At times, journalists can be prisoners of the moment; reading and reacting to current events like we have no concept of history. Other times we understate new developments by dismissing them as instances of history repeating itself.
I found myself straddling the line between those instances last week when considering the murder of rapper Lil Jojo and the peripheral conflict between Lupe Fiasco and hot newcomer of the moment Chief Keef, purveyor of all that shit you don’t like. Keef is the first rapper of the Drill music movement to get major label attention. The movement appears to be closely related to street and gun violence, causing many, such as the aforementioned Lupe, to take notice and protest a major record label signing something so seemingly related to violence in the Black community.I’m one of those people who would rather we solve our own problems asa community and believe that handing over our cultural sovereignty to an outside forve diminishes our capacity for self determination. Initially, I noted that labels didn’t put guns in these communities and that the existing issues began long before they were the subject of raps, but as this debate evolved it became evident that there was much more to this discussion than that.
While people were discussing how irresponsible it was for Jimmy Iovine to sign Chief Keef, the entire discussion got darker when Lil JoJo, a teenaged rapper who came into conflict with Keef was murdered in the streets. Keef’s response was in essence a cold-hearted “fuckem” on Twitter and a reminder of the difference between rap beef and real beef. In addition to Keef’s response, which was later explained away with the famous hacked twitter defense made famous by Havoc, there were tweets by others threatening Jojo’s twin brother with a similar death before the month was out and warning his mother to hold the funeral so she could get a two for one discount. More startling is that most of the principals are little more than children.
You know Lil JoJo’s album or mixtape will eventually get released and you know that Keefe’s work will eventually drop. Have we arrived at a Suessian Butter Battle Book point where the ante is continuously upped in the streets and records drop after bodies drop? And then I had to reexamine the issue. Maybe the presence of a label is exacerbating already tenuous hood issues.
For those in the streets something far more sinister could arise: the reality that this fame and paper chase could raise a nation of murderers feeding off this like those teenage girls with pregnancy pacts fed off those MTV 16 and pregnant shows. Almost 20 years ago, 12 Robert “Yummy” Sandifer became an avatar for urban dystopia when he made the cover of Time Magazine. I remember it as one of the few sober moments of my college career and even though I eventually ended up living in Chicago for a short time, that reality seemed light years away from mine, even after growing up in Harlem during the crack era.
Now in 2012 we’re still here and children are becoming murderers in frighteningly larger numbers to the point where Yummy would no longer be an anomaly. But are there truly larger numbers or has our media (camera phones, internet, social networking) become so pervasive that it is present in places that news cameras and journalists once were scared to go? What’s going on in the lives of these children’s that they would CHOOSE death and this way of life over their families? Where are their families? I have to admit that I don’t have a clue. We always think we have all the answers and to be honest when hell on earth isn’t your reality, it’s very easy to frame these children as animals or deviates or blips on a screen.
In the end, perhaps labels and media play a larger role in these developments than we all care to admit. We flash these images under the guise that it’s only entertainment and we are only chronicling history. What happens when our history lessons are learned too well by our consumers and we create a growing culture of killers? Heaven help us all.
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