Chicago rapper Chief Keef (“Keith Cozart”) is 17. He is tall, handsome, and tattooed. He is currently serving-out a 2 month sentence at a youth detention center for parole violation for conducting an interview at a gun range (his photo was taken while holding a rifle). The gun range trip was arranged by his handlers. It was supposed to be promotional. He is said to have cried in court the day he was sentenced, like a child. Ironically, he is himself being sued for child support, by a 15 year old girl who claims he fathered their daughter when he was 15. Keef grew up in Chi-Town, the murder capital of America, it is said, without a father figure around. Keef’s picture is on Instagram with his mom, throwing gang signs, and his picture is readily available online extolling his love of SOSA, his namesake. He was investigated for involvement in the death of another rapper, an 18 year old who was gunned down in a drive by shooting but no charges were laid. Many knowledgeable people in the music industry and regular fans too, keenly dislike Keef’s music. Yet, he is immensely popular among his peers – high school students. In a word, he is controversial.

Keef’s fame began on YouTube. His first album, “Finally Rich,” was released in December, 2012, on Interscope Records (Universal Music Group). It’s a three album, $6 million deal. Interscope has given Keef a label deal too (Glory Boyz). We know that, because the contract was filed in court, because he is a minor. The contract is said to be subject to cancellation however if Keef does not sell 250,000 albums by December, 2013. His manager says that will not be a problem.

Do some record companies feed off violence? Interscope has come under a lot of criticism for signing Chief Keef. A good example is from outspoken Chicago rapper Rhymefest, who placed blame on the label and its management for putting profits ahead of social responsibility:

“Prison is a $55 billion a year industry. Prison makes more money than rap music makes, every year. Private prisons are being traded on the stock market. If they’re going to advertise, how are they going to do it? How are they going to put more people in prison and advertise? It’s through the record labels that they own. Look at Interscope Records. Interscope Records is owned by General Electric. General Electric has a huge stock and share in private prisons. It’s so basic for people to say I’m dissing Chief Keef. I ain’t dissing Chief Keef, I’m dissing [Interscope CEO] Jimmy Iovine. Think about it. The East Coast, West Coast beef, who was behind it all? Interscope Records. Death Row. Now, violence in Chicago is the new hot sh*t. Who gave the biggest deal? Interscope Records. At what point are we going to say, “D*mn. We’re letting this motherf*cker mess up my hood.”

There was a bidding war among companies wanting to sign-up Keef. If Interscope had not signed him, someone else would. The court date for the approval of the Interscope contract is coming up in April, 2013. No doubt the court by then will have heard argument on the best interests of the minor, and whether his money is safe. What I hope is added to the mix that day, is whether his life is safe too, and not just being exploited to sell records based on a suburban thirst for teen murder culture. What I know is that you don’t sell 250,000 albums to the inner city. You sell them to the suburbs.

Some of the most poignant comments have come from the very people around him. Rapper Waka Flocka Flame is quoted as having encouraging people to give Chief Keef a break. “That’s a kid at the end of the day, you know what I mean…Instead of judging the kid and just bashing down, why not reach your arm out and help him?”

I coud provide footnotes, but you can easily check this all this yourself by doing a search online. Depending on how you look at it, Chief Keef is a folk hero, another dumb kid, an opportunist, or a willing victim. He is a youth soldier in a rap war that rewards very few with immense profits, and leaves most everyone else to deal with the collateral damage. Is this right? No, it is not. We do not need legislation, or finger wagging. Simply put, we need better role models.