CHICAGO, September 13, 2012 — Joseph Coleman was 18 years old. He was a product of Chicago’s mean violent blood soaked streets. Two weeks ago he became a victim of those streets.
Joseph Coleman was riding on the back of a bicycle when he was shot and killed in Chicago’s violent Englewood neighborhood.
Normally he would just be another statistic in Chicago’s unrelenting Summer of Violence. But Joseph Coleman was not your ordinary teenage murder victim. Joseph Coleman was rapper Lil JoJo. Two record companies were interested in placing him under contract.
Lil JoJo had been in a “rap beef” with rappers Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and Lil Reese, all notorious for their outrageous violent, drug, gang, misogynistic, and vulgar lyrics and videos.
Allegedly the rappers are affiliated or associated with rival major Chicago street gangs. Coleman allegedly had an affiliation with the Gangster Disciples. Chief Keef, Reese, and Durk allegedly are affiliated with the Black Gangster Disciples or one of their factions.
It must be made very clear their actual associations and affiliations are alleged, even though their music contains lyrics and gang hand signs directly related to the street gangs.
Chief Keef (Keith Cosart) was arrested last year for pointing a gun at a Chicago Police Officer. He was sentenced to home monitoring, where he mixed a video that garnered his first recording contract with Interscope records leading to the formation his own record label, Glory Boys Entertainment.
Distribution was to be handled by Interscope. Keef’s success came under the aegis of Kanye West. He performed at Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival and Lollapalooza.
Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman was out on bond for a weapons charge and was awaiting trial when he was murdered. He released videos on YouTube, which led to interest by recording companies.
Coleman made a video disparaging Keef and Reese and the gang(s) they were allegedly associated with, while touting the gang he was allegedly associated with. The video was promoted on social media sites and social media warfare ensued.
Gang conflicts between the Black Gangster Disciples and Gangster Disciples have escalated on social media especially Facebook and Twitter. YouTube is used to post rap videos “dissing” opposing gangs and promoting them on the social media sites.
People in the community claim that the gangs are using social media to subvert the Chicago Police Department, equating the usage with Egypt and other countries involved in the Arab Spring, who used social media to subvert government authorities. The gangs believe law enforcement cannot monitor all the various Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube sites and pages. They know they cannot shut them down.
Gangs are also allegedly using and paying some rap artists to get their messages out.
According to various sources* there are contests being held in Chicago neighborhoods for record label contracts. Rappers film amateur videos, the more outrageous the better, post them on YouTube, and promote them through social media like Facebook and Twitter. If the videos go viral they are introduced to record label representatives who offer them recording contracts. Supposedly producers are looking for the most outrageous lyrics and actions in the videos.
The take on this is that outrageous sells. The more outrageous the better. Unfortunately when immature young people take outrageousness to the level of “dissing” violent gangs, gang members, or those associated with them, there is inherent danger, especially if they have known affiliations with opposing gangs.
Pushing the envelope through outrageous violent lyrics and videos is just one way to profit from expressive art. The gritty realism of life becomes art. The issue is not the music or expression, but the actions and reactions of people to it. When murder and violence is the reaction something is very wrong.
Young poor people who only see dollar signs will do, say, sing about, video, and promote themselves in the most outrageous manner to garner attention from the music paymasters. Like most youth there is a sense of living forever invulnerability.
They think about the dollars, never the danger.
Music, even gangsta rap does not kill. Expression does not kill. People kill. Killing people over lyrics or insulting “disses” is evil at its purest. These young teens pretending to or living the thug life are making themselves targets of opportunity for the urban terrorists. The urban terrorists are stifling free expression.
One of the latest to enter into the Chicago Hip Hop/Gansta Rap scene is Lil Mouse. Lil Mouse is 13 years old. His music is filled with the extreme violence prone, profane and misogynistic language as older “ganstas”. His videos show people displaying firearms. 13 years old and he is on his way to fame and fortune singing about the “thug life”. How much danger Lil Mouse is in remains to be seen.
Music and music videos are breeding grounds for new ideas. They have the propensity to describe the evil and bloodshed that is the real life for people living in urban America. The “rap beef” between Lil JoJo, Chief Keef, and others is a stark example of the worst Hip Hop, Rap, and Gansta Rap have to offer.
It is one thing to create realistic lyrics and shoot realistic “street” videos. It is another to live the life and die because of it.
Trying to find out who is responsible for the violence the genre creates is almost impossible. While connecting the dots, from the purported contests to contracts may lead directly to the doors of record companies, proving it may be impossible. Music labels strongly claim they will not tolerate gang-affiliation, violence, or another feud like the East West Coasts feud that allegedly took the lives of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G, the most famous of music feuds.
There is also the question of whether organized gangs, like the Gangster Disciples and the Black Gangster Disciples are moving in on Chicago’s hip hop scene and battling it out in the streets? There is a long history in Chicago of organized crime controlling the music and entertainment businesses. The major organized street gangs may just be the latest entries into the mix.
These artists might be talented, depending on your personal definition of talent and taste in music and video. Talent does not equate with intelligence, common sense, or street smarts. When dollar signs are all you see innate intelligence flies out the window. People, who should know better, even streetwise youth, forget the law of the streets.
Who is ultimately responsible for the violence fueled by the quest for dollars? YouTube? Facebook? Record companies? Promoters and producers? How far do outrageous lyrics, reactions to them, and behavior have to go before someone says enough and imposes some form of self-censorship?
Music is supposed to be appreciated and enjoyed for whatever it is, whether it is classical or gansta rap. Music or any other art form is not supposed to be dangerous or induce mayhem, violence, and death on the streets. It is not the music or lyrics that are dangerous. The danger is how people react to them.
*Sources asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. This article was originally inspired by a phone call from a community activist who has connections to various elements involved.
This is the video that allegedly led to the shooting of Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman. The video contains graphic lyrics. BDK is a reference to Black Disciple Killers and is used as a put down or threat to the Black Disciple street gang. Video contains profanity and violent lyrics. It is nothing short of disturbing.
This is the video made by 13 year old Lil Mouse. Video contains graphic, vulgar, and violent content. The child’s age make this all the more upsetting.
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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