In one of the more alarming things to show up on the internet yesterday, Pitchfork sent the rapper Chief Keef to a gun range. If there is anyone who should actively not be at a gun range, it is Keef, who at the age of sixteen has already spent time in jail for possessing a gun that he fired at a police officer, and then spent a lengthy period of house arrest for the same crime. What’s more, the pubescent Chicago rapper’s signature is a punctuatory grunt of a single, solitary word: “bang.”
If there’s anyone who shouldn’t be sending Chief Keef to a gun range, it is Pitchfork. Widely regarded as the best website about indie music in the universe (until aliens can offer more comprehensive coverage of Grimes, that is), Pitchfork can be looked at to offer some of the more reasonable takes on music in basically every genre. In addition to yesterday’s “Hey, let’s send Chief Keef to a gun range!” fiasco, the site posted reviews of Rick Ross’s new group album, R. Kelly, a Swedish psych-rock band, an interview with Dirty Projectors, and a track review of the new Nas song, all of which were measured, unbiased and totally non-condescending. Clearly, the Chief Keef incident was an outlier, one that should not be looked to as indicative of the site’s attitude towards hip-hop in general.
Still, the fact that Pitchfork posted this at all is troubling. A site that generally makes it its business to remain in tune with regional scenes—especially in Keef’s hometown of Chicago, which is also the city that Pitchfork was founded in—Pitchfork ought to understand the contexts in which the music it covers develops. Keef hails from the South Side of Chicago, which is currently a neighborhood facing intense strife. Gang violence is virulent, and as a result of the violence, police have become significantly more wary of all African-American men, which has led to an uptick in harassment and brutality. In short, the South Side of Chicago is hell. “I feel like I’m robbing my children of their childhood,” a mother in the city’s Englewood neighborhood told the New York Times (via the Chicago News Cooperative). In short, Chief Keef comes from terrible, terrible circumstances, and by setting him in a gun range, the site made a mockery of Keef, as well as the circumstances he came from. It was insensitive and nearly absurd, like as the Philadelphia DJ Skinny Friedman tweeted, “a tribute to Buddy Holly filmed at an airport.”
Ultimately, the video in and of itself is not revealing. Eavvon O’Neal, who as the host of Pitchfork Selector is slowly revealing himself as one of the better interviewers in hip-hop, brings out the best Keef interview to date simply by eliciting more than a few words from the kid. Keef wears the same ridiculous-but-kinda awesome sunglasses he wore during his New York live debut at S.O.B.’s. He and O’Neal talk about rapping, the pair shoots guns, and then Keef freestyles. It’s nothing revelatory, though for a minute and a half or so he manages to rap in the same threatening, mumbly cadence that’s won him his fame so far. There are no Scribble Jam-worthy lines spouted out, but nothing totally embarrassing, either. The main thought one is left with is this: “Here is Chief Keef. He is rapping. At a gun range. What the fuck?”