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While Interscope, 50 Cent, and Wiz Khalifa waited for him in the desert, the real secret of Chief Keef's story was playing out back in Chicago.
This feature is a part of Complex's "Finally Rich" Week.
Written by David Drake (@SoManyShrimp)
Early afternoon, November 15, 2012; Las Vegas, Nevada.
Inside Joe’s Crab Shack at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, a team from Interscope Records is awaiting the early-afternoon arrival of 17-year-old Chief Keef in Las Vegas. They have just discovered that Keef missed his flight and won’t be arriving until around 3 p.m. They seem unsurprised.
Chicago rapper Chief Keef—born Keith Cozart—is the most talked-about new talent of 2012, and one of the most hated new rappers in recent memory. While some rap critics consider him a hands-down pick for rookie of the year, others insist he can’t rap, or worse, that he's a harmful influence on the culture. Still, his sudden rise from obscurity to superstardom has had a fairytale-like arc. Keef is heading to Las Vegas to film the video for “Hate Being Sober” from his major label debut, Finally Rich; the song, produced by Keef’s go-to Chicago heatmaker Young Chop, has the potential to be a major smash, even without its guest spots from established superstars 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa. The cost of the shoot is reportedly, at minimum, $30,000. The production stands in stark contrast to the teenage star’s low-budget videos, many of which were shot in his grandmother’s Washington Park apartment. The plan is for today’s shoot to take place in the Nevada desert, about an hour outside of Vegas. 50 Cent has taken a personal interest in the production, hand-picking the video crew. All Keef has to do is show up.
Just under one year earlier, on November 24, 2011, Chief Keef performed his first-ever concert, a surprise appearance in a south suburb of Chicago called Markham, Illinois. The venue was Adrianna’s, a hot spot for both local and touring artists over the past two years. Keef performed four songs from his solo mixtape Bang, including his first viral smash of the same name. His main producer at the time, a Japanese immigrant named DJ Kenn, captured the frenetic show on video. Watching the clip, it was clear that Keef had already become a local superstar to a large subsection of teenagers on Chicago’s South Side. Adrianna’s that night was divided into two different sections by age; during Keef’s performance, one concertgoer estimated that more than 800 kids in the under-21 section were shouting Keef’s lyrics back at him.
Two days later, on November 26, Keef performed his second concert. Initially scheduled for The Harambee House, the show was shut down by police, who were reportedly concerned about Keef’s gang affiliations. (The show was moved at the last minute to Cafe Peninsula in Riverdale, Illinois.) His lyrics are full of references and shout-outs to specific sets, cliques and blocks. For many Chicago teens, where you’re from and who you represent is of great significance, particularly in certain South Side neighborhoods. On November 28, videographer D.Gainz published “Aimed At You,” his second collaboration with Chief Keef on his YouTube channel. He described the shoot to Complex earlier this year: “It wasn’t anybody out there when we pulled up [in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood]. It was just me, him, and his manager Dro. I just remember turning around and hella people came out there all of a sudden, trying to get in the video.” The people he speaks of were mostly school-age kids. “I was seeing the little kids singing and knew the words to the song. They brought a gun, I was like, What the hell? It was crazy to me, and it was like, I wanted people to see what I was seeing.”
50 Cent has taken a personal interest in the production, hand-picking the video crew. All Keef has to do is show up.
A week later, on December 4, Chicago police responded to a report of gunshots in the Washington Park neighborhood. Reportedly, a suspect had pointed a gun at one of the officers. Although no one was hurt, Keef was arrested, and false rumors began swirling on Twitter that he had been involved in a shootout with police. He was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. He read about himself from juvenile detention. “You can’t get on the Internet, they block a lot of shit, but somehow I got a little Mac,” he recalled later. He wanted to show his people the performance at Adrianna’s, but it wasn’t easy. “I was maxin’ shit, I got a Mac laptop. Somehow this one let me get on—normally, you type in Google, you can’t get on Google, Bing, Yahoo!, shit!.... I checked on Facebook it didn’t work, I checked on YouTube, it didn’t work, but it worked on Google and it worked on Twitter. I get on Twitter. I typed in “Chief Keef performs at Adrianna’s”—somehow that article [on Keef’s arrest] came up.”
At the top of 2012, Chief Keef, a 16-year-old high school dropout, was sentenced to 30 days’ house arrest, followed by 30 days of home confinement. In the meantime, his star continued to rise amongst local teens. “Bang” was already the most popular video on D.Gainz’ YouTube channel, and “Aimed At You” was buzzing as well. On January 2, a video of one of his enthusiastic young fans rapping along to “Aimed at You” hit Worldstar Hip Hop. Suddenly, an artist who had been a secret amongst Chicago teenagers was thrown onto a wider stage. Collaborations followed, as Lil B and Soulja Boy reached out to the rapper. Making good use of his house arrest, Keef met demand by completing his Back from the Dead mixtape, which was released on March 12.
Dominoes began to fall. Kanye West remixed his biggest song to that point, the catchy, aggressive “I Don’t Like,” pushing him further into the spotlight. (Producer Young Chop didn’t like the remix, which features Ye, Pusha T, Jadakiss, and Big Sean, and said he felt disrespected that West changed the beat without speaking to him first.) Meanwhile T.I. was calling Keef “the voice of the youth.” On June 17, it was revealed that Keef had signed to Interscope Records as part of a multi-million-dollar label deal that included film rights and Beats By Keef headphones. His buzz grew louder throughout the year, with “Hate Being Sober”—an over-the-top party anthem featuring one of 50 Cent’s strongest verses in recent memory—promising to be Keef’s big potential crossover moment.
Which brings us back to the video shoot in Vegas. Keef still has not arrived, but he has become a dominant conversational flashpoint. Talking about Keef involves pushing forward tidbits of knowledge like puzzle pieces, as if with enough data, we could possibly comprehend the Keef phenomenon. One Interscope rep reveals that soon after this writer’s Gawker article was published on Keef on March 12, there was a major-label bidding war for the 16-year-old star.
Part of the fascination stems from his mysterious relationship to violence and street culture as well as the epidemic of crime now gripping Chicago. Homicides in the nation’s third-largest city are up 38 percent in 2012, when it was already twice as violent as Los Angeles and three times as deadly as New York. Somehow, Keef has become a poster boy or a scapegoat for all this violence, as if a 17-year-old kid held all the answers. As if stopping his rise from the streets to a successful career would stem the tide of bloodshed.
Oddly enough, one Chicagoan has managed to make it to his Vegas gig; former Bears legend Dick Butkus is signing autographs on the Forum’s first floor. The spectacle of the Forum, like much of Vegas, has a perverse beauty, considering it is more or less a glorified shopping mall, with stores for virtually every designer brand represented. Vegas might be a timeworn metaphor for America, and it’s already a notorious locale in hip-hop. But the garish proximity between the glamorous decadence and the hopeless desperation feels particularly apropos.
By 3 p.m., word comes down that Keef has missed his flight again, and won’t be arriving until around 6 p.m. The camera crew, 50 Cent, and Wiz Khalifa have been waiting on his arrival for hours. The shoot in the desert is scrapped, and if any production will happen tonight, it will take place in the evening, at a location not far from the gleaming Vegas strip, as soon as Keef arrives.
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.
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.
May 15, 2012; Dro City, Chicago
While incarcerated Chicago superstar and former Kanye collaborator Bump J is the godfather of millennial Chicago gangster rap, the story of drill music begins with a rapper named Pac Man. A gruff, dreadlocked street star who was killed in 2010, Pac Man (also known as Larro) had collaborated with the L.E.P. Bogus Boys, released several mixtapes, and was one of the city’s buzzing street artists. Keef may be the national face of Chicago’s drill scene, but up until late last year, he was only a peripheral figure from nearby 64th and King Drive. Pac Man was from Dro City, and Dro City is where drill music began.
Keef may be the national face of Chicago’s drill scene, but up until late last year, he was only a peripheral figure from nearby 64th and King Drive. Pac Man was from Dro City, and Dro City is where drill music began.
Running along Woodlawn between 63rd and 67th Streets. Dro City was named for resident Samuel Spicer, known as Sajo, or Dro for short. He was killed in 2007; after which, Dro City became known for more than just music (“Based on the things that happened with him, our name was put in a lot of people’s mouths, good or bad. That’s the only way I can put it in an interview,” says Big Homie Doe, a neighborhood resident whose 2009 hit ("Whaddup") made him one of the best-known rap artists at that time.) The next year, King Louie’s debut, Boss Shit, introduced a new Dro City star, but Pac Man was the focal point of the movement. Widely credited with coining the term ‘drill,’ Pac Man had a raggedly charismatic voice that animated tracks like “My Dreads” and “Dro Style.” The latter song, and its accompanying dance (later popularized by King Louie, then Lil Mouse as “the money dance”) perfectly conveyed the unique culture of a community that developed in isolation, with limited exposure to the wider world.
Big Homie Doe explained the origins of the drill movement while standing in a Dro City alley one unusually hot May afternoon. Approaching the back door of an apartment, Doe pointed to a place where pieces of the brick had been gouged out by bullets during an attempt on Pac Man’s life several years before. Inside the apartment, which had a steady influx of guests wandering in and out, was a jack-of-all-trades named Joel Faulkner. Older than the average Dro City resident, Joel has long watched the scene develop, and was the videographer who shot Pac Man’s video for “Dro Style.”
If the atmosphere outside felt tense, inside Joel, Doe, and rapper Boss Woo enthusiastically shared their stories, talking proudly about the way their culture had permeated the city—first through the mixtape trade, and more recently via YouTube. Pac Man had been saying “drill” three years ago, but the rest of the city had just caught on in the past twelve months. The word drill, as they explained, could mean shooting, but it could apply to other aspects of life as well. “Everybody gets it twisted—drill ain’t just shootin’ and killin’,” explained Boss Woo. “You could be drillin’ having a ball at a party. If you havin’ a good time, you’re drillin'.”
The Dro City rappers of Doe’s generation are several years removed from Keef’s, but they’re sympathetic to how he’s been misunderstood. Doe observes that many times, outsiders don’t understand the references he’s making because they are so neighborhood-specific. Certain lyrics in Keef’s “3hunna” about Tooka Gang are disrespectful, and hearing someone shouting them in the wrong club could be dangerous. The Tooka Gang was named after one of their own who had been killed. The awkward cultural clashes and misconceptions continue on Keef’s major label debut. On “Diamonds,” a musical highlight from the record, Keef talks about riding on the Brick Squad GDs, the same gang that murdered rapper Jojo claimed. Whether the label fully understands the lyrics or not, for a major label to be marketing music about real-life neighborhood turf wars to an international audience captures one of the uncomfortable realities of gangster rap. The ironies are compounded: For months, Keef’s Twitter page has been styled like the hyper-violent and perennially controversial Grand Theft Auto video game cover art; next year, “Love Sosa” will be included in the game soundtrack.
But where does one draw the line of responsibility? “I don’t discriminate, but I have limits,” said D.Gainz, who remains cautious about how guns are used in his videos, but has accepted his role with an artist often accused of glorifying violence. “I know what my motives were,” he says. “I seen Keef’s potential.”
Finally Rich lives up to that potential. Musically, it’s a unique, accomplished album. Chief Keef’s music inspires a lot of talk about its unrelentingly grimness, its bleak, even nihilistic outlook. But on an emotional level, Keef’s music is hardly bleak at all—primarily, it’s party music. Still, much of what he says is steeped in the language of violence because his context is violent, something most of his newer listeners are privileged to ignore. But “I Don’t Like,” contrary to its titular message, is joyous. As he vents, there’s the feeling of a dam breaking open, of therapeutic release. “Kaykay,” named for his daughter, has a particularly strong emotive power because of Keef’s own story, and the heart-tugging pull of his rags-to-riches origins. The reason the track is affecting is because his story resonates. It’s much like the contradiction inherent in “drill”—drill means shootings, or it means partying. There’s no separation between them, because shootings have become as much a part of life as going to parties.
That doesn’t make it easy to stomach. The dreamy “Citgo,” a bonus track, includes the lyric “my boys shoot up the playground.” Considering Chicago’s backdrop of violence—and the recent atrocity in a Connecticut elementary school—this imagery is flat-out nauseating.
Chief Keef’s newsworthiness comes, in part, because of his how music is positioned across all kinds of faultlines: cultural clashes, racial segregation, economic divides between haves and have nots. But perhaps the most potent catalyst for controversy is his age. His youthfulness grants him an innocence even as it forces society to recognize its own complicity. If he were an adult, he could be dismissed as a “thug” and victimizer. If he were completely innocent, his actions could be waved off as those of a child, and someone might try to save him. Instead, he sits right at the intersection of victim and self-made aggressor.
It’s not just the shocking juxtaposition of a teenager reveling in conspicuous drug use and handguns. That’s nothing new in hip-hop. Mobb Deep’s The Infamous explored those exact themes back in 1995. With Keef there are onion-layer levels of generational conflict, jagged tears between old and new hip-hop heads, within generations of gangster rap, and within Chicago’s streets.
Just after Keef was born—in the late 1990s and early 2000s—the Chicago housing authority demolished much of what had been the country’s largest network of public housing. The destruction of the housing projects upended communities and sent the poor teeming into the South Side suburbs. It also scattered gang members across the city and law enforcement wasted no time stepping in. RICO cases were brought against entire blocks. Gang leadership was decimated, as elders were scooped into the penal system. Gangs became fractured; the sense, particularly among the older generation, was that gang violence has become an uncontrollable chaotic force, driven by intoxicated teenagers devoid of remorse or empathy. Many observers considered them monsters or savages. To many older Chicagoans who recall a more authoritarian gang era, Keef represents all the worst traits of this widened generation gap. In an interview with a Baltimore radio station earlier this year, Lupe Fiasco claimed that Keef “scared” him, and observed that Chicago’s killers looked like Keef. What he neglected to mention was that Chicago’s victims, by and large, look like Keef too.
In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, President Obama addressed gun violence directly, making it clear that it would be wrong to write off any kids, no matter where they live: “Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.”
Mamie Till-Mobely Park, not far from Joel’s, in the very center of Dro City, is where the locally-famous 64th Street cipher video—featuring Boss Woo, Fatzmack and deceased rappers Pac Man and Sno Boy, amongst others—was filmed. It is noticeable in the background of the video, but is especially striking in person, as children run around while their mothers watch from the sidelines: at the heart of Dro City is a playground.
May 27, 2012; The Wild 100s, Chicago
Keef and his grandmother have been moved by his management to a spot in the 100s on Chicago’s far South Side, likely for their own protection. A videographer doing a documentary on Chicago hip-hop wants to interview Keef. He hasn’t been given the address for the rapper’s new location; instead, he meets Peeda Pan at a Walgreens parking lot nearby. Dro’s phone is dead, and Peeda can’t get in touch, so he hangs out in the parking lot waiting to get word as night begins to fall. Shortly after Peeda Pan arrives, a police SUV rolls up behind him and sits in the parking lot, idling.
While waiting to hear from Keef or Dro, Peeda discusses Keef’s potential moves. Birdman had recently stated that he would do anything to sign the rapper, and Young Jeezy and Waka’s Brick Squad are both rumored to have deals in the works. For the first time, Peeda hints at a name that hasn’t come up in the press to this point: Interscope Records.
Still no word from Dro. Peeda gets back in his car and leads the way to a quiet residential block. The phone rings. He’s on the move again, this time to the Loft. The “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa” videos were shot in the Loft, the same place where Young Jeezy first met the young rapper. The windows on the Loft's front door are covered in black, and a wooden two-by-four is used to brace the door shut from the inside. At the top of the stairs on the second floor, about half-a-dozen people are scattered throughout the spacious apartment. There is little furniture. A flat screen is up against the wall, and couches intersect in the middle of the main room. The attached kitchen has a marble island. Dro and Tadoe are both there, and everyone is talking in low voices. Each face is a mask. In Dro City, there was a sense of camaraderie. In the Loft, there’s an unspoken divide.
Suddenly, Keef and Lil Reese sweep into the room. The second they arrive, the room falls completely silent. There’s an uncomfortable, tense stillness. Keef sits and almost immediately nods off, still upright. Reese talks, briefly, but keeps his eyes up. At that moment, the complications of the scenario are laid bare, triggering numerous questions: Who has power, in this room, right now, and what unspoken truths keep those people in charge? How does Chief Keef’s sudden rise to fame throw these relationships into an imbalance?
What keeps you from robbing the first smaller person you see walking down the street? It’s the social contract, that sense of empathy, the understanding that we are all, at times, vulnerable. Our safety depends on the unstated assumption that we can trust other people not to take advantage of our weakness. But what happens in a place where that contract gets shredded? And how powerful is music that can affirm a feeling of humanity in that void?
Fifteen minutes after he arrives, Reese walks over and snaps a bandana playfully against Keef’s head. Keef wakes up, stands up, and he and Reese walk toward the front door without saying a word, the interview forgotten. They get into an all-black SUV with black-tinted windows; Keef’s is the only one open. He looks up, waves up at onlookers in the Loft, and as the black window slides shut, the SUV pulls away and Chief Keef disappears.
This feature is a part of Complex's "Finally Rich" Week.