April 13, 2012; Congress Theater, Logan Square, Chicago
Chief Keef and the Glory Boyz Entertainment crew make their way through security at the main entrance to the Congress Theater’s tiled floor lobby, amongst regular ticketholders. After particularly rigorous pat-downs from security guards clad in neon green vests, Keef steps through first. He’s wearing a gray designer shirt and cargo shorts that reveal a black GPS tracking device attached to his ankle. Despite this memento of his recent legal problems, a judge has granted him permission to attend the show. He’s followed by the rest of the crew, including Lil Durk, Ballout, DJ Kenn (hoisting a digital camera), Lil Reese, SD, and Fredo, whose prominent tattoo of an upside-down cross on the bridge of his nose makes him immediately distinguishable. The audience has just begun to fill the 3,500-seat auditorium for a show headlined by Twista, King Louie, and Meek Mill. The GBE crew, followed by a massive entourage from the neighborhood, make their way through the backstage entrance at stage left. The crowd swells to meet them.
Shortly before Keef hit the stage, the Chicago Police, on orders from Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, blocked anyone from entering the Congress Theater.
For Keef’s climactic performance, the stage is packed. This footage captured the full scope of the cultural movement that propelled Keef to national notoriety. It’s been referred to as the drill movement, and is often mischaracterized as a particular production style. Instead, "drill" is about the entirety of the culture: the lingo, the dances, the mentality, and the music, much of which originated in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Dro City. Throughout the theater, different performers can be identified by crew affiliation, as spelled out on their shirts; King Louie rocks a MUBU Gang shirt (MUBU stands for “Man Up, Band Up,” a phrase he coined); Glory Boyz Entertainment members wear GBE shirts, while Durk’s identifies him as a member of OTF (“Only the Family”). Sometimes, a person’s Twitter handle will be emblazoned on their clothes. As Keef performs, his manager Dro hurls copies of Back from the Dead from behind the massive crowd on stage, and they slice through the air and rain down upon the audience. Fredo, shirtless, sports a bandage on his chest; he later claimed that a spider bite had caused an infection on a recent tattoo.
Meek Mill is the biggest name on the bill, and when he hits the stage the crowd is fully unified. But the most electric moments during this long night came during the performances of King Louie and Chief Keef, who bring the culture of the drill scene out in full force. Louie was riding high on a year of local singles spread via mixtape and YouTube, including the then-unreleased “Val Venis” and a chorus-free anthem called “Bars,” which many audience members rapped along with word-for-word. Rapper Boss Woo, looking a full head taller than many of the teens on stage and clad in white-framed sunglasses, cut a striking figure, windmilling his arms around like propellers, doing the money dance. Keef’s set, though, had the most energy. “We had like, 30, 40 of us,” recalled Dro City rapper Big Homie Doe after the show. “When Keef and them walked in the door, there was damn near a hundred of them.”
Shortly before Keef hit the stage, the Chicago Police, on orders from Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, blocked anyone from entering the Congress. Fights had broken out between Mexican gangbangers in the theater, and, in the wake of police concerns about Keef’s gang affiliations, and the Alderman’s long-standing antipathy toward the theater, it was a virtual inevitability.
Keef’s relationship with police has always been rocky; even now, they’ve had to fend off accusations of picking on Keef’s street team. But Keef’s negative press only seems to magnify his buzz. On November 19, the same day D.Gainz uploaded the video for Keef’s “Love Sosa,” the Chicago Sun-Times ran a headline: “Chief Keef belongs back in jail for his own safety, police say.” “We’ve got that video for ‘Love Sosa’ going up on YouTube,” says Merk Murphy, who works with Keef’s management team. “But at the same time he’s getting so much hate.”
And it’s not just the police giving Keef negative attention. Since he blew up nationally, Keef has attracted considerable negative energy from listeners. When 18-year-old Chicago rapper Joseph “Lil Jojo” Coleman was shot dead while riding a bicycle on September 3—after trading gang-related dis songs with Lil Durk and having words with Lil Reese—Keef tweeted “Its Sad Cuz Dat Nigga Jojo Wanted To Be Jus Like Us#LMAO.” While a police investigation into whether Keef was involved in the murder turned up nothing, the online reaction was intense.
“I’m gonna tell you like this,” says one drill scene insider. “Everybody in Chicago is a Chief Keef fan. Everybody. Even JoJo knew—that’s why Keef made that comment that he did. They were Keef fans. Come on, you dissed him on his beat rapping just like him.” There is a schizophrenia to the enthusiasm for Keef. Even saying that he creates great music is controversial. The only thing that can be agreed upon is that his music matters, even if many people wish it didn’t.