For those not keyed into rap's latest come-ups, we present a series introducing the most notable 90s babies of the moment.
90s Babies Rap by Christopher Alley
Gangsta Rap Distilled to Its Most Marketable Core
Chief Keef – (19) Chicago, Illinois.
When it comes to producing new talent, Chicago is one of the few cities that has been competing with Atlanta. It’s hard to tell anymore whether the city’s rappers brought more attention to its violence or vice versa, but the last couple of years have seen a ton of names break out with amateur videos of shirtless, baby-faced kids spouting the kind of teenage nihilism that inspires hand-wringing think pieces. Lately, Chief Keef has undoubtedly been the center of attention.
Chief Keef is the face of Chiraq’s drill scene. His charisma managed to seduce millions of people into watching videos of a kid in house arrest at his Grandma’s, partying half-naked with other shirtless teenage boys. Like Waka Flocka Flame, Chief’s output has been sort of one-dimensional and built around a single producer. While Flocka had Lex Luger, Keef has Young Chop, one of the main sonic architects of Chicago’s near-industrial trap sound.
Chief Keef also had the misfortune of gaining the attention of white media. Pitchfork saw a near-catatonically weeded-out 16-year-old from a murderous city and saw no ethical issues with taking him to a gun range. Not only was the premise lazy and racist (“black teenager raps about shooting people, let’s just film him shooting guns”), but it was also poorly researched: Keef had been on probation for months and firing guns violated his terms.
His catchy, mumble-mouth chant rap often celebrates gun violence and drugs from the point of view of a “boss”. Like Waka, he distilled the idea of gangsta rap to its purest, most marketable core: no politics; little (if any) moral balance; no sparkly R&B concessions to female listeners; just excess, violence, and occasionally some shit about the power of male friendship. It’s very authentic in it’s aimlessness; more “Natural Born Killaz” than “Straight Outta Compton”. This is the soundtrack to a monochrome world where everyone is either a G, a fuckboy, or a bitch, and you kill fuckboys and fuck bitches.
Like Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli, Keef’s music captures a particular black male state of mind. The difference is, Flockaveli, as well as The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die before it, exists because people fucking died. Sure, a lot of people listen to this at the gym or at parties or on xbox live. But if you’re someone like Lupe Fiasco, who publicly wept when asked about all of the friends he lost in Chicago’s violence, it’s a coroner’s report put to 808s.
If Keef’s forgotten, this might all be obsolete. At the moment, Chief Keef is more controversial than acclaimed. He's signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad label – infamous for a roster as erratic as its owner – thereby foregoing Young Chop’s signature beats for sound-alikes and self-productions. To embrace Kool Keith-style indulgence would mean alienating everyone but his most ardent followers and becoming an internet rap curio. Imagine a 20-something Keef, garnering 100,000 views on Youtube and still dancing around his entourage. It’s sad. Chief Keef could benefit from being less one-dimensional, but considering being one-dimensional is his appeal, it’s hard to foresee him suddenly filming videos with plot, becoming intelligible, or writing traditional rap verses.