Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His newest project War Machine 2 was released on June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.
Every week in I'm Just A Rapper Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.
Gangster rap was once one of the most innovative demonstrations of free speech. I remember the first time I heard the Houston, Texas living legend Scarface. His voice pierced through my soul and demanded my respect as a listener. One of the most memorable lyrics from him is, "I never heard a man cry until I saw a man die". Something about that statement is so powerful it straight up changed my life.
Often in the media, when hip-hop heads discuss this form of rap music they are usually defending the artistry of gangster rap. I've always been bothered by this, because the art form itself is all about defiance. A true rebel doesn't care if you don't understand him.
My grandmother hates Kirk Franklin -- it's difficult for her to understand his place in Gospel music. Her generation is filled with traditionalists, and they view Kirk's music as new-school jibberish. In today's music climate, gangster rap now has traditionalists, and, like every other group of hip-hop old heads, they are not happy.
The genre has kind of changed from the original roots and transformed into something completely different. Everything changes -- that's kind of how life operates. Recently a young rapper from Chicago by the name of Lil JoJo was murdered. I feel sorry for JoJo: his life was cut short. He was allegedly knee-deep in a rap beef with the current midwest gangster rap sensation Chief Keef. I actually listen to Keef's music, so this column isn't about bashing Keef. I wish him much success; his crew recently signed a major deal with Interscope. I know some of you may view my praises of Keef as nothing short of blasphemy, but I have my reasons. There are a series of unfortunate and tragic events attached to Keef's name at the current moment.
There is a YouTube video of Lil JoJo and his homies approaching Keef and his partner Lil Reese. Jo and his cronies appear to be joyriding when they spot Keef and Reese, and they pull up and start verbally taunting Keef and Reese. A person that appears to be Lil Reese comes from around the corner into the camera's view and says "Jo I'ma kill you". Less than 24 hours later, JoJo was shot dead, and his murder is currently unsolved.
The Internet went crazy over this incident the day of JoJo's death. I believe JoJo was only seventeen years old. The only video I've ever seen of JoJo's is a video of him throwing gang signs and waving guns bigger than his body in the camera. He's surrounded by a mob of guys from his neighborhood doing the same exact thing. Most of these guys are more than a few years older than him.
The video shows you the war zone some of us are actually living in on a day-to-day basis. There are adults in this music video pushing young children deeper into a lifestyle they cannot back out of. Here's the Tef Poe reality check about the subject: I don't blame JoJo for what happened to him. People are casting plenty of speculation and theories about what actually took place the night JoJo was murdered -- most of these theories mention Chief Keef and his crew Glory Boy Entertainment. I pray JoJo's mother gets the closure and justice she deserves.
I wasn't there, however, so I can't elaborate on these events. Here's the second half of my reality check: I don't completely blame Chief Keef at the moment either. No, I don't agree with everything he's said about JoJo after his death. The Tweets of him laughing at JoJo's demise were unnecessary indeed. But this opens the door for us to discuss a deeper problem. The truth is gangster rap existed long before Keef and JoJo were born. The truth is black males have been dying in relation to gangster rap since the '80s. The genre was once rich with social commentary and moral dilemma.
Gangster rap music would once paint the picture of young men living in the ghetto with limited options from a harsh but artistic perspective. The music was hardcore and profanity-driven but still served a purpose and helped propel hip-hop into greater heights as a total, complete art form. I can't imagine my life without the likes of Ice Cube, 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, DJ Quik, Kool G. Rap, Dr. Dre and Ice T. In my humble opinion all of these individuals did it the right way.
Every gangster rapper doesn't have a political science degree, and even though some do, this art form was created for people who don't mind being politically incorrect. The problem lies in the fact that like everything else in American pop culture, once this form of music went mainstream, things started to spiral out of control. Record labels started signing anything that called itself gangster, and the quality control department was sent home indefinitely. So the artistic value and political edge of gangster rap was compromised before Keef and JoJo were even conceived. The substance was sacrificed for the commercial dollar, and here we are.
A teenage kid drops one of the catchiest records of the last two years and everyone gets pissed at him. Kanye West thinks it's genius and throws his entire roster on the remix for free. My question is: Did you get pissed when you were a teenager and instead of buying Illmatic by Nas, you purchased the new maxi single from Gangsta Larry and the Westcoast Baby Killers?
When JoJo passed I saw several people on social networks verbally bashing Keef and saying how far gone our current generation is. But as I recall, movie theaters in the '90s were getting shot up over gangbanging incidents. People in the '90s lived in fear due to gang violence, and you'd be a fool to think the tone of the music at the time didn't play a part. One of my favorite rappers from that time period talked about eating children in his music. He's one of the coldest cats ever to touch a mic. His first album is very dark and demented but it's also a classic from front to back -- it's musically flawless. We find this type of stuff entertaining because -- let's face it -- we love violence. I want to be clear that I am not advocating senseless violence. I am simply stating some of us are acting brand new about issues such as this and not realizing how much of a role we all have played on some level of perpetuating these problems.
A few of us have grown older and have somehow totally forgot how many of these kinds of rap songs we have committed to memory. Purists listen to Wacka Flocka and screw their face, but I find his music entertaining, and I love his interviews because he's completely upfront and honest about his opinions. He's being true to who he actually is and doesn't care if you like it or not. He's not the most lyrical guy alive but he doesn't claim to be. And there is an artistic value within his music in its own right. In the '90s, the generation before mine gave plenty of people the opportunity to have a career, and sometimes the music was filled with a lack of responsibility and lyrical content. The murder rates in the St. Louis streets had moments when they were higher back then than they are now.
We dance to Keef and Wacka more than we shoot to them. True, there are senseless acts of violence carried out at random and precious lives are lost. I'm not defending ignorance or senseless murders. I am saying don't get holier than thou now that you're about to touch the age of 40. I am also saying hip-hop was founded on principles that are supposed to make less sense to you the older you get. I once saw a local DJ tweet, "This record has too much profanity in it, I can't play it".
I wanted to say, "Didn't your generation make a rap group named Niggaz Wit Attitude filthy rich? Now, I think NWA is arguably the greatest rap group ever assembled. I only used the term "arguably" because I'm a huge Wu-Tang Clan and OutKast fan, and the argument that this title belongs to Run-DMC is always relevant. Ice Cube is one of my favorite rappers and Dr. Dre is such a genius I can't even begin to explain his contributions to not only hip-hop but music in general. But all I'm saying is: what happened to the sudden need to show accountability when you were younger? You enjoyed your share of politically incorrect music that your parents despised. Eazy-E is a god, but he also introduced some of you to profanity as we know it. I'm just saying: slow down before you tread into those waters and suddenly become the old people who don't understand the music so they hate it. I'm also saying don't blame the children, because you guys invented gangster rap and gave it to them. It's not my job to determine whether or not Lil Reese had anything to do with JoJo's shooting.
I don't want to come off like I'm slandering the legends of old, because if it weren't for them and their contributions to the culture, everything I'm living for is pointless. If Dr. Dre didn't take over the world then I'd be mopping floors somewhere. If Eazy-E didn't burst into the industry and reinvent the rules with his street-savvy business sense the industry as we know it would not exist. If Ice Cube didn't reinvent himself as the early '90s equivalent to Macolm X then we would have possibly never witnessed the evolution of Tupac Shakur.
We can never artistically recreate or duplicate exactly what these gentlemen did. Their music is timeless and classic for a reason. I am simply speaking about the tone of the culture and our lifestyle choices from one generation to the next. The Chicago P.D. will investigate this crime and come to a conclusion. I hope and pray for the peace of JoJo's family. I hope they find a way to cope with his death and rebuild their spirits. I am saddened by this incident, and I think it's just a horrible waste of human potential.
I hope Lil Reese and Chief Keef use the incident as a means to gain maturity and maybe even become advocates against youth violence in some way. Do I listen to Reese's mixtape in my Beats By Dre's on full blast? Damn skippy. I hope he hasn't had a hand in repeating this vicious cycle of genocide and senseless murder that is plaguing our communities nationwide. If by some chance Chicago P.D. determines he has played a role JoJo's murder, we still owe it to JoJo and Lil Reese to do better. Once this murder is solved, there will be a new JoJo and this terrible saga continues like it has continued since before I was even born. There will be a new Lil Reese by that time also and we owe it to him to do better as well.
I say blame yourselves if you're going to point fingers. We need to look in the mirror and have the balls to be honest with ourselves about the things that take place in our culture/community. Rap music isn't all about killing, shooting, drugs and disrespecting women. Unfortunately, some people have pigeonholed the music and don't know this. There are artists like Lupe Fiasco, Dead Prez and Common that add plenty of depth and substance to their music.
I've always said the generation before mine does a lot of complaining about hip-hop, but they are the ones working in the offices signing all the acts they complain about. A sixteen-year-old kid doesn't work for a record label and isn't giving million dollar checks to aspiring rappers.
I love MC Nameless. You hate him but someone in your age bracket signed him. If you're mad, be mad at yourself and all your friends. The people doing all of the complaining are the same ones milking the cow. My older cousins and uncles were always the ones that passed music down to me. I learned most of what I know about classic hip-hop from people older than me. I didn't set the tone, I simply listened, observed and formulated an opinion afterwards.
Gangbanging has been a problem long before I was a full-time rapper. I'm not a gangster rapper but I was raised in the ghetto, so I understand the art form. I make reality rap records about my experiences in this lifetime. I remember I was booked to perform at a college scholarship function last year. I came out to a packed crowd and performed my most popular record at the time, "Out The Kitchen." If you know the record, then you know the subject matter of the song is basically crack cocaine, black males going to jail, black males dying, with subliminal undertones of fighting the power beneath it all .I think the record is an honest look into the life I saw growing up, losing family members to senseless acts of violence and street crime. When Tech Supreme and I made this song, we never intended on it becoming a single of such magnitude.
Long story short: I performed the song and people were complaining about me doing what they perceived to be a song about selling drugs at a college scholarship event. I had a problem with this, because every record the DJ played that evening besides my own was pretty much saying the same exact thing but with less concern for the community the message reaches. The crowd would dance and roar with excitement every time one of their favorite songs of this nature came on, yet apparently I was deemed an irresponsible villain since I didn't perform "We Are the World". I have a problem with hypocrisy of this nature and it makes my blood boil. Moments like this, I want to yell, "Shut up! Everyone is stupid and no one gets it."
Young Buck had a great line on his first album, which I believe is a classic. The line states something like, "People were killing each other before Buck got here, and they'll be killing each long after Buck leaves".
If you didn't throw gangster rap under the bus when Menace 2 Society was released then don't do it now. Chances are, when you were a teenager you rushed to the movies and paid your money to see this film. I on other the hand have never even seen it in its entirety. I was too young to watch it according to my mother, and we didn't have cable.
My point is don't blame the youngsters for what we're pumping into the culture when you did the same exact thing, possibly on a heightened and more destructive level since you gave birth to the genre. The seventeen-year-olds of today were introduced to this music and told, "These are the rules of engagement."I'm not seventeen years old, but I acknowledge that they have been gifted a version of hip-hop that has been stripped down of most moral implication. When I was introduced to the culture it still had small seeds or moral implication in its fiber. You can't teach the kids to gangbang through the music and then call foul when they all decide to gangbang. The music isn't the blame but the music also didn't abolish gangbanging.
Its Sad Cuz Dat Nigga Jojo Wanted To Be Jus Like Us #LMAO— CampaignSosa300 (@ChiefKeef) September 5, 2012
The only reason music like this even exists in the first place is because when you were a teenager you bought it and supported it monetarily. I know the gangs would exist outside of the music and the music is simply painting a picture of the world as it develops. I don't want to sound like one of those idiots who blame everything happening in the real world on the music. I am saying these problems existed before the kids of today even knew anything about them. We all played a role on some level. Keef plays a role in this for the kids of tomorrow, and so do I. I'm not going to demonize the music because if hip-hop shuts down tomorrow the gangs and the violence of America will still exist. Chief Keef more than likely has a lot of admiration for Gucci Mane. I think Gucci Mane has a few timeless mixtapes. His music activates the clubs like none other.
I've been to parties where the DJ turns his albums on and lets them bang from start to finish. You have a hard time seeing the artistic value in Gucci Mane, but Keef and I didn't sign him. People older than me signed Gucci. So don't blame us for being fans of what was presented to us. Blame yourselves for not laying down in the middle of the street and stopping the gang violence of the '90s before it became this current generation's problem. Blame yourselves for the crappy gangster rap albums you purchased in the '80s and '90s that eventually led to the artistic deterioration of the reality rap artform. You see, some time in the '90s it was determined that all gangster rappers didn't have to be lyrical geniuses. As long as they kept it hard body and spit some crazy bars about life in the hood, there would be no problems. MCs like Scarface changed the game, but the fans allowed watered down duplicate versions of these types of rappers to ruin the genre. So when the music evolves from where it was last touched everyone seems to get pissed. Everything starts with the fans but we seem to forget this and I feel like it's my job to remind us.
You can dislike Chief Keef all you want but you created him in 1993. This is easily ignored by most so-called avengers of the artform. I remember seeing my favorite gangster rap groups on MTV in the middle of the day flashing pistols, and waving machine guns with laser beams at the camera. I was too young to watch and remember YO MTV Raps, but I've seen rerun footage of these episodes. This was on cable TV after school like it was all good apparently. Nowadays we get upset at these kids for making YouTube videos and waving pistols at the camera. I'm just saying it's a repetitive, evolutionary cycle. So now instead of one gun, it's twenty guns per video.
The same science applies to the destructive nature and influence this type of activity has on our inner city youth. It never stops, and now some how has become a supercharged version of everything we love and hate about our society. There are a trillion movies that were supported by your very own dollars, which did more internal damage to our community than Chief Keef has at the current moment. Once again, for the one-hundredth time, I am not defending ignorance but I am however pointing out the contradictory nature in our behavior. Let's keep feeding the beast until it grows into an unstoppable Godzilla-like creature. Once it becomes unstoppable, let's find a scapegoat and act as if this is the primary reason for the madness going on our world today.
If you saw Joe Schmo make a million dollars by telling the world how much of a badass tough guy he is then surely I can't blame you for following suit, especially if you were born in the ghetto and raised in a neighborhood that has introduced you to the woes of poverty and self-hatred. We live in a society that specializes in turning black males into America's greatest villains. We have a black President and somehow he murders Osama Bin Ladin and people still think he's the devil or the anti-Christ. Unfortunately some of us have learned how to turn this villainization process into a profitable income.
I can't be mad at the rappers that walk this plight necessarily even though I don't completely co-sign it. In a dream world everyone would rap about telling the kids to go to school and saying no to drugs. But the reality is we don't live in a dream world and poverty is real. If a person finds a gap of light in the depths of this darkness and uses it to their advantage I honor it to a certain degree. I don't agree with Keef's tweets where he laughed at JoJo's death, but I understand the world Keef comes from, and I also understand that he's not an adult. So I blame the people that were here before him. Someone set the tone for this dialogue prior to the arrival of Chief Keef. This is Slumdog Millionaire meets Boyz N Da Hood meets City of God. I know you may have forgotten about this world.
But it's right down the street from you and you drive as far from it as you can daily. Chief Keef goes to school at Soldan and JoJo went to Vashon. Both of them are living in a world of pure insanity and trying to find a way out of it.
I pray that JoJo's family finds justice. He did not deserve to die at such a young age. I refuse to publicly demonize either one of these young men because at the end of the day we have all collectively failed them both. They were forced to live the lifestyle they both knew best. We created it, gifted it to Keef and JoJo and cried foul on the play when they decided to play by the rules we manufactured for them. I didn't make a million dollars at Keef's age. If I would've died at JoJo's age then the entire country would not have discussed my demise via the Internet. There is a shining beacon of greatness inside both of these young men.
Society taught them to bury the light deep inside of their souls. Society flipped the script after it introduced them both to the rules of engagement and condemned them both in the very end. It's the same game over and over and over again. I am Chief Keef and I am Lil JoJo. I can identify with both of these young men. My friends look like them and talk like them. The people I make music for dress and dance like them. We have turned into a society that either fears young black men or treats us like monsters. The same people on Twitter condemning Keef are also condemning JoJo for dying the way he died. I'm sure he never intended on leaving the planet this way. I'm sure he had intentions to make a name for himself in the rap world and get his family away from the circumstances of the ghetto.
He was cornered, I've been in his shoes before and I was fortunate enough to have an exit from the madness of my neighborhood. Some of us find love and utilize it while we can. But some of us are born into desolate situations that completely lack love and hope. These are the ingredients that create the Chief Keefs and JoJo's of our world. These are just my opinions. I hope Chicago finds a way to have an era of peace. This is truly what we all hope for in one form or fashion. We want every impoverished community of the world to eventually discover peace.