The debates surrounding the Drill scene frontman go above and beyond his music, but his debut album is a reminder of his raw energy and talent.
Chicago rapper Chief Keef’s much anticipated album ‘Finally Rich’ was only released yesterday but it’s already understood as part of a larger narrative that’s been running for most of the year since his viral hit Bang broke out of his city’s high school circuit and gained wider attention. A very visible figure made to bear burdens that are actually secondary to his music he’s been often inaccurately lauded as a sole focal point of in a rising regional scene or a signifier of a moral decay.
‘Finally Rich’ is a similar mix of the kind of heavy Bricksquad-influenced rattlers and drawling Auto-Tuned songs that have marked his mixtape output, plus high profile guests that signal his move into the major label rap world. The only member of his Glory Boyz Entertainment crew who features on the album is Lil Reese on the established hit I Don’t Like, with Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, 50 Cent and French Montana filling the rest of the slots. Despite this, it’s a remarkably singular release, with his label seemingly happy to let Chief Keef – who already had considerable star power before the deal – do his own thing. The album is concentrated sonically too, with Young Chop producing over half of the album and the remaining credits going to other established names like Mike Will Made It, who blends the sounds to suit his template; hometown leading lights like Leek-e-Leek; and most improbably Young Ravisu – an amateur who Chief Keef discovered while searching for “Finally rich type beats” on Youtube.
Chief Keef feat. Lil Reese – I Don’t Like
The other result of the creative freedom offered is a spontaneous, hook-rich approach to songwriting that eschews traditional structures for a stream of memorable proclamations, occasional grunts and half-acknowledged observations. Chief Keef has an ear for a line or effect that often goes beyond a concern for regular syntax or lyrical dexterity, with his verses slurred and thickly layered with ad-libs. His style draws another line in the sand for listeners and a track like Laughin’ to the Bank is the most extreme example: a song about making money basically based on the delirious joint-fun of the subject matter and barking HAUHAUHAU! repeatedly – it’s catchy but simplistic, to the point of being offensive for some.
Chief Keef – Laughin’ To The Bank
Though they may be absent on record, close GBE cohorts like Fredo Santana, Ballout and Tadoe are constant figures in his songs and ever-present anchors in their often volatile contexts. Even the real go-ers like Hallelujah and No Tomorrow have stories beneath the surface even though they’re only scratched at like memories recited as part of the personal history between friends. The slower songs like Kay Kay or Finally Rich are close to elegiac, and the excellent Citgo on the deluxe version of the album is just wonderful – and arguably a better choice for a closer than the title track. Set over slow-flowing synths and held by the constant promise of a percussive crash it’s a rare retrospective glimpsed in a moment, and the most reflective he gets on the album.
Chief Keef – Citgo
The main problem with judging this album is that overarching ethical judgements can often eclipse the actual content. Chief Keef’s style may be singular but he’s certainly not without talent, and behind the debates around the potential consequence of his success is a story about a young person raised in very difficult circumstances making it big and taking his friends with him. The gun play and territorial gang shout-outs cannot be ignored, but they aren’t the sole or even the most prominent themes on the album, with much more time devoted to balling than anything else.
The debate about Chief Keef comes less from the fact that he’s young and involved with gangs and more about what his portrayals lack in reflexivity. He is the single, literal perspective in his stories, or, as the videographer DGainz put it in a recent interview with Complex: “Keef is more than just a rapper, he could sell an action figure. Not only do people want to hear Keef, they want to see him. Like oh, what is he going to do next?” ‘Finally Rich’ should be treated a simple expression of where Chief Keef is at the moment rather than a landmark or a litmus test. It may be unsavoury, but it’s not nihilistic and whilst it can be gripping it’s not a bold new step for rap music. It is really a patchy album, with a charismatic if unyielding star at the centre of it all. Its most compelling moments come when Chief Keef focuses completely on what he wants to do rather than what he’s being told – whether you approve or not. It may make you dislike him, but it’s all the more reason not to dismiss or discredit him.