Last week, Chief Keef released an unexpected follow-up to his sophomore album, Bang 3, cleverly titled Bang 3 Part 2. The album confirmed my suspicions surrounding Chief Keef for the last year or so: he’s good. While he has built up a solid reputation for churning out countless mixtapes, many haven’t seemed to notice his slow but steady development from gun-wielding kindergartener to surprisingly/composed songwriter.
Keef’s video for “Don’t Like” was already circulating around Chicago in 2012, but he didn’t present himself on the national stage until Kanye West remixed the song (and subsequently included him as one of few features on Yeezus ). Keef was 17 at the time and still on house arrest for allegedly shooting at police at age 15. He also had his first child at 16. Point being, he came from the most violent neighborhood in the country and was thrust into a competitive hip-hop landscape as a teenager. We’ve since been fortunate enough to witness his evolution from someone who publicly joked about the death of fellow Chicagoan and teen rapper, Lil JoJo, to making “Finding Nemo” references on his latest project.
Following the success of his debut album, Finally Rich, it seems Keef followed a completely unforeseen but positive trajectory for an artist of his background. He took his money (and his daughter), moved to a wealthy Chicago suburb and has since been focusing on music. Imagine that.
To the untrained ear (or conservative hip-hop heads), Keef’s newer and more playful tunes might provoke a similar reaction to work from his teenage years: “same shit.” Yet, listening to Bang 3 Part 2, I couldn’t help but walk around campus laughing at bars like “Something something something, I forgot now / I was thinking ‘bout the guac, then pulled my guap out.” The absurdity of Keef thinking about guacamole while counting money automatically makes “Bouncin” one of his most memorable records to date. The lyric couldn’t have even existed on his earlier mixtapes; before the money, the only thing Keef could’ve brought into the studio with him was violence.
It’s almost as if he’s in on the joke these days — a remarkable turnaround, given that in 2012, he was arrested for foolishly conducting an interview at a gun range … while on parole. He’s been on the receiving end of so many distasteful jokes that it’s great to see him start rapping tongue-in-cheek. The opening 30 seconds of “Pee Pee’d” show him yelling, “I’m so damn ignorant / I pulled out my ding-a-ling and start pee peeing.” Yes, really.
And then there’s the sheer quality of the mixtapes that he has been throwing around for free. “Ten Toes Down” is buried somewhere in the middle of Sorry 4 The Weight and begins with a monologue so unlikely that I had to run it back a few times: “I just need to be happy … I come from nothing / I come from ghetto / I come from projects / If I’m in my mansion, best believe I’m working … That’s all I need to be happy: work / I’mma never stop working, I’mma keep perfecting my craft.” All this comes before a beat that thumps so hard it rattles your skull at half-volume. He fades out of his last verse with “If you looking for me / I’m prolly’ on the news.” How’s that for awareness? Well played, Keef.
Chief Keef deserves far more credit than he gets because he’s not still supposed to be in that mansion. Like Dr. Dre said earlier this year on Kendrick Lamar’s “Wesley’s Theory,” “Anybody can get it / the hard part is keeping it.” Despite being in and out of jail for five years, being dropped from his label, having his life threatened and being exploited by the music industry as a teen parent, Keef cleaned up his act and focused on music.
Most importantly, he stuck to his roots. Throughout the various phases of his personal life, Keef has sustained an outstanding level of honesty and transparency through his music, creating a narrative that’s simultaneously horrifying, uplifting and hilarious. Chief Keef might live in the ‘burbs, but at least he still rides ATVs on his neighbors’ lawns. At least he still smokes blunts in public. At least he’s still in that mansion.