The whole Chief Keef/Jojo situation reiterates the strange relationship we have with rap and gun talk. Everyone seems to love the gangster talk vicariously, but when the reality — youngsters wielding weapons and snuffing each out over seemingly trivial actions — enters their timelines, it gets a little too close for comfort. The whole @rosemo700/WorldStar Hip-Hop situation earlier in the year opened a few eyes, but the lack of major label money, “intelligent” rappers getting sonned on social media and profile meant that loss of life and the ignorance of goonery as a spectator sport didn’t become the issue that it became last week. Have you backed any ratchet rap lately? Thrown up faux gang signs behind closed doors in a suburban environment? I plead guilty to rooting for the “realness” but tutting at the fallout of beefs turned deadly. I plead guilty to being excited by the firearms in the studio for the SMACK DVD video to a Jeezy “freestyle” back in 2005. Keef’s bringing the scary kid with braids O-Dog aesthetic back, except he’s not played by a tender actor who played Frankie Lymon.
We love to hear about a club brawl, slap caught on iPhone and in an era when pop stars and rappers are interchangeable, some of us might long for a time when bullets were exchanged outside HOT 97. You can decry that as ignorance, but you know you’d be frantically hitting the touchscreen if you heard it happened. Recently I was listening to the second NWA album en route to work and I was pondering what happened to that kind of gleeful nihilism. And here it is. You wanted rap to get scary again after all the emo choruses and Stargate-produced white paper spliff anthems? You wanted somebody who actually used a firearm after you put your head in the sand over the actors playing crime boss roles? You got it. Pitchfork even took a teenager to a shooting range, then pulled the video. Keef seemed to be visited by the three ghosts of PR, communications and label bosom and had a Twitter change-of-heart and became all positive overnight.
How would the Ruthless roster have talked on Twitter? Would we have seen Bushwick Bill’s breakdown narrated by the newly one-eyed Bushwick Bill from his hospital bed? Would Chi-Ali have updated on his post-murder antics as the police closed in? Would Dallas Austin’s teeny 13 and 14 something (at least 3 years younger than Keef) gangster rappers Illegal have talked about slaying Kris Kross on there? And with the talk of Interscope, who’ve made a fortune from gun talk, involved, how would @deathrowrecords have carried on if Twitter was around in 1995? Would we have blamed Twitter for 2Pac’s death?
The essence of internet rap fandom
Our own fascination with gun talk is perfectly encapsulated in Michael Bolton’s Scarface rap-along at the beginning of ‘Office Space’. We’re facilitators, but Chicago’s South Side has long been a gang epicenter and even back in 1967, it was considered a problem area. I loved Lee Balterman and Daclan Haun’s images of Almighty Black P-Stones and Disciples from ‘LIFE’ but ‘Ebony‘s August 1967 edition featured an equally excellent article by Phyl Garland on the situation in the South Side, complete with a visit from social workers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, dwelling on the Blackstone Rangers (the gang that spawned the Almighty Black P-Stones, with membership estimated at 1,500+ at time of writing) and their ladies’auxiliary. Twitter shit talking is just a byproduct of something with far deeper roots.