By Mick Swasko, @swasko
10:07 AM CDT, March 28, 2014
Chief Keef is living the dream.
Over the past few years he has risen from obscurity to prominence as an aspiring rapper. He's a household name with a multi-million dollar deal with Interscope Records. His videos rack up views in the millions, major magazines have hailed him as a game changer in Chicago's burgeoning drill rap scene and, at 18 years old, he already has collaborated with Kanye West, 50 Cent and Rick Ross.
Keith Cozart, the rapper as he appears on legal documents, is a more complex story.
The Chicago teen who grew up in Englewood has been in and out of juvenile detention and Cook County Jail, for offenses ranging from drugs to weapons charges. He has been to rehab, ordered to pay child support and, as of this week, questioned in connection with a shooting that occurred at the Northfield residence rented by his manager.
But the stories are one and the same. Wednesday's news that Cozart may have been connected to a shooting added one more item to a long list of legal troubles that have followed the young artist during his rise to fame. As Keef made headlines earlier this month with the debut of his anticipated "[Bleep] Rehab" video -- which racked up more than 13,000,000 views on the World Star Hip-Hop website alone -- the news was paired with the revelation that he was earlier arrested for DUI.
Cozart, and his alias Keef, have made it, they say. No longer does he live in the violence-ridden streets that are featured prominently in his lyrics. He's no longer on his own. Despite that, though, he continues to find himself in the spotlight as much for his music as he does for what happens outside the studio. Is it possible for Cozart's troubles to stifle Keef's rise?
"It's getting to the point now where people are like 'OK, Keef, really?,' said Tyrine Howard, deputy editor for Chicago hip-hop blog Fake Shore Drive. "They don't want to see another [negative] headline a week from now. That takes away from everything."
Zan Adams, a 19-year-old activist from Bronzeville, has seen the fatigue Howard alludes to. He is co-founder of the group Reclaiming Inner-City Streets and Elevating Chicago (RISE Chicago), which is fighting for a South Side trauma center and ways to combat youth violence.
"(Fans) are starting to tell me, 'This guy is stupid. What's wrong with him,'" he said. "He's got his money, why is he doing this?'"
Adams has been pressing Cozart and other Chicago rappers to collaborate on an album free of lyrics that glorify any sort of violence. He's even had meetings with Cozart's label, GBE. He hopes to make the collaboration a reality this summer, but with the most recent news of a possible shooting, he's unsure.
"If things like speeding arrests keep happening, I'm not going to say 'I don't want to know you,'" he said. "But if shootings keep happening, I'm torn."
Howard said Cozart's actions have to be put into perspective.
"I think people need to take into account where he's come from, and he's young," he said. "Could you imagine being 17 to 18 years old and having the success he's had? You come home from school and record a song with Kanye West? Especially if you don't have the proper guidance around? That's a lot to take in."
Howard said Keef's repeated run-ins with the law risk fatiguing his fan base, but so far, they are holding strong.
"It's interesting, it may seem like people become disinterested with his music, but that's not the case," he said. "The younger crowd can be as fickle as they come, but they still love his music."
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