About a month ago, I wrote an article entitled “Chief Keef: My Love/Hate Relationship with Chicago.”
In my article, I vented about the dichotomy of frustrations that I have about my city, which are personified within Chi-city’s hottest artist out right now: Chief Keef. I voiced both my well wishes towards Keef, but also my frustration with his actions, which are prime examples of all the issues going on in Chicago. He represents the ambivalence I feel towards the place I call home.
Since then, I’ve only seen one body of work that mirrored my sentiments about Keef and his relation to the inequalities that exist within the city. This work, MORE SH!T CHIEF KEEF DON’T LIKE, is that of poet and creative artist Kevin Coval.
Coval, a Chicago native, is the founder of “Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival,” which is one of the largest youth gatherings on the planet. LTAB has been the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name. Coval also currently serves as Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the non-profit home of Louder Than a Bomb, and numerous other youth writing and hip hop programs.
This chapbook of poetry is a powerful, witty, genuine attempt to humanize a kid that’s been demonized (justifiably or not) by the media. We can jump on Keef for what he does, but it’s unfair to attack who he is, because who is is a reflection of the world he inherited from us. That fact is something that very few of us ever even think of, lead alone accept.
Through poems like “Chief Keef’s Ars Poetica”, Coval takes the perspective of Keef to give you a deeper understanding and insight into the person. Poems like this are not an attempt to justify or to say you should support his musical content or actions, but they are a firm plea for us to realize that Keef is merely a kid who is writing about what he knows. “What just happened, that’s what I write about / I don’t be trying so hard” he says.
Coval’s work is a counter-attack; a call that we gain perspective on who Keef is, so we can help him, and youth like, him learn from his mistakes. It is a rebuttal against the promotion of an astoundingly problematic idea that he would be safer in jail, as the Chicago Sun-Times so eloquently stated (I can’t even begin to talk about my issues with a statement like that. Implicit racism is only the beginning of my beef with it).
As I looked on blogs and social media in the following weeks after I published my article, I couldn’t find any balanced critiques of Chief Keef. Pretty much everything I read, saw, or heard was along the lines of “Keef is a horrible person! His record deal should be taken away and he deserves to be thrown in jail!”. They called for blood.
One of my favorite poems from the chapbook is “Hipster Blogs Wave Their True Colors”, which tackled this issue head on. Lines like “critics never look in a mirror (clearly)” show the contradiction in blogs who were quick to exploit Keef’s music to get views; to show their fake downness, but were even quicker to distance themselves from him when news of his troubling actions arose.
While I agreed that there should be some type of reprimanding for his actions, to completely throw him under the bus as the black-hoodlum-villain was amazingly hypocritical to me. They only attacked the person, not the actions, and offered no discussion about a system that facilitated his rise to the public eye (for example, a record company who gives a teenager whose raps are overtly negative millions and millions of dollars). And Lord knows the same critics won’t say anything about one site in particular for taking “a teenager on parole / a post-traumatic stress syndrome survivor from the murder capital” to a freakin gun range to do an interview.
I think Chicago is the greatest city in the world, but it happens to also be the most segregated. I love the fact that the music world is finally taking a serious look at Chicago hip hop, a city, in my biased opinion, has produced the most overall musical talent for a long time.
But it sucks that it comes at the expense of the many lives tragically ended from the epidemic of youth violence. As Coval stated in “The Son, The Father, The Cipher”, we live in a a city where “ sons who fathered / sons fading, somes sons faded, sons set / some with not grey / land of the rental / home of the grave”. I feel weird that as a writer, when I write about a controversial figure such as Chief Keef, I get over 25,000 views on the article, but when I write a positive piece celebrating what Derrick Rose means to me and this city, I get 250 views.
I love the fact that Keef made it out from the warzone neighborhoods of Chicago, but I can’t support the fact he did it by rapping about guns, smokin dope, havin sex, and not trusting new niggas. I understand that he is only rapping about what he knows, but I have a hard time using that as ultimate justification for the negativity he spews in all directions with some of his songs. And I can even admit, I find myself getting super hype to some his tracks (mainly because of the beat) and then afterwards thinking “wait………*looks around* this is trash lol!”
I cringe at the critics who want his head on a platter because of his recent controversial actions. They really need to chill, because after all, he still is a kid.
Like poet José Olivarez said, “It’s easier to blame Keef than fix society”.
And that’s that shit I don’t like.
But I also do defend critics right criticize, anyone from Jay-Z to Gucci Mane. I feel some type of way about people who say I can’t criticize his actions at all, and if I do, I’m a condescending, self-aggrandizing, “educated” jerk who’s picking on a teenager. They’ll say I’m a black sellout, who made it out of Chicago, but does nothing to help the kids who weren’t as fortunate as me or aren’t in my position, except for criticizing.
But laughing at the death of another person is wrong to me, no matter who you are, where you’re from, how old you are, etc. And I won’t dignify the whole “sellout” thing with a response.
But all in all, the most important thing we can take from Coval’s work is that you can’t just only judge Keef from your own perspective. Put yourself in his shoes, and then you can make a more educated, well-rounded, less condescending decision on what your stance on him is. He deserves it, and I’m sure you would feel that you deserve it if you got as much criticism as he does, warranted or not.
When asked what he hopes to accomplish with these poems, Kevin said “I wrote this book to be read. I wrote it to be used”.
And that’s all any of us can hope for with our art. We hope our writing takes legs and does the work that we are unable to do in our absence. We hope it inspires others to love, to think, to question, to be inspired, to learn, to rethink, and then question some more. We hope it is a gift that continues to freely give after it is created.
I hope that people read this book and truly absorb the perspective that Kevin is bringing. It’s ok to think Chief Keef sucks as an artist. It’s ok to think some of his actions were deplorable. But in the midst of all your finger-pointing, make sure you take the time to remember that Keef is just a kid. And that he is a black kid from the current murder capital, who has been through things (whether they are his fault or his environment’s) that most kids in our nation have never even dreamed of. This an issue close to the hearts of many people across the country, and it deserves the proper critical thought and discussion.
So check it out yall. The poems are dope! Buy one for yourself, bring it to your friends, bring it to the classroom and talk about it, etc. You can find it here.
You also can find more of Kevin Coval’s work on the site, but if you want to catch Kevin performing, come to WordPlay at Young Chicago Authors. WordPlay is an open mic that happens every Tuesday from 6:00 until 8:30 pm at YCA’s office, located on the 2nd Floor of 1180 N. Milwaukee Ave.,
Chicago, IL 60642. It is free to the public, groups are welcome.
Take care yall. God Bless.
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