"Soon as they like you, make them unlike you."
Chief Keef is my favorite rapper right now. Yes, still. It is my firm belief that he is the most genuinely experimental and progressive rap artist of his generation. Why? Because he does not give a fuck.
Think about how many times people have doubted him. In the summer of 2012, I remember people telling me that Keef would never have another "I Don't Like," and that he would go the way of so many other one-hit wonder trap phenomena. Two months later, "Love Sosa" became just as monumental. Imagine Bobby Shmurda somehow putting together another record on the level of "Hot Nigga" (which could still happen) at this point. But Keef did it, then proceeded to drop an album that reached a success thought impossible by his detractors, both critically and commercially.
Instead of continuing to pump out variations on the "I Don't Like" formula, he let his musical descendants fumble around trying to recreate that feeling, then began to play with a weirder sound.
Since his debut album, though, even fans of his early work have started to sway. After a couple lean-infused mixtapes, his sound has become something altogether unrecognizable. If Finally Rich represented the culmination of the bludgeoning aesthetic for which Keef and Young Chop had gained notoriety—and which his label packaged so neatly—his next move was to let that structure fall apart. Instead of continuing to pump out variations of the "I Don't Like" formula, he let his musical descendants fumble around trying to recreate that feeling, then began to play with a weirder sound. It became easy to hate, easy to write off as muddled and lazy.
People found it jarring, niche. His work came out hit or miss, which is what happens when you're doing something new. Moments of brilliance sat next to throwaway tracks. So if you weren't paying attention, you might have missed the good parts. People say he fell off, I say he's evolving. He's doing what Yeezus did. He's alienating fans who only wanted one thing from him. But for Keef it doesn't seem calculated the way it can with Kanye. Keef has always made music from the gut. He does what he feels. He takes creative risks, just instinctively. Sometimes that means coughing through his hook. Sometimes that means inventing a new time of day. The same state of mind that left 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa having existential crises on a dune buggy in the desert manifests in his music, from intonation to cadence to thematic patterning (imploring us to glo up). At the end of the day, his experimental deviations take me somewhere else. It's impressionistic—the opposite of, say, Kendrick's pointed technical artistry.
I don't care how much time you spent creating your art, or even honing your skill. I'm looking to feel something. Seeing graffiti that was made in one night by flashlight can affect some people more profoundly than seeing the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. That's what Keef is to me. His ability to not give a fuck through his music speaks to me on a very serious level. It's not a joke, it's not ironic false praise. When I listen to Keef, the crippling anxiety of everyday life goes away for that moment. And for that moment, I too do not give a fuck.
I think Bang 3 will surprise people the same way that Finally Rich did. I think the people behind Keef will take the sprawl of Keef's developments and again, consolidate it into something more palatable. This can be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, the result may be tightened, having extracted any filler (hopefully this doesn't end up excluding his most eccentric flourishes, on account of being too far out of left field, though the supposed Lil B feature bodes well for the project's willingness to be weird). On the other, we may have the "Hate Bein' Sober" effect, in which high profile guest spots ultimately dilute Keef's energy.
I suspect people will continue to be astounded at the idea that someone could even like Keef's music, let alone contextualize him as the experimental artist that he is, and to those I say: we've all got some glo'ing up to do.
Alex Russell is in his glo. Find him on Twitter @nonmogul.