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Colombia: Rappers under threat in Medellin by violent street gangs

The socially conscious, anti-violence message of many hip-hop artists' lyrics put some at odds with street gangs in Medellin, Colombia.

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For Jeison Castano, meeting Elider Varela is as memorable today as ever: "He was one of the most recognized rappers in the area. His nickname, his clothing, his personality caught my attention. He was one of the leaders."

Known as "Jeihhco" and "El Duke," the pair went on to establish a prominent rap group, Comando Elite de Ataque, and the Kolacho music school to keep young people off the streets in Comuna 13, one of Medellin's most troubled districts.

But that 16-year partnership ended in a hail of bullets Oct. 29 when El Duke was gunned down on his own doorstep in a killing attributed to a gang controlling the El Salado barrio where he lived.

After El Duke's assassination, more than 60 musicians linked to him were forced to flee Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, after threats by the gang suspected in his death.

Other rappers also have been killed in a battle that has placed the hip-hop community in the cross-hairs of street gangs seeking to strike fear in the population.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern met El Duke during an August 2011 visit to the city. In a Nov. 8 letter to Mayor Anibal Gaviria, the Massachusetts politician denounced the killing and expressed his "deep concern about recent escalation in violence and threats against community and youth leaders."

El Duke, who was considered a leader of the community, was the ninth rapper murdered in three years in Comuna 13. The day after McGovern wrote his letter, 17-year-old Roberth Steven Barrera, known as "Garra," became the 10th.


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