Chief Keef at a Crossroads at Just 17 Years Old
There are two sides to Chief Keef.
He’s the unrepentant gangster rapper who got busted selling heroin and pointed a gun at cops months before signing a blockbuster record deal.
The 17-year-old also appears to be a proud father and respectful grandson who values, above all else, loyalty to the people who love him.
Now that he’s locked up for violating parole on gun charges, one reason Chief Keef still has a shot at redemption is that the juvenile court system is set up to help troubled kids change their behavior.
That leaves Cook County Judge Carl Anthony Walker with a tough decision come Thursday afternoon when Chief Keef, whose real name is Keith Cozart, is set to be sentenced on the probation violation.
In court Tuesday, Judge Walker said he sent Chief Keef to jail before Thursday's hearing based on a “preponderance of evidence” that the teen rapper fired a semi-automatic rifle — a clear violation of the “no gun, no gang, no drug contact” provision of probation — during a videotaped interview with a music website. He added that Chief Keef displayed “clear disregard for court’s authority.”
Walker is expected to hear testimony from two witnesses and review a 15-page report submitted by prosecutors before deciding whether to keep Chief Keef locked up, and if so, for how long.
I wouldn’t want to be in his seat.
There’s no disputing that when he was 16, Chief Keef was charged with serious crimes — a Class X felony for selling heroin and felony unlawful use of a weapon related to his arrest after pointing a gun at police officers.
But the entire point of juvenile court isn’t to dole out convictions and levy punishment as the adult criminal justice system does. The goal is to give kids a chance to enter adulthood with a clean slate and maybe even a new perspective on how to be a good citizen.
And Chief Keef’s case raises a difficult question: Should a fatherless kid born into a violent, gang-riddled culture — even if he dropped out of school to be part of it — get the chance to escape?
There’s no telling if Judge Walker will consider that question before making his decision.
But Chief Keef put himself in a spot where what happens next in his life isn’t up to him — a situation his grandmother warned him to avoid.
“I said 'Look at what you done now,' ” Margaret Carter said she told her grandson. “I told him, ‘Don’t let no one call your life.’ Now, you gotta do what they say.”
For a while, Chief Keef’s record deal with Interscope Records — which included his own record label — allowed him to call the shots.
Now, Walker could decide Chief Keef deserves to be locked up until, well, his rising star doesn’t shine so brightly anymore.
And if that’s until Chief Keef is 21 years old — the longest a juvenile can be held in custody — he could wind up as being remembered as a Chicago rapper who could’ve made it out of Englewood like Jennifer Hudson and Derrick Rose, but didn’t have the sense to let go of where he came from to get where he’s going.
If you think about it, Chief Keef — who’s still a kid — didn’t have a lot of time to figure out how to handle the big changes that occurred during the few short months he went from being a gun-toting drug dealer on house arrest to a recording artist who can afford to buy a house of his own.
But for his own sake, let’s hope Chief Keef spends his time in juvenile detention thinking about where he really grew up — his granny’s house.
Chief Keef’s grandmother raised the boy so her daughter — whose pregnancy came as a surprise to the family after her sophomore year — could stay in school and graduate with her class.
“We’re a family that loves. And we’re good people,” Carter said. “My daughter had a baby. I kept that baby. I raised that baby. I loved that baby. And now he has a baby. He is a good dad. He’ll never be a deadbeat. I taught him that.”
And maybe his grandmother’s love will stir up enough courage — and it will take courage — for Chief Keef to let his music career guide him away from the violent street life in Chicago that he somehow survived to tell the story of in his rap songs.
The biggest rap stars on the Interscope label — 50 Cent, Eminem and Dr. Dre — are guys who have taken bullets, pistol-whipped rivals and spent time on house arrest, respectively.
Now, rapper 50 Cent also is sports-drink mogul.
Eminem, who didn’t violate probation on his two gun charges, has racked up 13 Grammys and an Oscar.
Dr. Dre, a godfather of the gangster rap genre, makes more money producing records, hawking headphones and Dr. Pepper than rapping.
On the other hand, two of the best-selling rappers ever, Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac — who both had gun charges and kept ties to street life — are dead.
Only Chief Keef can decide whether he wants to continue to act like a tough kid who pulls triggers or grow up to have a long career in music.
And if he makes the right choices, Chief Keef could be a big star. The kid has a fascinating story about what it’s like to grow up in a place where so many people live by a street code that doesn’t value life. And millions of people are listening to it.
And whether you hate his rap songs or not, what he’s produced is art — music that reflects reality.
And it shouldn’t be ignored.
Chief Keef’s album, "Finally Rich," and his many YouTube videos, give outsiders a real look at the ignorance of a violent street culture — and the “no-snitch” code of silence — that helped mark Chicago as America’s murder capital last year. Congressmen and senators debating gun legislation should watch his YouTube videos just to see the guns — and giant ammunition clips — that young men have such easy access to in big-city neighborhoods.
The thing about kids is they don’t always think about what life will be like in five or 10 years. That’s why there’s a separate justice system for troubled kids like Chief Keef.
Granny Carter said she wants the courts to “leave my baby alone and let him be who he wants to be as long as he’s not hurting anybody.”
But that’s not up to her.
And Chief Keef, well, he had his chance at abiding by the terms of his probation and getting to be a big rap star.
Now, Judge Walker is calling the shots.
And that’s something all these wanna-be gangster rappers in Chicago should think about.