Chief Keef: Hail To The Chief (2012 Online Cover Story)

Chief Keef: Hail To The Chief (2012 Online Cover Story)Illustration by Simon Jones and Liz Barclay

Evening, November 15, 2012; Las Vegas, Nevada

Chief Keef still has not arrived. Plans are being made to reschedule the shoot for the following day. Later that night, a spurned 50 Cent tweets, "Its not funny @ChiefKeef didn't sell any records yet, they will pull the plug on him. SMSAUDIO."

As the sun goes down, there’s time for a quick walk north of the strip on Las Vegas Boulevard, past the darkened sign for the shuttered Sahara Hotel and the Fontainebleau Resort construction site. The Fontainebleau was a $2.9 billion Hotel/Casino/Resort that began construction in 2007; in 2009, blunted by the recession, Fontainebleau Las Vegas LLC declared bankruptcy. The construction site marks the end of the strip’s shimmering opulence, just steps from Vegas’ natural state of dark desolation.

 

If ‘Wanksta’ had come out and I was like, ‘I’m on fire!’ and then when it’s time to shoot the ‘In Da Club’ video with Eminem and Dr. Dre, I don’t show up. That’s exactly where [Keef’s] at in his career.  —50 Cent

 

The Interscope rep calls. The entire shoot has been scrapped. Keef hasn’t just missed flights; he’s decided not to do the shoot. 50 Cent places the blame on Keef’s management. “He has people around him that don’t know better,” Fifty says weeks later, in a phone interview. “Like if you in the neighborhood, you on fire in the neighborhood. I was that on ‘Wanksta.’ I could have really just stayed home and never shot the ‘In Da Club’ video. You know what kind of momentum I had on the mixtape circuit? So if ‘Wanksta’ had came out and I was like, ‘I’m on fire!’ The video’s out, everything is there, and then when it’s time to shoot the ‘In Da Club’ video with Eminem and Dr. Dre, I don’t show up. That’s exactly where Keef's at in his career.”

Peeda and Merk Murphy are two figures in Chicago’s hip-hop scene who have spent years throwing shows and promoting artists. Their company Payola, Inc. works closely with Keef’s primary manager, Dro. They’ve been involved with Keef since early on, and conducted his first interview in early January.

As the most visible adults involved in the career of the young artist, Keef’s management team has received considerable flack. Peeda Pan, who deals primarily with the rapper’s live bookings, is defensive about what his role in managing Chief Keef entails.

“The final decision is always going to be Keef’s,” Peeda explains. “Even though he’s a kid and a lot of people on the outside looking in say, ‘Oh, his management team doesn’t know what they’re doing,’ but these kids, this shit is like fuckin’ Lord of the Flies. Like fuckin’ Lost Boys for real. Him, Fredo, these kids basically raised themselves. They’re not used to having other men, grown men, tell them what they have to do.”

“Managing” Keef isn’t like a typical business relationship. Merk describes his function as similar to “the bumpers, to help it not fall off the road.” Between Merk, Dro, Peeda, Keef’s uncle, and Keef’s peers, there is a galaxy of voices pushing Keef in different directions. Ultimately Keef is the one around whom the entire camp rotates, and he calls the shots.

Peeda describes his strategy thus: “I present different options. I present the pros and cons to him, and I leave it up to him. I always, always end up saying, it’s up to you. Because he hates to feel like someone’s trying to pressure him. If you try to pressure him into doing something, he’s going to do the opposite to show you, ‘You can’t make me do some shit.’ At the end of the day, you’ve got to leave it up to him. It’s a rollercoaster because you might have to do some damage control, and take a fucked-up situation, and make a great situation out of a lot of fucked-up ones.”

Around Labor Day of 2012, in what Peeda describes as “Hell Week,” he had to deal with several no-shows, including one at BET’s 106 & Park. According to Peeda, BET reps threatened to ban him from the network, saying they wouldn’t play his videos or bring him on the air. “We missed shows for three reasons,” Peeda explains. “Either one, the probation department didn’t let him go, didn’t give him the authorization to leave Chicago. Two, the promoter in a market didn’t pay us the rest of our money. The third reason is that there’s a lot of people booking fake shows, that we don’t even know about.” So what happened during “Hell Week”? “Those remain mysteries,” Peeda says, somewhat enigmatically. “That’s what I was gonna say, number four, we do have a few shows that he’s missed due to reasons we have no idea why.”

But despite the no-shows, despite 50’s warnings that Interscope may pull the plug, and despite his management’s non-traditional relationship with the star, Chief Keef’s album is still being released on Interscope tomorrow, and his buzz is as hot as ever. Every time something happens, it seems to only further public fascination.

It’s a question of power. Unlike “In Da Club,” which was produced by Dr. Dre, “Hate Being Sober” was created by Keef’s teenage friend Young Chop. “He said 50 [Cent] was trying to get him to pay $30,000 to use 50’s people. He’s like, “I don’t want to do that, I want you to shoot the video,” said Video director D.Gainz. “It’s like, why pay $30,000 when I can get him to do it and it’s gonna generate the same attention?” Indeed, Keef continues shooting videos with Gainz in Chicago, for tracks that aren’t even on his new album. Keef’s success is a new kind, built upon a direct relationship to his fans. His label and his managers have nominal leverage over him at best, and although he’s stuck closely to the same team that he started with, he seems not to trust anybody to make decisions for him. After all, he got this far without their help.

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