Is Chief Keef That Shit We Do Like?

click to enlarge 20-year-old phenom Chief Keef - Courtesy
20-year-old phenom Chief Keef

What the hell should we make of Chief Keef? Since bubbling his way out of the South Chicago drill scene in 2011, the 20-year-old rapper has forged a career that's been equal parts brutal and bizarre. On Twitter, he's as likely to taunt shooting victims as wax philosophical on self-development. He signed a multimillion-dollar recording contract (in 2013, no less) only to land back in prison within a month. He allegedly named his third son Sno FilmOn Dot Com Cozart as a promotion for his mixtape. And that's just a small peek into the bottomless clickhole that is Chief Keef's life.

Somewhere in the midst of this, Keef also makes music. His sound — a blunt force mix of his deadpan gang speak and producer Young Chop's boom rap beats — has come to epitomize the Chicago Drill sound. Early hits like "Love Sosa" and "I Don't Like" don't so much grab you with their hooks as batter you with them until they're lodged in your skull. From any technical standpoint, Keef is a terrible rapper.

But if there's anything to be learned from the rise of 2 Chainz, Young Thug and Fetty Wap, it's that technical rapping doesn't mean shit anymore. Keef and, say, Kendrick Lamar, can both be considered rappers in the same way that Sid Vicious and Geddy Lee are both technically bassists. There's an X-Factor that must be weighed against obvious measures like lyrics, flow or performance. In Keef's case, it's bravado. Like an unholy spawn of 50 Cent and Waka Flocka Flame, he's found a way to transfer the unpredictability, ice-cold brutality and absolutist hedonism of his personal life to mixtape. And as his feature on Kanye's "Hold My Liquor" displayed, that bravado can be an undeniable thing.

Increasingly, there's been another dimension to Keef taking shape. Much like Earl Sweatshirt, who had his own ultraviolet streak to fame early in his teenage years, Keef seems eager to build a career. Recently, he traded South Chicago for LA, a move he credits with helping him settle down. Bang 3, his latest mixtape, saw Keef stepping into the producer's chair. The results didn't diverge greatly from the Young Chop beats of his early work, but they're elaborating on the blunt objects of those tracks. He's even starting to rhyme words with different words more frequently.

Keef's headlines seem to be taking a slight turn as well. On the face of it, "Chief Keef hologram concert shut down by Chicago police," seems like a classic Keef mix of the bizarre and illegal. But turns out that concert was a fundraiser for two victims of gun violence, one which Keef opened with the plea "Stop the violence, stop nonsense, stop the killing."

So which Keef might we face when he rolls through the Aztec Theater tonight? Who the hell knows. That's part of the draw.

Chief Keef

$27, 7pm, Aztec Theatre, 201 E. Commerce, (210) 812-4355,

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