Chicago hip-hop war of words turns violent

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Joseph Coleman

Joseph Coleman (Family photo / September 6, 2012)

Chicago’s hip-hop community is in a war of words that has escalated into violence, with the shooting death of a teenage rapper.

Tuesday was another night, another homicide in a year in which hundreds of Chicagoans have been gunned down; the murder rate for the year’s first half is up an alarming 38 percent over last year. This time the victim was Joseph Coleman (18-year-old rapper Lil Jojo). The bicycle-riding teen was slain by a drive-by shooter in his South Side Englewood neighborhood.

His death starkly punctuated a gang-related war of words and music between Jojo and rapper Lil Reese, associated with the biggest new star in Chicago hip-hop, Chief Keef. Jojo recently released a song on-line, “3hunna K” that mocked Reese, Keef and their “300 squad,” which is associated with a street gang.

Keef took to his Twitter account Wednesday to respond to Jojo’s death: “It’s sad cus … Jojo wanted to be just like us #LMAO” (Internet slang for “laughing my ass off"). Chicago police are reportedly investigating a possible connection between the comments and Jojo’s death.

On Wednesday, Keef went after another Chicago hip-hop artist, Lupe Fiasco, on Twitter. He called Fiasco a “hoe” among other epithets and vowed that when “I see him (I’ll) smack him.”

He was responding in part to comments Fiasco made at a Baltimore radio station several days earlier. “Chief Keef scares me,” Fiasco had said. “Not him specifically, but just the culture that he represents.” He decried the rising murder rate in his hometown and said, “You see who’s doing it and perpetrating it, they all look like Chief Keef.”

Fiasco, who has built a global reputation for crafting thoughtful, socially conscious music, responded passionately to Keef on his Twitter account, but with a tinge of sadness.

“I have spoken peace only (to) receive vitriol and malice in return,” Fiasco wrote, and lamented the “paths to nothingness” that such attitudes entail.

Keef, born Keith Cozart 17 years ago, was recently under house arrest for a gun charge. During that time he was signed to a record deal by Interscope Records, the home of Dr. Dre and Eminem, and a few weeks ago he appeared at the Lollapalooza festival in Grant Park. His raps at the festival – often harsh, street-life vignettes about growing up on the economically ravaged, gang-infested South Side -- were punctuated by the sound of gun shots, an eerie reminder of life only blocks away from the stage on which he was performing.

Street buzz, his criminal record and the Internet hit “I Don’t Like” have conspired to make Keef the most notable new face of Chicago hip-hop.  

Other prominent Chicago hip-hop artists jumped in with their own Twitter comments Wednesday in the wake of the Keef-Fiasco debate.

Psalm One, who has been recording acclaimed hip-hop albums for more than a decade, pointedly called out Keef: “We hear you loud and clear,” but “a lot of folks just can’t rock with you on it.” And later, she questioned success built on “talking about nothing but drugs/guns.”

After several hours of mostly negative fallout from his more than 200,000 Twitter followers, Keef claimed his account had been hacked.

The animated Twitter discussion dissipated by late Wednesday, but not until another respected Chicago hip-hop artist chimed in. Rhymefest, who ran unsuccessfully for alderman in the crime-riddled 20th Ward earlier this year, added this postcript: “I warned you all about this Chicago violence in Hip Hop and I was called a Hater. Now someone else is dead.”

Related: View more details about this shooting and Chicago's other 2012 homicides at homicides.redeyechicago.com

greg@gregkot.com
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