It’s been a humbling day for Chief Keef, who was sentenced to 60 days in jail for violating his probation during a video interview with Pitchfork at a gun range last summer. Keef’s popularity and infamy have made him an inescapable presence in the rap world, and as such any news outlet with a vague interest in covering hip-hop has been keeping tabs on this court case.
And yet the scene inside the Cook County Juvenile Court Building was fairly modest; a group mostly made up of journalists, legal professionals, and Keef’s family filled three wooden benches in a small, off-white courtroom. The room’s sparse decor—a clock on one wall, a calendar on the other, and a droopy American flag behind Judge Carl Anthony Walker’s seat—was hardly reminiscent of the lavish lifestyle Keef enjoys rapping about. The rapper himself walked in wearing a navy-blue sweatshirt and sweatpants that bore the letters JTDC (“Juvenile Temporary Detention Center”) instead of his usual Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo gear.
Outside the courtroom he has an outsize, violent persona, but inside he was a 17-year-old who goes by Keith Cozart. Lately the online conversation about Keef has focused on white cultural tourism via violent music by African-Americans, but it didn’t come up in the conversations among cops and court officers that I overhead in the courtroom prior to Judge Walker’s entrance—I heard more about young Chicagoans who are grappling with real violence. In the courtroom Cozart’s rap career was almost of no consequence—except for the fact that it was used as evidence to keep him behind bars (and a reason to let him go).