowardice or prudent precaution? Hard to say.

But as with opera, writing only a little about Northbrook must seem like a lot — enough for readers to associate me with it — because my email and Facebook page lit up last week with news that a 17-year-old Chicagoan named Chief Keef had moved to Northbrook.

“I hear you and Chief Keef are neighbors,” Bobby Flood wrote. “Thoughts?”

Keef, you might not know, is a rapper from the South Side, troubadour of “sex, weed, money and guns,” in the words of Sun-Times rock critic Thomas Conner.

My initial thoughts were lighthearted. “I was telling Edie this morning that we have to go over there with a blueberry pie,” I wrote in reply. My gold standard of neighborliness — I really like pie.

To be honest, while I knew of Keef’s legal woes, I wasn’t exactly schooled in his oeuvre. I jumped on YouTube, randomly selected a song — “I Don’t Like” — and gave it a spin.

Golly. A lot of sculpted young men with their pants around their hips, boxers rampant, hopping about to this plodding, semi-hypnotic beat, smoking something, waving guns and fistfuls of money.

I posted it to my Facebook page.

Keef’s rumored move is controversial because he’s under house arrest in Chicago — and while a judge ruled there is “no credible evidence” that Keef actually lives in Northbrook, a cop source tells me his name is on the lease.

And if you look at a photo Keef tweeted of himself waking up Jan. 5, you see the distinctive window treatment from the house in Northbrook that the judge says there’s no evidence he’s living in.

After dropping my younger boy at his tennis lesson around the corner (how John Cheever is that?), I slid by Keef’s putative new home, a distended, charmless, white brick, million-dollar McMansion on a busy road.

Keef’s Bentley Continental wasn’t parked out front. No groups of young men waved Tec-9s. But that doesn’t mean anything — there are residents on my block who I have never seen, not once in a dozen years. They must enter and leave their homes through tunnels.

Real or not, the ostensible Keef relocation yanks several cultural chains. You could view Keef as simply another African-American pioneer to the lily-white suburbs. God knows Northbrook could use more, with a black population of 0.63 percent — 210 out of 33,170 people. That’s the kneejerk, white-guilt, I’m-no-bigot response — bake the pie, wave howdy. The Northbrook Public Library tweeted “Welcome to the neighborhood” to Keef, noting happily “We have your new album on order.”

Then what Keef actually represents starts to sink in — a kid on probation for allegedly pointing a gun at a Chicago cop, the latest avatar of what Thomas Conner calls “a dreary, weary, violence-glorifying subgenre” in music. Keef can be seen as the embodiment of the worst stereotypes: dope-sucking, gun-waving, women-disrespecting youth. When you consider the toll that gang culture takes on Chicago, this fish-out-of-water story becomes less droll. If the thug life is so cool, chief, how come you’re in Northbrook? Supposedly.

The key question — and I don’t have the answer —is whether the music propagates violence in that community or merely reflects it. Keef didn’t create any of this — he was born in 1995. He will vanish into that place where all flashes-in-the-pan go (or won’t; heck, I thought cellphones were a fad. Maybe he’s the new Sinatra). To the degree that his theoretical arrival in the leafy suburban paradise makes residents here rip their eyes away from their giant flat-screens, look out their front windows and think for a moment, well, that’s probably a good thing.



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