African American Studies
Sheku Kef-Karma (aka Chosan) is a rapper who was born in Sierra Leone. When he was two years old, his family moved to London in search of better economic opportunities. His mother, a nurse by training, worked two jobs and frequently sent supplies and money back to her relatives in Sierra Leone while his father pursued a college education. Chosan was raised Christian, even though his father was Muslim. He was raised in a neighborhood with a large number of African families, and he was exposed to reggae, hip-hop, and the general ins and outs of African-immigrant London street culture at an early age. During his school years, however, Chosan felt like an outsider because of the racial and economic demographics in his London-area schools. His mother wore traditional clothes and gave her son an African name, and the rapper is glad that his mother impressed upon him the importance of his African heritage. Chosan’s mother was the only person in her family to make it out of Sierra Leone, and no one ever came to visit her in London because it was so difficult to leave the country. Early on, Chosan worked hard at establishing himself as a rapper by entering competitions, organizing shows, selling his own CDs, and promoting himself and other rappers in the North London area. He dropped out of college in order to focus more on his music, and he soon became dissatisfied with the London hip-hop scene. He felt that hard work was not rewarded there and that he would never be a popular or commercial success if he stayed in London’s relatively small hip-hop scene. At this point, many rappers in the scene looked up to Slick Rick, an English-born rapper who found commercial success in the states. Thus Chosan immigrated to the New York area in 2000, when he was 20 or 21. Coming to the States via a work-study program, he first lived in New Jersey and subsequently moved to the Bronx. He also lived in Harlem, Washington Heights, and Brooklyn, and he eventually moved back to the Bronx permanently. The rapper especially enjoys the Bronx because of its diversity—there are all kinds of different people, and all kinds of neighborhoods with their own distinct character. Not long after moving to the Bronx, Chosan was involved in a hit and run accident: an SUV struck him as he was crossing the street, and he had to spend a year in physical therapy. During this time he was forced to use crutches to get around. After this, he went through a break-up with his long-time girlfriend, and his father died in Sierra Leone around the same time. This was a rather difficult point in his life, but at the time of interview he had substantially overcome it. Before the break in the interview, Chosan discussed the fact that he had only two contacts when he first arrived in the States. However, he found both of them, DJs he had met in London, were too interested in their own careers to be interested in any collaborative efforts. Thus Chosan had to start his rap career “from scratch.”
Kef-Karma, Sheku. June 14, 2007. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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