NOTE: I added a sentence to my initial post to reflect Drake’s assertion Keef had a strong following in among Chicago public high school students prior to his arrest. I also corrected an error I made about when he performed his first two Chicago shows.
From the moment Pusha T breathes fire into it, Kanye West’s remix of Chicago ROY candidate Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like” is appointment listening. The verses from Kanye, Pusha, Jadakiss, and Big Sean crackle with urgency, Young Chop’s beat thumps, and Keef’s hook has a middle finger in the air bravado that makes this song born out of teen angst electrifying.
The “Don’t Like” remix inspired me to seek out more Chief Keef material — he has two mixtapes — and read up on him. In doing so, I came across a Gawker article published in March that declared him “hip hop’s next big thing.” After reading the article and listening to a half dozen Chief Keef tracks, I can confidently write such a label being placed on him is not only undeserved but a bogus attempt by the web site to garner page views. For those counting, the article generated more than 59,000 clicks.
Through the magic of Twitter, I shared my opinion about the article’s headline with David Drake, author of the Gawker article in question. I refrained from expressing the latter opinion (about page views). To make a statement like that about Gawker would have been redundant.
Drake’s piece offers insight into Keef’s background, and theorizes the rapper’s career path changed when he was arrested following an incident where someone in his crew pointed a gun at a Chicago police officer. Hip-hop’s next big thing is on house arrest at his grandma’s house, Gawker announces.
Keef, Drake noted, had a dedicated following among public high school students in Chicago, prior to his arrest. He parlayed this fanbase into two shows prior to his arrest, one of which allegedly drew 800 people. A large portion of the crowd knew the lyrics to Keef’s YouTube hit “Bang”, a concertgoer told Drake. Drake takes this account as gospel. There is no one from the club quoted as saying 800 people attended Keef’s show. I’ll give it to Drake: At least one-tenth of that number appears on the stage with Keef as he performs “Don’t Like” in the clip the writer sent me.
It is obvious Drake put a lot of effort into reporting and writing this piece. As a fellow journalist, I respect his effort. But it is also obvious he let his Keef fandom get in the way of challenging anything that would have disputed the headline’s suggestion. He uses WorldStarHipHop’s post of a Keef-related video and Soulja Boy’s remix of Keef’s “3Hunna” to support his next big thing claim – hardly enough evidence to declare Keef a big-timer outside the Windy City.
“Your article read like a PR creation,” I tweeted Drake. To his credit, he did not respond to my criticism with vitriol. Instead, he offered more insight into why he championed the young artist. None of that insight, however, convinced me I had tuned out a major new voice in hip hop.
Drake is not alone on the Keef bandwagon. Influential indie site Pitchfork gave his latest mixtape a strong review. Ironically, the reviewer, Jordan Sargent, also writes for Drake’s blog, So Many Shrimp.
Two Chicago-based music critics loving the same Chicago-based rapper does not a conspiracy make. I am not implying that. I understand Pitchfork would want to use a reviewer, presumably, more familiar with the scene and the sound. What I am getting at though is these two glowing reviews came from a small pool in Keef’s backyard and do not necessarily mean an important new voice in hip hop has arrived.
When I told Drake via Twitter I thought the beats backing Keef consistently outshone his wordplay, the writer informed me Keef did not aim for wordplay.
What does he aim for, I asked. He responded with Keef’s own words.
“I don’t sit down and ‘think,’ I write about what’s going on right now, what we just did, what just happened,” Drake wrote, referring to a statement Keef made during an interview the two had.
That sounds great, in theory. I would be willing to bet Keef has seen a lot in his 16 years. However, his words fail to evoke the harsh realities of someone growing up in homicide-ridden Chicago. Instead, he chants about Anywhere USA standards like ho’s, weed, and guns.
Yes, I said chants. He does not rap. Hip-hop’s would-be savior does not rap. At least not in the context I think of when I think of someone rapping like, say, Pusha T or Kanye do on the “Don’t Like” remix.
When I listen to Keef, I hear a less polished, less talented, more derivative version of Waka Flocka Flame. Waka doesn’t do much for me either, but at least he goes hard in the paint.