When the name Chief Keef comes up in conversation, what comes to mind? A much-buzzed fledgling artist destined for greatness? High-octane trap raps? I think about J-Kwon. Remember him?
In 2004, before the YouTube era, the St. Louis rapper rose to seemingly immediate stardom with his club-quaking smash “Tipsy.” And though he doesn’t seem to share much in common with Keef—whose biggest hit was a paint-by-numbers cut about getting drunk—there are some noteworthy similarities: J-Kwon, now 26, was just a year older than Keef’s current 17 when he blew. Both come from drug-infested Midwest communities and douse their rhymes in that lifestyle. And if he’s not careful, Keef may join J-Kwon in One Hit Wonder Land.
Chicago native Keef’s biggest hit to date, this spring’s “I Don’t Like,” is basically a laundry list of things that rub him the wrong way. He doesn’t like tattle-tales (“a snitch nigga”) or men that act like women (“a bitch nigga”), among other annoyances. Its Young Chop beat is big and menacing, kin to the kind of stuff Drumma Boy and Shawty Redd pitched Young Jeezy on The Recession. But Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. guys Big Sean and Pusha T have already commandeered and remixed that smash. And depending on who’s asking, Chief Keef may have already peaked.
So how does he turn one hit into a career? The answer is easy: good music always wins. Keef is going to have to release a lot of it to last. Just ask recent rap success A$AP Rocky or even, on a pop level, Lana Del Rey.
Rocky’s Halloween 2011 mixtape LiveLoveA$AP was a 16-song effort that gave critics plenty of reasons to support the Harlem spitter. Then came a wave of stellar guest features on cuts by a wide array of artists (Usher, Schoolboy Q, Theophilus London).
This time last summer Del Rey was much like Keef is now—a YouTube sensation, with only two makeshift videos and singles to her name. But when she joined Interscope Records (coincidentally, Keef’s new label home) and released her retro-chic debut album Born to Die, doubters were mostly silenced, confirming that she’ll be around for a while. Whether Keef can do the same remains to be seen. His March tape Back from the Dead hasn’t had a memorable impact or resonated in hip-hop culture. Then there’s the other stuff.
Part of being a signed recording artist is constant interviews and live concerts. Keef’s not doing particularly well with either. His New York City debut last week at SOB’s (a stage that newcomers Schoolboy Q and 2 Chainz have killed this year) left much to be desired, lasting just north of 15 minutes. And he’s not much better at the media game, appearing languid and quite boring on recent radio interviews.
These are the things that make stars stars. If Keef's not winning people over on this tour, his debut album better be a good one. Time will tell. Make no mistake about it: J-Kwon is still trying to get your attention—and no one cares anymore. He missed his chance. It’s up to Chief Keef to make sure this moment doesn’t pass him by.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)