Review Summary: Every time I see Chief Keef in the world, he always steps to my girl.
It took me 5 years to get into Loveless
. I picked up a cracked used copy during my freshman year of high school. It sounded okay, a few tracks stood out but in general it just sounded like a massive wash of fuzz with no hooks. I proceeded to throw myself at it over and over and over again for years, each time bouncing off its brick wall of sound. Then, finally, during the hype comet for mbv
, I finally penetrated it’s epic mass. What I found was a staggering ocean floor of sounds all swirling in and out of each other, hooks buried in the mix, and miles and miles of guitar. It felt enormously gratifying to finally understand what everybody had been talking about.
is not worth that kind of effort. Not even close. But the scene Chief Keef has found himself the figurehead of, Chicago’s drill scene, absolutely is. A gang of kids copping cheap synthesizers and samplers, disobeying every rule that has been carved into the face of music with reckless glee. Singing off key, rapping off tempo, sticking to the same cadence and half melody for entire songs. It’s terrifying. It’s also the most thrilling music on the planet right now.
While no single scene defining album exists yet – Keef’s mixtape Back From the Dead
comes close – you can absorb the bulk of drill through a small handful of sounds. Lil’ Durk’s “L’s Anthem” and “This Aint What You Want”, King L’s “Val Venis”, and Sasha GoHard’s “I’m Hotta” are great places to start. And Finally Rich
, while being shaky at best as an album, contains two of the best songs the scene has produced yet as well has a handful of other gems.
Much like Loveless
, Finally Rich
is a thick, abrasive wall of sound. It pounds and pulses with a dense menace that makes for an easy write off. But unlike Loveless
, repeated listening don’t uncover some distant beauty within, it just turns up gross lyrics and a 3rd graders melodic sense.
Make no mistake, this is difficult music, easily as dense and hard to understand as early Sonic Youth or late Blur.
It’s appeal lies almost exclusively in two things, the beats and Keef’s almost supernatural ability with a hook. Almost anyone reading this can attest to having opening cut “Love Sosa” stuck in their head for a week or so. His secret lies in his ability to find an inescapable little melody or variation on his signature staccato phrasing, which drops each lyric right into the pocket of the beat, and work it for the entire song, pounding every single line into your skull until you throw up your hands in surrender. This trick is so easy to imitate its already being ripped wholesale by everyone from Future to Rihanna but nobody can do it quite as well as Keef does.
The beats are a whole ‘nother beast. Massive constructions that grab Lex Luger’s immortal Flockaveli
template and toss in candy colored synth lines for extra stickiness. They need no excuse, they’re things of wonder, with trunk detonating bass hits and flicking snares bouncing off of twinkling bells and airy keyboards.
The hardest thing about writing about Chief Keef is it’s extremely easy to say exactly why one doesn’t like him but putting your finger on what makes his style so singular and great is much more difficult. “Love Sosa” and “I Don’t Like” are two of the best songs of last year for reasons that are basically the same. Both are backed with absurdly huge beats that seem to tumble and surge forward with unstoppable momentum. They both find a catchy little riff and proceed to slam it into oblivion, forgoing the idea that you have to provide variation for emphasis.
The latter song in particular, “I Don’t Like”, is one of the most beguiling things I’ve ever heard. Within three days of it hitting my iPod I had the whole thing memorized, it’s just that catchy, and to someone like me, who believes the hook is the alpha and omega of music, it’s a gift from the heavens above. I spen all of last summer blasting the thing in my car constantly, shouting along to “Fredo in the cut! That’s a scary sight!” with blissful glee.
Here in lies the key to understanding and enjoying Chief Keef. Lose yourself in the hook.
Keef uses his lyrics in the same way The Ramones used theirs, they have a specific idea or feeling they want to convey and use the shortest route from A to B. Critizing him for his lyrics would be like criticizing a painter for using the color blue, you’re missing the point entirely.
Despite all the gangster posturing and claims of violence, this is pop music, pure and simple. It lives and dies by the hook. When the tunes are catchy, they work, when they don’t, they fail hard.
“Love Sosa” and “I Don’t Like” are your best bets here. The latter loses some of its power mastered, some ad-libs have been stripped and the clean mix feels against the point but it holds most of its appeal. The former is simply one of the catchiest songs released last year on one of the best beats, plain and simple.
Nothing else on the album approaches the heights of those tracks but a few come close. “Diamonds” is the best of the deep cuts, with a bewildering beat composed of sparkling firework pinwheels. “3 Hunna” once again loses some of its appeal with its cleaner mix and safe guest appearance from Rick Ross but still works wonders. The verse builds over and over again to the same gun shot/scream that has become Young Chop’s signature; this constant rise/fall lends extra emphasis to the bars, inviting much dread swinging.
is inherently flawed in two ways. For one, this was originally intended to be a mixtape and it absolutely should have been. People look for a big, cohesive statement in a debut album and this just has none, its just more of the same stuff he’s already been doing to perfection. The other is it buries two of its best cuts as bonus tracks. “Citgo” sounds, flat out, like a Postal Service song. I mean, granted, Jimmy Tamborello would have to hole up in a south side project for a few weeks before he made anything like this but its all here, ambient keyboards to skittering drums. Even Keef is singing a feather light melody that is downright pleasant. It’s pretty incredible. The other, “Kobe”, is so densely atmospheric it actually plays well into the Chromatics album that follows it in my library.
In all honesty, I understand the negative reviews over there; most of the points they raise are perfectly valid reasons to dislike Chief Keef (Their snickering, condescending summaries on the other hand…). This is pretty esoteric stuff; you have to really be tuned to a certain wavelength to understand it. So if you’ve already firmly decided to hate Chief Keef and want to really solidify that choice, give “Ballin” or “Laughin to the Bank” a listen, they’ll give you a nosebleed. But if you’ve ever had a soft spot for big pop songs, I highly encourage you to let go of the idea that these are rap songs. Even in 2013, “Rap” implies some head noddin’ knowledge is going to be kicked and none of that is here. What these songs offer is some of the biggest and absurdly enjoyable hooks in recent memory. Just be prepared when your friends take away your stereo privileges.