10 October 2012


So a couple of days ago I had three videos open in my browser: a Chief Keef music video, a Jay-z concert in Brooklyn, and the Mormon National Assembly video. All three were interesting for how they displayed the different ways people can and do view the world.

Chief Keef, for those who don't follow Chicago hip-hop or read the New York Times, is a 17 year-old rapper who, for reasons I still don't quite understand, had been hailed as the next big thing. As far as I can tell, he's pretty damn boring, but because there has been so much violence in Chicago in his demographic and he raps about violence, he's in the news. The video of him rapping about things he doesn't like (brilliant, yes, I know) is just him and his crew trying to look bad ass with their shirts off. There are no women in the video, and the men are all dancing together, holding up guns, and touching each other. I read homoeroticism but that's because I read homoeroticism into everything that I see. It would be silly, something you wouldn't take seriously (all the 'bang, bang' and gun gestures) if they weren't actually getting shot at and shooting other people. It's childish, but also real, very terrifyingly real.

If you read the New York Times article, you get the sense that Chief Keef doesn't seem to get how the world works in some basic ways. Like, if you threaten someone on twitter, you can't just delete the post and make it go away. Or you can't post a picture of you getting 'tip' from a woman on Instagram and expect that this will be okay. It won't. Not ever. Not in this world. People are talking about how Chief Keef is encouraging violence as well, and you get the sense listening to him talk and rap is that he doesn't get the connection between his image and his display of weapons and the influence this has on others. Just doesn't occur to him. He's just Chief Keef, a guy saying what he feels.

Of course, this is why he is interesting to the rest of us white people trying to understand violence in the intercity of Chicago. He animates the violence, gives it a face and voice and something to analyse. Otherwise, it's just cars passing, drive-by shootings (on Michigan Ave, can you believe it, my parents report to me).

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, another group of historically oblivious people, the Mormons, were having their own display of weaponry, with a huge choir of (white) Mormons singing very syrupy music about how great Jesus is. The presentation was all geared toward a specific aesthetic, one that I don't think still exists in popular culture, with the huge pipe organ and robes. Who still thinks this signifies a good thing? It's creepy. Very creepy. The comparison and contrast to Chief Keef, however, is fascinating. Locked in, tied down, immersed, oblivious. How do people who aren't like you perceive this? If you put it on the Internet and ask me to watch it (which is how I got there: a Mormon tweeter encouraged me to watch it), how am I supposed to react?

Jay-Z then, at the Barclays centre in Brooklyn. Jay-z was bloated and happy, rapping over pre-recorded tracks that sounded tired and old. Not like the Watch the Throne stuff which was huge and epic and had swagger drunk with opulence and display of wealth: it was slower, less abrasive interesting to watch. Jay said that Jackie Robinson's wife was there: he was honoured by her presence (and then rapping I have 99 problems but a bitch ain't one). Unlike Keef and that fat, old white guy (pick any of them) at the Mormon thing, Jay-Z looked like someone who knew: knew that he was too old to be doing this, but wise enough to take the money and sell his music to a crowd of people that doesn't include anyone listening to Chief Keef. White people, like me, who don't really like violence, but like to imagine the world Jay came from. Jay-Z seems like he's standing between two worlds, not really at home in either, but no way to either go back to where he came from or be fully accepted where he is. Keef scares me, Jay-Z doesn't. That's the point, right?

Obviously, I relate most to Jay-Z of these three options, but I have to say that I am most intrigued by Keef. What happens to him, all insecure and talented, with people literally and metaphorically gunning at him. What happens to him. I suspect he gets gunned down.