Release Date: Dec 18, 2012
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Rap, Gangsta Rap, Hardcore Rap, Midwest Rap
For a 17-year-old YouTube champ with a co-sign from Kanye West (who refashioned the Chicago rapper's viral hit "I Don't Like" for radio), Chief Keef is weirdly lacking in irony. Beyond "I Don't Like," which inverts the Facebook thumbs-up for snitches and shitty weed, his label debut hops from one homely declaration to the next, whether it's "Hate Bein' Sober" (with a bemused 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa) or "Laughin' to the Bank," with its hollow "ha ha ha" punctuation. Rapping with his affectless slur and bricklayer's tempo over rolling, mid-speed beats, Keef (who was criticized for mocking a murder victim, his rival, on Twitter) seems unshakably confident but profoundly directionless.
Finally Rich is Chief Keef's major-label debut, but truthfully, there's not a whole lot to distinguish it from the free mixtapes he made while on house arrest at his grandmother's place in Chicago's Washington Park neighborhood. Those tapes, first passed around among southside high-schoolers, were what landed the now-17-year-old rapper his Interscope deal, and apart from a few random A&R'ed guest spots, the label appears to have stayed out of his way. That's a good thing.
Although the benighted lives of young black people in the poorer boroughs of the US remains one of the most shocking failures of the first world, it has been a while since hip-hop as a genre has felt genuinely alarming. Obnoxious LA crew Odd Future generated a flurry of controversy recently, but at least one of their number, Frank Ocean, has since emerged as far more than just a teenage skater kid ringing the doorbells of tastemakers then running off. On the South Side of Chicago, meanwhile, a rapper has arisen who makes OF look like pantywaist poseurs.
"Ha, ha, ha": 17-year-old Chicago drill rapper Chief Keef's syllables land like lead weights on concrete. Deliberately defining a song titled Laughin' to the Bank by its absence of any mirth is entirely in character for Keef, who wears his perpetual screwface like a badge of pride across Finally Rich and never once lets light in. Portentous, monochrome synths, staccato beats and torpid tempos provide a backdrop of cheap grandeur; Keef doesn't so much ride the beat as pace suspiciously alongside it (sometimes, it's more like plodding).
Perhaps 2012’s greatest viral success story, Chief Keef’s rambunctious antics captured through video and social media have made him a troublemaker and an unassuming branding expert simultaneously. The source of heated debate, his captivating and unpredictable persona has practically guaranteed each concurrent online appearance to be a multimedia event, as fans and naysayers alike gather to watch and discuss a possible train wreck in action. Lending question as to whether he’s more savvy than his immediate impression, Finally Rich is Chief Keef’s long awaited debut aiming to capitalize on the overnight hoopla that spectators find puzzling, disturbing and compelling at once.
Chief Keef :: Finally RichInterscope RecordsAuthor: Patrick TaylorThere were almost 500 homicides in Chicago in 2012, mostly shootings, mostly gang-related, and mostly involving young African-American men. The local street rap that eminates from Chicago's most violent districts is called drill music. Drill is slang for revenge, and revenge factors heavily into many of Chicago's homicides.
In his still-infantile rap career, Chief Keef’s backstory has been as crucial (if not more crucial) to his high-profile status than his actual, you know, music. This 17-year-old Chicago native’s rise from YouTube phenom to Interscope-backed sensation has been well-documented; still, it’s worth reviewing: Keef (Keith Cozart), a high-school drop-out, suddenly exploded on Chicago’s underground hip-hop radar with the dizzying diss-anthem “I Don’t Like,” all the while serving house arrest at his grandma’s for an unlawful weapons charge. He’s still being investigated for a possible connection to the death of fellow Chicago rapper Lil JoJo—but that hasn’t stopped a hoard of rap music’s elite (including Kanye West, who remixed “I Don’t Like” earlier this year) from crowning Keef the unlikely new figurehead of gritty, hardcore hip-hop.
Notorious for his pro-gun ramblings, Twitter death threats, Instagram oral sex pics, and other forms of mischief, 17-year-old Chief Keef is also a quickly rising MC. Yet aside from a strong collaborator in producer Young Chop, some mainstream connections, and an especially nihilistic presence, there's little to separate Keef from thousands of other aspiring rappers roaming Chicago's rougher neighborhoods. The difference, of course, is that Keef has made it out, the result of a sort of Faustian bargain, wherein he's left his old life behind, but can never shed its trappings.
It's unfortunate that the narrative surrounding Chief Keef is bigger than Finally Rich, the record containing the haranguing street single I Don't Like that shot the Chicago rapper to fame. Even if the music isn't all that good, the tangential dialogue distracts from the fact that at the centre of it all is Keef, a 17-year-old facing very real, troubling circumstances (including 60 days' jail time for violating probation). This makes it difficult to listen to the music dispassionately.
Chief Keef has experienced a lot since his breakthrough Back from the Dead mixtape in March – tens of millions of YouTube views, a major-label deal, G.O.O.D. Music remixing his best-known track – but none of it has been due to his ability to rap. More often than not, the 17-year-old Chicago native fills his verses with some of the most basic themes and rhyme patterns this side of Silkk the Shocker’s “No Limit”.
Over the course of the last year, Chief Keef hit a whole bunch of the milestones required for a storied rap career: the breakout single; the major label bidding war; cosigns and collaborations with the industry’s elite; magazine covers; rap beef; Twitter beef; street beef. All this unfolded as Chief Keef’s hometown—Chicago—experienced a surge in gang violence, becoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country. And the Windy City’s newest star seemed to not only embody the chaos of his hometown, but he embraced it, making him one of the most polarizing young artists of recent memory.
The line between reality and fantasy in rap music has blurred so much it might seem like a blessing to some, a tapering-off of an unreasonable double standard that demanded every bar out of a lyricist's mouth to be rooted in truth. One need only look at the improbable ascent of “Officer Ricky” Ross to see that some talent, an unwavering dedication to a narrative, and corporate music business backing can trump an otherwise inopportune smoking gun. This clouding, however, carries unavoidable sociological consequences.