Chief Keef is one of these artists whose personal drama is as or more interesting than his music. The 17-year-old from the South Side of Chicago has not only led a surge in popularity for a new local subgenre called “drill music”, he’s admittedly shot at police (so he says at the beginning of this record), been under house arrest on gun charges, and when rival rapper Lil JoJo was murdered earlier this year, he appeared to be gloating on his twitter account. Chief Keef later said his account had been hacked. He also had another Twitter beef with Lupe Fiasco that’s since been resolved.
He’s signed to Interscope and is also the CEO of his own record label, Glory Boys Entertainment. And, oh yeah, his popular anthem “I Don’t Like” was remixed by none other than fellow Chicagoan Kanye West.
Chicago has certainly had its share of tremendous talents (Common, Kanye, Twista), but what’s happening recently is one of the city’s biggest swells as far as a generation of young rappers coming up at once. It includes King L (signed to Sony/Epic), Lil Durk and Lil Reese (both signed with Def Jam), 13-year-old hardcore gangsta Lil Mouse (was featured on the cover of the Chicago Sun-Times), female rapper Sasha Go Hard, Rockie Fresh (with Rick Ross’ MMG label), Fredo Santana (with Keef’s own GBE label) and the aforementioned Lil JoJo (unfortunately now deceased).
With Keef being the figurehead of this movement, it stands to reason there’s a lot riding on Finally Rich. Yes, we’re finally getting to the music.
Oh, the music. The point where we must begin to question the validity of this Chicago-based renaissance.
It’s not without its moments, for sure. “I Don’t Like” featuring Lil Reese is almost an instant classic of reckless abandonment on record. “A fuck ni**a, that’s that shit I don’t like/A snitch ni**a, that’s that shit I don’t like/A bitch ni**a, that’s that shit I don’t like,” the chorus goes.
The song goes on to list a sort of checklist of Don’t Likes: “Fake Trues,” “Fake shoes,” “a stalking a** b****.” You don’t have dislike the things they’re talking about on the track, you just have to dislike anything and you will find yourself irresistibly nodding your head, turning up the volume on Spotify. Playing it again and again.
“Hate Bein’ Sober” featuring 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa is another triumph. Belligerent, hilarious and unapologetic, it’s one of the best tracks on Finally Rich.
“Damn I hate being sober, I’m a smoker…We can’t spell sober,” Keef rambles about the track, a raucous mix of synths and sped up drums.
Much of the backdrops are provided here by Young Chop and “Hallelujah” is another one of his gems that you will like whether you want to or not. Looped strings and a big menacing bass make everything from Keef sound right even with lyrics like, “Every time I look up my b**** starting some s***/Damn I hate a b**** that like to argue and s***/Got so much designer s*** you’ll think I model this s***.”
Whatever, at this point, he could literally be rapping “blah, blah blah” and it would sound like fire.
But eventually you need your front man to deliver and the missing element to Finally Rich seems to be Keef himself. While not terribly overbloated with guest appearances, it remains to be seen what makes him so distinctive. Why has he gained such popularity?
Certainly it’s not on “Kay Kay” where he almost unintelligibly autotunes his way through meaningless brags about “ballin’ like Jordan.” Or the downright annoying “Laughin’ to the Bank” where he raps, “I’m laughin’ to the bank like, ‘HA HA HA,’ I’m laughin’ at these lames like ‘HA HA HA.’”
There’s also a mixtape quality to Finally Rich with callouts to Young Chop on various tracks, and a monotony to much of the production. Listen to “Diamonds,” “Ballin” and “Understand Me” and tell me why we needed all three?
Much has been made of Keef’s glorifying a violent lifestyle against the backdrop of the horrifying murders that take place every night in the streets of Chicago. Is he a product of his environment? Is he, in his own way, giving voice to this tragedy? Or is he just making it worse by embracing it?
This kind of analysis gives him almost too much credit though. There’s no deeper pathos here. He’s rapping about women and blunts and being rich, though he doesn’t even properly describe his supposed status.
“A f*** n**** don’t wanna be it/I like my b**** conceited/I’m Sosa, b****, Chief Keef yeah/My gun, don’t make me beat it,” he starts out on “3Hunna” featuring Rick Ross. He lacks the specific details, the storytelling, the passion that make for a captivating MC. Ross, who usually sounds like he’s coming off too big a big meal, sounds almost erudite alongside Keef.
Granted, he’s only a teenager. But for all the hype, where is the spark? It’s a question this reviewer asks of several recent acts that are being lauded not only in the hip-hop community but in the broader media. Future, Odd Future, Chief Keef; they all sound, for lack of a better term, sort of terrible. Where is the flow, the rhythm, the poetry?
As Finally Rich drags on it becomes increasingly jumbled, monotonous and depressing. On the title track, Keef sounds like he may not make it to the end of the song: “Imma show you how to ball/Once you walk up in the mall/Hit every store and buy it all cause it ain’t s***,” he mumbles. Then, “F*** every f*****’ body getting robbed/For that night job and day job (so I got rich).”
“I smoke all the dope,” he brags on the hook. Yeah, and it shows.
While there are some bursts of life, Keef’s performance on Finally Rich is mostly like the drunk at a party, stumbling around and breathing nonsense in everyone’s faces. They were fun when they first got there. Now you wish they would just go home. Hopefully this doesn’t set the trend for the rest of the Chicago scene, but much of it seems to be caught up in this vein, aimlessly drinking and smoking and shooting, all to the backdrop of a singular mind-numbing drum beat.
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