Chief Keef and the Murderer’s Melody

On August 5th of 2011, 15-year-old Keith Cozart, better known as “Chief Keef,” released a music video for one of his first real songs, “Bang,” featuring he and his friends showing their gang signs to the camera. When released, this song took the online rap community by storm, with Chief Keef becoming a staple of hip-hop lovers’ musical libraries almost overnight. Written, recorded, and filmed all while Keef was under house arrest, “Bang” spread like wildfire online the moment it was uploaded to websites like YouTube and WorldStarHipHop.

The now 18-year-old has an extensive criminal record that includes several counts of illegal possession of arms. Not at all ashamed of these charges, Keef views it as part of his street credit, which he needs to succeed with his brand of Chicago hip-hop, called “Drill” music. Drill was birthed out of an influence from Atlanta’s Trap music hip-hop scene and Southside Chicago’s extremely hostile gang-centered atmosphere. Drill is at most seven-years-old, but due to many factors, it has risen to the forefront of popular culture in almost no time. Developed by just a few teens in a few houses, this music has become a war cry for the at-risk youth of Chicago, as well as for dispossessed youth throughout the U.S. As a musical style, Drill has risen to relevancy for three main reasons: its idiosyncratic development, violent themes and environment, and tight-knit community.

Chief Keef and producer Young Chop have provided most of the push behind the Drill music scene, as well as standing as figure heads for this musical movement. Keef was the first Drill artist to really break into the mainstream, and his song “Don’t Like” took the Internet by storm, gaining traction when Kanye West picked it up in a short album he did and used a major sample from the chorus. The then 16-year-old Keef considered this a coup, and his Internet fame grew into a tangible billboard hit. Keef’s biggest success came when he signed a $6 million recording contract with Interscope Records. This deal also led to the added benefit of Keef founding an Interscope side label that specializes in the Chicago hip-hop scene.

Violent lyrics have become one of the main x factors behind Drill music’s success, and “Bang” exemplifies this: “If she snitch, she can get the 30 clip. All we know is bang and then dip.” Drill focuses on an outpouring of testosterone and the ultimate act of power, the act of murder. In fact, this music was brought up in the recent court case of the murder of an Australian baseball player named Chris Lane. James Edwards, who is one of the accused murders, brought on this correlation by tweeting just days before the murder, “@ChiefKeef up early trying to get that almighty SOSA! We do this shit early down south.” This tweet came just hours before his next tweet, which read, “With my niggas when it’s time to start taking life’s [sic].” With followers like Edwards, Drill is almost guaranteed success in a crime-ridden community, as seen by its fast rise from obscurity.

More than anything else, Drill is the product of concentrated gang violence and murder in the South Side of Chicago. Chicago’s murder rate, though still considerably under the benchmarks set in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, has consistently increased since the beginning of the 21st century and continues to reach higher numbers, with speculation that it may exceed the previous record number of deaths in one year. Until the city decides to take serious action and reduce crime in its most troubled areas, Drill will probably continue to thrive.

graphThe third reason Drill grew so quickly is because of the tight-knit community in Chicago’s Drill scene. All of these major artists live just blocks away from each other. It brings to mind memories of Greenwich Village during Bob Dylan’s heyday, but substitute angel-headed Flower Children or Beats for at-risk youth with easy access to guns and drugs, and you have a whole different ballgame.

The 3hunna crew serves as a prime example of the tight-knit group that is building in the South Side. This crew includes Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Rich Homie Quan, Lil Reese, and Young Chop, to name a few. The crew has formed its own recording studio, record label, and gang in a few short years. Moreover, it was held responsible for the death of the rapper Lil Jojo in December of last year, hours after a video of Jojo harassing Lil Reese from 3hunna was uploaded to YouTube. Jojo’s first run-in with the 3hunna crew stemmed from his release of a video months earlier called Black Disciple Killers, which targeted Chief Keef and his crew because Jojo was part of the gang named the “Black Disciples.” These dramas are part of what have made Drill music so appealing to its audience and have been a necessary part of Drill’s success.

Currently, Drill music is mostly centered around one character, the villain of it all, Chief Keef. His arrival as a public figure has given the world an inside view of a certain segment of America’s at-risk youth. Chief Keef plans to up his game and have even more of an impact with his next album Bang 3, posting on Instagram: “If I’m Lien I Can Get Killed right Now this Shit Is So fuckin hardcore #ThatOldSosa #bang3 Niggas Better Be Scared [sic].” He further posted, “Bang 2 And Almighty So On ITunes Right Now But Bang 3 No Lie Y’all Really Don’t know How crazy Im goin #ImFinnaRaiseTheMurder RateUp [sic].” He will no doubt try to make good on his promises and use Drill music as his platform to do so. Drill has become a useful tool for a desperate and violent culture.