Chiraq: America’s Murder Capital

It was briefly before the summer of 2012 when then 16 year-old rapper Chief Keef (birth name Keith Cozart) burst into the “drill” music scene. While being confined to his grandmother’s house under house arrest for previous weapons charges, Sosa (as he’s commonly referred as) release three songs onto his YouTube account: “Bang“, “3hunna“, and “Don’t Like. “Don’t Like” quickly became a hometown banger that attracted the likes of fellow Chicago rapper Kanye West. West, along with GOOD music members Pusha T, Big Sean, and 2 Chainz, made a remix to the hit and included it in the collective’s debut album. Soon, Keef quickly burgeoned into the limelight. He had various record labels courting him as well as having many heavy hitters in the rap industry either be featured on his songs or feature him in theirs. Chief Sosa would eventually settle for a multi-million, three album deal with Interscope. In the four years since his initial breakout, Keef’s career has waxed and waned. He continued to put out mixtapes, albums, and collaborations with other big names in the industry such as Gucci Mane, ASAP Rocky, and Kanye West as well as fellow Glo gang affiliates and also continue to get into legal trouble until his abrupt retirement announcement in March of 2016. He has since been  relatively quiet in terms of music output.


Keef’s raps deal with the dark and violent underbelly of mainstream American society. Gritty lyrics dealing with drugs, murder, and women coupled with beats with ear-numbing bass places the substance of Keef’s lyrics in the same vein as other trap rappers, but the energy and rawness provided by Keef was something record labels have never seen before making him a metaphorical breath of fresh air in a market satur

A known former Black Disciples gang affiliate, Keef and his friends are often seen toting around guns, smoking blunts, and sipping lean in many of his music videos. Keef has been in trouble various times with the law for gun charges, drug charges, probation and parole violations, and a litany of other crimes and misdemeanors. He has been sued by promoters and baby mamas alike for bailing out of shows and forgoing child support payments respectively.

While many might disagree, Chief Keef is truly a poet of the streets. He accurately portrays the struggle young impoverished minority males go through on the unforgiving streets of Chicago’s South Side. He gives a brutally honest representation on the effects of poor socioeconomic status on a society. Keef is not a fabricated figure; everything he does is real and actually him. He is a physical manifestation of everything wrong with Chicago’s South Side. Rolling Stone magazine recognized that the violence in South Side Chicago is not a product of Chief Keef’s music, but rather the other way around, hailing Keef’s 2014 mixtape Back From the Dead as one of the best rap albums of 2014, saying that

The bleak world from which he came still shapes his sound; it’s a bleak and lonely record, with few guests and a darkly psychedelic shape formed by drugs and likely PTSD. Yet he finds a gleeful humanity inside the world’s rotten core, with bluntly potent, economical rapping that gets strong mileage per word.

As ironic as it might seem, I enjoy Keef’s music and anxiously await the release of his return from retirement. I cannot quite place my finger on exactly why I like this genre of music as I don’t indulge myself in the hedonistic and violent lifestyle described in the lyrics of these songs. Perhaps it is the window-rattling beats, ear-numbing bass, or the catchy lyrics.

Keef’s success is unorthodox and at first seemed extremely unlikely. In a neighborhood where many end up dead or in prison by the age of thirty, Keef has surpassed all expectations and has broken the mold. He has made more than most people have in a couple lifetimes, all before the age of 20.

Keef was born and raised in Englewood on the South Side of Chicago, where the median income is less than $20,000 a year The poverty rate is at a staggering 44%, as opposed to Chicago’s 20%, and it is often called the most violent neighborhood in one of the most dangerous area in the murder capital of the United States. In Englewood, police sirens and gunshots are an often, if not daily, occurrence. A 21-year old resident of the area was quoted as saying “Crazy! Blue lights – you hear the sirens don’t you. That’s what you have all day every day. It’s Englewood.”

Englewood, Chicago
Englewood, Chicago

Despite having some of the most stringent gun control laws in the entire country, shootings are still prevalent in Chicago. In 2012 alone, over 500 people were murdered, many of them victims of gang violence that has plagued Chicago. The trend decreased slightly in the following years, hovering . Over Labor Day weekend 2016, the homicide rate in Chicago broke 500, putting it on track to Surprisingly enough, these 500 homicides pale in comparison to the amount in 1991, when there was an astounding 922 homicides in the city. The decades and decades of violence and poverty in Englewood sparked a massive exodus from the city. The population drastically decreased from 97,000 residents in 1967 to about 30,000 in 2010, with 10,000 residents leaving the area from 2000-2010. Chicago, being essentially the birthplace of the American gangster, has had a long history of gang violence that has continued to this very day.

Between 2003-2011, there was more homicides in Chicago the combat deaths in Afghanistan. The number of combat deaths in Iraq only slightly edged out the number of homicides in Chicago.


The extensive number of murders have led many to dub Chicago as “Chiraq”, a nomenclature that derives from the combination of Chicago and Iraq.

75 percent of those murdered were African-American–and 75 percent of the murderers were also African-American. The staggering amount of black-on-black violence has been mainly ignored by the mainstream media and the public alike– but for all the wrong reasons. Whenever any. While they’re busy covering the tomfooleries of one particular Canadian pin head, the media only briefly covers the ever-growing violence not only in Chicago’s South Side, but throughout various impoverished communities throughout America. While the African-American community went into an uproar when they heard about Trayvon Martin’s shooting, not very many of them stirred at the hundreds, if not thousands of black-on-black murders. The violence is so bad that kids plan their own funerals in advanced just in case they get killed walking to or from school. It has become so bad that it forced Darnell D. Hamilton, a 4.0 GPA student at the prestigious charter school Urban Prep, to bring a loaded 9 millimeter handgun to school. After being repeatedly harassed by gang members, Darnell decided to arm himself in case they threatened his life. The gun was found on him at school and now faces two felonies: unlawful use of a weapon and possession of a firearm on school grounds. The judge set bail at $75,000.

What is the root of Chicago’s violence problem? Some would say the problem stems from Jim Crow laws of the late 19th century. Others would blame the lack of funding for public schools and other public works programs. For many young black teenagers, the only way to become successful and respected is to join a gang and sell and/or produce drugs, or in a more colloquial term, live that “trap life“. The violence in Chicago is not caused by Chief Keef’s music. Rather, Chief Keef is a result of the violence in the unforgiving South Side of Chicago.


3 thoughts on “Chiraq: America’s Murder Capital

  1. This weekend I travelled from Mississippi to Milwaukee to attend a classmates funeral, then stopped and worshiped at my brothers church in Gary In and hearing the testimony of an ex gang , ex drug dealer, homeless and taking care of three young girls because his wife is still battling with the monkey on her back, It made me want to research Englewood, as in his testimony he statesd it was the roughest area of Chicago . I will continue to pray for him while on his journey and also the people of Englewood.

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