The rise of the drill scene and its vacant-eyed, deadpan teenagers has made for a gripping story, and it’s also provoked questions about what the negative effects of their success could be. Artists imitating the style and presentation of many of the original performers have popped up in increasing numbers. One extreme example is the story of Lil Mouse.
Lil Mouse’s management, likely deciding to one-up Keef’s “16-year-old-rapper” headlines, developed a 13-year-old artist to execute the standard Chicago rap signifiers, from subject matter to slang to the Money Dance (which has since been widely credited to Lil Mouse but in fact existed before him). The video for “Get Smoked” received enough attention that Lil Wayne (who recorded similarly-themed material and signed a record contract when he was only 12) remixed the track for his Dedication 4 mixtape.
Lil Mouse’s story is disturbing only in part because of his age; many rap fans knew similar lyrics by the time they were nine or 10 years old, including the authors of this article. What was more disturbing was the (likely poverty-induced) cynicism that inspired adults to exploit a 13-year-old. Keef’s music has received similar accusations, but Keef was, from the beginning, in control of his own self-presentation; the “I Don’t Like” video was produced entirely by the rapper and his peers. Whether you like or dislike “Get Smoked,” the song is heavily reliant on the novelty factor (and a great beat from Chase Davis) to make it stand out amongst a sea of similar Chicago hip hop videos.
It should be noted that few bloggers even posted the track; when it did appear, it was as spectacle, often accompanied by moralizing about the direction of today’s youth. The entire subject of a violent street culture appearing through the lens of hip-hop, whether speaking of Jojo or Lil Mouse, raises many questions about how the media should deal with artists who come from that culture, and where they draw the lines about who to cover.
The ramifications of Keef’s recent behavior probably won’t backfire completely for him; if anything, the proliferation of articles will just further embed him in the national consciousness.
The ramifications of Keef’s recent behavior probably won’t backfire completely for him; if anything, the proliferation of articles will just further embed him in the national consciousness. But those trying to follow in his footsteps might find that the bigger media outlets, in light of recent events, might now be more cautious about gunplay and child-rappers from war-torn cities, which would marginalize otherwise-ambitious artists who don’t have Keef’s craterous impact.
Keef’s been in the public eye for less than a year, and he’s already gone from zero coverage to intense media buzz to a full-on media backlash. His music and that of his peers, until now, has been so singular due in part to his relative isolation; it has a bleak, oppressive atmosphere that seems charged with urgency. One of street rap’s organizing concepts has historically been an emphasis on theater; the more convinced you are by the performance, the better the rapper. Keef has become a symbol because he so effectively channels the fears of listeners. But it is important to remember that he’s also a human being, one capable of creating work people enjoy on its own merits, and one who will need to take responsibility for his failings.