Is Chief Keef worth the hype? Critics and commentators wonder if Interscope’s multi-million dollar investment in the 17-year-old gangster rapper from Chicago was worth it in sales. His recent album, Finally Rich, sold a projected 55,000 units in the first week.
Some question the Internet-to-radio rapper’s staying power and timing. As celebrities use YouTube to advocate for gun reform in light of national massacres, some ask if it is appropriate to support the rapper whose rhymes range from menacing to misogynistic to materialistic.
What about the rapper’s ascension through the world wide web? It could appear that the medium that brought Keef fame, and to some infamy, didn’t convert viewing histories into deeper pockets.
At press time Googling Chief Keef returned 36 million results in less than a quarter of a second. The New York Times recently profiled the rapper, who has more than 450,000 Twitter followers. Keef is a big deal in certain younger circles.
Spin Magazine’s Jordan Sargent wrote about Keef’s youth and blatant tendencies. Sargent said that the teen “writes for, and thrives within, a generation that uses ALL-CAPS phrases as emblems on social-media sites, but that’s not to say that he shuts out anyone who can legally buy a drink.”
The rapper became better known because of his summertime “manthem”, “I Don’t Like.” Keef’s song featured hip-hop heavyweights, Pusha T, Jadakiss and fellow Chicagoan, Kanye West.
Keef’s rhymes convey troubling messages; however, the teen also has universal moments (read: giddiness). In an interview, Keef, who is often awkward, lit up when discussing Kanye West’s appearance on “I Don’t Like.” West’s usage of a Keef rap ad-lib, “bang-bang”, added to the teen’s seeming elation.
What’s now joyful for Keef is uncomfortable for some others. They wonder if he speaks his truth, capitalizes on urban dysfunction or both.
Then there’s an icy tactlessness that further intensifies the debate. Keef took considerable criticism this fall when a tweet posted from his Twitter page mocked a slain rival rapper. Keef later said his account was hacked.
Many in the hip-hop community inquired about his functionality. Is he at fault for off-putting behavior when he is internally stymied? Keef has Asperger’s Syndrome, a pervasive developmental disorder that stifles socialization and communication skills. This type of autism can also stunt imagination.
Even so, what if the bang-bang performance is overdone? Gangster rap and violent culture aren’t new, but they are especially painful when murdered 7-year-olds predominate the nightly news. Lackluster initial support of Finally Rich could be consumers’ way of saying, “Too soon.”
Maybe consumers sided with Chicago native and rapper Lupe Fiasco. Fiasco said, “Chief Keef scares me. Not him specifically, but just the culture that he represents….”
Keef is a young black man from a struggling area. His experiences bring a magnifying glass to a city of limitless possibility, (First Lady Michelle Obama) and systemic poverty. That spectrum is America.
As everybody, from legislators to culture critics to kids watching YouTube on their smartphones, grapples with a nation reeling from violence, masses have power.
Art speaks to society. Modern culture allows Lupe Fiascos. It also permits Keefs and younger performers of a similar ilk. Thirteen-year-old rapper Lil’ Mouse spits rhymes as dangerous, propagandistic and unfit for printing in this publication, as rappers thrice his age. In response to the attention, Mouse tweeted a hashtag about the copious cash he supposedly gets. #hellabandz Keef’s money-centric tweets are similar to Mouse’s.
Although gun talks continue, so should economic conversations, as society faces the music that tells on its culture. In the pre-9/11, pre-housing bubble and pre-recession year 2000, a 13-year-old performer named Lil’ Bow Wow rapped about impressing girls, puppy love and going on dates to Six Flags.
When a 17-year-old in 2012 rapped about cocaine, informants and gang life, to obtain his version of the American Dream, time will tell who listened.