Photo from Chief Keef's Facebook.
Photo from Chief Keef’s Facebook.

Chief Keef is an 18 year old (though his age often contested) rapper from Chicago. He is best known for his songs “I Don’t Like”—with the notorious refrain “that’s that shit I don’t like”—and “Love Sosa”; these two songs respectively have 25 and 30 million views on YouTube; many of his other songs, like “3Hunna” and “Bang,” have millions of views as well. One can often hear Chief Keef on the street, with cheers from many. Signed with Interscope, Chief Keef records with Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, and Rick Ross. Recently, he was released from 60 days in Juvenile Detention for a gun conviction violating his parole. In 2011, Chief Keef was also arrested and charged with heroin manufacture and delivery.

It seems easy to remove the man from his lyrics and the culture from the song, but perhaps unfair. Below are ten excerpts from an interview with spouses Ron Gatton and Leslie Pilot-Gatton. Mr. Gatton is principal at Redevelopment Services Corporation., an affordable housing company that operates in Chicago’s South Side. He served as regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Carter Administration. Ms. Pilot-Gatton, founder of Gilead Management, LLC., is involved in the same work. Personally, these are two close and personally respected family friends. I only included my questions if it was needed for the context.


R: [Chief Keef] grew up in the Washington Park area around St. Edmunds, where I do a lot of work. And I first heard about him a couple of years or so ago and at that point of time all of his music was only on YouTube. I mean, I guess there was still someone filming it. I guess that’s the latest thing to do right now, I don’t really know.

I’m trying to think why we looked at it. I think he was still around the neighborhood and there was a shooting incident or something like that and somebody had said it had to do with him. And [this person] referred us to […] YouTube. So we did and at that point we actually—It was because of his involvement with […] the Black Disciples. He’s a Black Disciple and they fight the Gangster Disciples. […] I remember going down to Florida many [20] years ago with Hurricane Andrew and I remember seeing Gangster Disciple graffiti on buildings that had been destroyed by the hurricane. They’ve been around for many years. At this point, they’re probably the biggest in Chicago.

So anyway once we heard that we noticed that all these videos have a lot of people in them. So we concluded that maybe we could find out whom some of the troublemakers in the neighborhood were and whether they were some people who lived in our building, St. Edmunds Redevelopment Corporation. We have about 600 units of housing in the area around where Chief Keef grew up.

We were able to recognize faces but we couldn’t really put them to names and at what we were trying to do we weren’t all that successful. […] There were not a lot of credits—particularly the people holding the guns. I mean, the videos were a lot of guns and a lot of smoke. Everything else that goes with rap. Heavy guns. So needless to say people who were holding guns didn’t care to be credited in the videos.

We did that and it was kind of an interesting exercise. Along the way—I don’t know if we can really take credit for this, I don’t think we can but we were certainly involved in it—YouTube and Facebook really became the starting points for a lot of beef these people had with each other. They would insult and disrespect each other online.

Chief Keef, in particular, would insult the Gangster Disciples, because he was a Black Disciple. There’s a phrase called “3hunna” meaning three hundred, I still don’t know exactly where it comes from. That’s kind of an identifier phrase for the Black Disciples. Also, they like to say GDK which means Gangster Disciple Killer—meaning they are killers of Gangster Disciples.

So at some point, Chief Keef moves out of the neighborhood, does get arrested, so on and so forth. We don’t see him around the neighborhood anymore; he is still sometimes over in Englewood.


N: I heard—street lore, if you will—that Chief Keef got his grandmother kicked out of subsidized housing? Is this true?

L: Street lore is a good way to put that story, though I think that could be true. Chief Keef was being raised, I guess, by his grandmother. He and his sister and his grandmother. There is a HUD affordable housing project specifically targeting grandparents who were raising their grandchildren; in other words, they had to have custody of their grandchildren. Chief Keef lived there.

I don’t know, but I guess they could’ve received so many complaints about him, his friends—they would come over, just hang out. They were kind of obnoxious to the point management must’ve said that they couldn’t do this anymore.

He basically wasn’t going to straighten up, and his grandmother was like, “well, okay, if you are going to have to put me out, no problem, because he’s going to be rich.” And that’s that. So I guess they would’ve moved.


R: There was the famous incident here last year where…I think the other rapper’s name was little Joe [Lil JoJo], or something like that, where a fourteen-year-old was killed. Chief Keef basically made a video taking credit for it in an indirect way.

Anyhow, I got distracted from the point that once it became apparent that Facebook and YouTube were ways that people used to start conflict the police department now actually has a division that does nothing but monitor Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. They do this to spot emerging conflicts between gangs—they don’t talk about it very much.

Then he started to get more famous after these local YouTube things and this boy Little Joe got killed further moved him forward. He signs this big record contract with…I can’t remember the name. The people that produce a lot of things like his […] Interscope records.


R: Yeah, [Chief Keef’s] a big influence, absolutely. He was a big influence in the neighborhood, and now he is a big influence lots of other places. The big thing now is in these communities you want to be the most violent, the most angry, the most thuggish, that’s what you aspire to be. Supposedly that’s what get the girls—that’s your reputation so on and so forth.


R: I will tell you a funny story. At one point we had a couple of teenagers living in one of our buildings and we knew they were involved in a lot of not so good stuff but we didn’t really have anything substantial to go on. A couple of my employees created a fictitious Facebook character named Felicia, whose picture of herself was a voluptuous, very scantily clad young lady. Then, somehow or other they found out how to get in touch with these guys via Facebook so “Felicia” contacts these guys in an effort to friend them. So then when we do that we have access to their walls and pictures. And we have pictures of them with the guns, and drugs, and the money so on and so forth. So we can get a task force and raid on their house. Unfortunately, we didn’t get guns we only got ammunition. But it was enough that when they got word of it, they moved out shortly thereafter.

The relationship of social media to gang building and all that is astounding.


N: Do you have any sense of how the culture of rap affects this?

R: I guess it’s totally tied together. 20 years ago you asked little kids what they wanted to be, they wanted to play in the NBA. Today, you ask them what they want to be and they want to be rappers. You know, the thing is, all you need to be a rapper is a computer. You don’t need a full-fledged soundstage and all that stuff anymore. The production process has changed so dramatically: what it used to take to produce something as opposed to what it takes now.

Rap is what it is. I personally think it is a very negative influence. But older people have always said to younger people that music is a very negative influence, so always remember that.

With the lyrics and the disrespect and all that, it’s hard to argue the redeeming social value of all that. The point is that it’s hard to come up with a reason for it having a redeeming social value anymore, because social value is a concept that doesn’t exist anymore basically in that culture.


L: I actually see the negative influence that is having on the kids. On their self-esteem. I was having a conversation today with a woman that works for Ron that lives in Naperville who commutes to the office every day [taking two trains]. She and I were having a conversation today talking about the kids today and their perspective and how screwed up it is. She was sharing with me about how she had overheard these girls—teenage girls—talking about this one guy who apparently was smitten with this one girl. But she said, the problem with him is he’s boring. He does his homework at home and he does—right?—everything he’s supposed to do. But he’s not “hood” enough. And I think that says an awful lot about the negative influence rap has on youth today.

But she’d rather have somebody who is, what, hood?

Ron says it’s “bad boy” syndrome [where girls always tend to the dangerous men]. But I think it’s worse.


R: Someone was telling me that when you take all the men and incarcerate them and take them out of opportunities. And you take all the men out of the gang structure. The gang structure used to be highly organized and the older guys used to run it so on and so forth. When this changed, the discipline went away. You kind of chopped off the top of the Gang Structure. You can have Gangster Disciples fighting other GD —it’s not the hierarchical group that it once was. So when we take the adult males out of the household and out of the gang structure there are no adult males to identify with.  The whole thing is that beyond gangs there are no role models in that culture, once males are incarcerated or removed from families. Kids have to find other role models to look up to: that’s what they say about rap and pro-sports, and both are not that far apart.


L: It’s kind of depressing—this whole misogynistic and degrading attitude, among others. It’s awful.


R: In terms of nihilistic stuff, [rap] isn’t really protest music. It isn’t pure anarchist. It’s something different.

I think you have to remember that you know that this music represents a state of being which we have created. And that state of being basically is you have no worth. So you have no worth and you celebrate having no worth. It is a reverse kind of logic.

I remember we had this one group of guys staked out at this vacant lot really causing problems. Why this vacant lot? And this other person said, because it’s there. It’s all they have. So I think that hip hop or rap is a state of being that we’ve created at this point.