Written and reported by Jake Krzeczowski (@JakeKrez) for Complex
On June 17, moments after driving away from a courthouse in Skokie, Il., where he’d received a warning from a judge for a speeding arrest, Keith Cozart was stopped by two unmarked police cars. Brandishing automatic weapons, the officers ordered the 17-year-old to step out of his car, and put him in handcuffs—this time for a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
So far in 2013, almost 1000 people have been shot in Chicago. Almost 200 have died as a result of their injuries. Both those numbers are sure to rise by the time this is published. The west and south sides of the city, where most of the shootings occur, are frequently referred as “war zones.” It is in this climate that two cars of South Side police officers made the hour-long drive north to suburban Skokie to stake out traffic court for Cozart, better known to the world as Chief Keef, arresting him for the third time in three months.
Since last year, when he blew up on the national hip-hop scene as a shirtless 16 year old with a Kanye endorsement, Keef has been looked at as the face of violence in Chicago.
To be sure, the notoriety is not completely unwarranted. Keef, who refused to be interviewed for this story, watched his career take off from a couch at his Grandmother's home while on house arrest for pointing a gun at a police officer. He spent the first three months of 2013 at a youth prison in Chicago's west suburbs after an ill-advised interview at a gun range violated the terms of his parole.
The crimes are not so uncommon. The level of fame is. "A lot of the things these guys are going through now, I went through the same obstacles, but I was a little more mature about it and I wasn't famous," said Chicago artist King Louie. "He's not really into any violence, he just doesn't need to be in Chicago. He's not doing the violence but you definitely have to carry yourself a different way with the spotlight on you."
For all the legal trouble Keef has encountered, only the charge of pointing a gun at an officer has been more than a misdemeanor, and that happened when he was 15. Other than that, it’s been speeding, weed, tresspassing. The police department’s interest in him is starting to look like a “straw man” argument: build a character to resemble the larger problem and then knock him down. Knowing that it won't fix the larger problem, but might grab them some positive PR.
These guys came all the way from the South Side to Skokie to pick him up for some warrant on a misdemeanor trespass.
Musicians have been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment often. In his 2010 memoir, Life, Keith Richards wrote, “Open season on the Stones had been declared since our last tour, the tour of ’72, known as the STP. The State Department had noted riots (true), civil disobedience (also true), illicit sex (whatever that is), and violence across the United States. All the fault of us, mere minstrels.” After the Columbine shootings Marilyn Manson came under fire for lyrics that were somehow supposed to have inspired Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to murder their high school clasmates—even though, as it turned out, they were not even fans. In this case, Keef is made out to be the biggest criminal in the city Chicago.
"The media has basically been lying to the city and building up Chief Keef as the main person that is causing all the trouble," said Chicago producer Young Chop. "He is not in the streets like that, how they maybe used to be. It's crazy to me that media and police even think that way."
Chop has a point. Of the hundreds of killings, a total of zero have been attributed to Keef. There was the Lil' JoJo incident, highly publicized as a Chicago hip-hop beef gone wrong, in which a 14-year-old aspiring artist was gunned down by gang members while riding his bike. Speculation by major media outlets was that the murder stemmed from a diss-filled remix of Keef's "3hunna" by Jojo and his friends. Famously, stupidly, insensitively, Keef sent out a tweet saying “haha” after the killing. He was investigated by police for any possible involvement, and never arrested.
Rather, Keef’s arrests have been for petty offenses.
"These guys came all the way from the South Side to Skokie to pick him up for some warrant on a misdemeanor trespass,” said Idris Peeda Pan, part of Keef's management team. “We’re just pissed off. We’re kind of like fed up at this point. We also found out recently that there’s a task force of several officers assigned to strictly investigate our label, GBE, and its affiliates. Supposedly, to my knowledge, these are the same people that had something to do with arresting Lil Durk like a week or two ago."
The existence of the task force has not been substantiated by the CPD, who did not respond to phone calls and emails for this piece. We know that a similar operation was set up in New York during the last decade—much to the city’s embarrassment.