Chief Keef - Finally Rich

If you’re willing to publicly admit to enjoying Chief Keef’s music, you’re going to have to deal with a few uncomfortable realities. For one thing, he certainly presents himself to the world as a pretty loathsome human being: Pointing guns at cops, laughing on Twitter over a teenager’s death, annoying everyone he works with when he no-shows his own video shoots. Of course, there’s context there. For one thing, he’s 17, and every 17-year-old is a loathsome human being. (Sorry, 17-year-olds, but you know it’s true.) And for another, he comes from a place so cold and merciless and utterly devoid of hope that his general disposition makes a lot of sense. David Drake’s long and excellent Complex piece on the rapper spells it all out: This is someone now being paid millions of dollars to rap about his block-to-block neighborhood turf disputes on a massively hyped album, and who now has to worry about the shifting power dynamic between himself and the legitimately terrifying people who put him in a position to succeed. How is a teenager supposed to make any sense of any of this? He isn’t. Instead, he retreats into a weed-cloud of chaos, because that’s where he’s most comfortable, and he treats any outsiders as potential hostiles, because maybe they are. The good news is this: You do not have to hang out with Chief Keef. It doesn’t matter if you like him. And if you’re wringing your hands at his ascent, you’re depriving yourself of the brutally effective hunk of thud-rap that he’s released into the world today. Don’t do that.

Keef, lately, has been taking fire from a few different sides. On one, there’s a grandly clueless Jim DeRogatis piece (not linking it, sorry) that actually draws parallels between Keef’s rise and the Connecticut kindergarten massacre, which is just willfully dumb and risible; these are two contexts with absolutely nothing to do with each other. But the other big line on Keef — and DeRo indulges in some of this too — is that he can’t rap. On any sort of objective metric, that’s a fair criticism, but it ignores the way his voice works in the context of his own music. Making the music that he makes, Chief Keef does not have to verbally dazzle us. If he did, actually, the effect might be lessened. Instead, he charges ahead with a simple, sinister arrogance, sneering and snarling at anyone and everything around him. The way he yells, “Shut the fuck up” on the intro is classic teenager-temper stuff, and so is the rest of the album, albeit done in a more measured and authoritative way. And when his voice swarms at us the way it does on the apocalyptic opener “Love Sosa,” it takes on the same sort of monolithic lizard-brain power as a Black Sabbath riff. He makes music for punching dashboards, and a handful of songs on Finally Rich are basically perfect platonic ideals of that style.

I don’t know what’s happening in major labels right now, but even a year ago, Keef’s big-money debut would’ve been A&R’ed to death. He would’ve been pushed to throw in club songs, reflective R&B love songs, songs about sneakers. Somehow, though, that doesn’t really happen anymore. Young rappers on major labels are getting chances to make albums that present their aesthetics fully and completely. Maybe it’s just that these labels don’t have the energy and money to workshop something to death the way they once did, so they’re just scooping up artists and throwing their shit out there in the hope that something sticks. That’s been a great thing. On the one hand, it gives us something like Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, a work of stunning scope and ambition that never pauses to let us catch up. On the other, there’s Finally Rich, a visceral elbow-smash of a record that never rips Keef out of his extremely narrow comfort zone. It has stapled-on big-name guests, but those guests have to force themselves on to Keef’s wavelength, not vice versa. Listening to it keeps you in that same cathartic fuck-shit-up headspace. Tempramentally, its practically a Watain record, and it’s fun to throw it on headphones while you’re holiday shopping and hating all the crowds of people around you.

But the album isn’t exactly the blast of animosity that I’ve been selling it as, either. It has plenty of make-you-bleed threats, but they aren’t the heart of the album. Instead, it’s about being young and rich and high out of your brain. There’s not much joy or exhilaration in the album, but there is a sense of escape, of pushing yourself headlong into oblivion. Keef’s Auto-tuned gargle, when he uses it, isn’t too far removed from the wounded-alien thing that Future does so beautifully. And even if Future’s vulnerability isn’t in there, his spaciness is. Bits and piece of techno sweep work their way in, but they’re detuned and degraded, sounding like the music in a club might sound if you were too fucked up to properly hear it. Mostly, though, the music is awesomely hard and dark and direct, all swells and booms and spine-tingle bells. “Hate Bein Sober” is built on a gasping synth that reminds me of the Art Of Noise’s “Moments In Love.” The endless “haw-haw-haw” refrain on “Laughin To The Bank” is so deliriously annoying that I sort of love it; it’s like something Johnny Rotten would’ve thought of. Keef’s longtime producer Young Chop did most of the album, keeping his ferocious kick firmly in place, and major-label mastering has done wonders for it. The bass levels are high enough that it makes my 2002 Dodge Caravan sound like an exploding mortar.

Finally Rich, then, is probably the best album of the year to use if you want to make your neighbors hate you. On its own merits, it succeeds wildly.

Finally Rich is out now on Interscope.

Other albums of note out this week:
• T.I.’s frequently great, intermittently aimless comeback effort Trouble Man: Heavy Lies The Head.
• The willfully messy old-meets-new Django Unchained soundtrack.
• The Fool’s Gold dance-rap compilation Loosies.
• The-Dream’s studio version of last year’s 1977 mixtape.

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Comments (39)
  1. Hate Bein’ Sober merits this spot alone, especially with it featuring the best 50 Cent verse in years; good write up.

  2. No stereogum. Please no. This is a miss. It may be enjoyable at a party or a social occasion but honestly I thought the album of the week segment denoted albums of critical merit, works of more substance. I think it’d be quite a stretch to say theres much substance or any depth to the work on this album.

    ” He isn’t. Instead, he retreats into a weed-cloud of chaos, because that’s where he’s most comfortable, and he treats any outsiders as potential hostiles, because maybe they are. The good news is this: You do not have to hang out with Chief Keef. It doesn’t matter if you like him. And if you’re wringing your hands at his ascent, you’re depriving yourself of the brutally effective hunk of thud-rap that he’s released into the world today. Don’t do that.”

    Effective yes. But deserving of accolades for achievement? for creating something new and unique? I’d argue not, it is a good album, but nothing exceptional that hasn’t been done before, he’s just the newest and has the most hype in trap at the moment. But maybe it was a slow week and there wasn’t much else of note, so that could make sense. However I just feel like it needs to be pointed out that trying to talk about something hyper critically or in depth is impossible to do if the depth is not within the work itself.

    Also, I’m 17. 17 year olds are not all loathsome human beings, that is a ridiculous generalization.

  3. What bothers me about this write-up is its assertion that a work of art can be considered separately from its moral dimension. Maybe it can be, but I’m not comfortable with the idea that if something is ethically unsound, we should simply set that aside and enjoy it anyway.

  4. As slightly unethical as this album may appear to be, which I, like Tom, chalk up mostly to the myopic worldview of Keef as a 17 year old, I don’t think anything can hold a candle to Eminem murdering his wife on “Kim”, and that didn’t stop all the accolades from pouring in. Of course this isn’t a landmark rap album, but I wouldn’t say there is anything overtly disgusting or morally reprehensible on the album, just a sense of slight amorality which I think is easy to ignore since this is basically party music, not anything to pour over and analyse through your Beats headphones.

    • Really good point. It’s hard to uncouple Keef from his horrible actions partly based on how much they’re overhyped in pieces like the one on Gawker. While Gawker definitely created interesting reporting with that, its general point was “ohmygodguys, this up and coming thug rapper is a violent psychopath.” Well obviously, that’s kind of what thug rappers are or at least that’s how they try and present themselves.

      It’s like Tom saying the misogony on Bitches Aint Shit is unfortunate — I guess, but it also is and always has been a huge part of rap and it’s appeal. There’s been a ton of rap with deep lyrical content or at least content outside of bitches, violence, drugs, and undeserved wealth. But usually the best, or at least most consistent shit is all about being a generally terrible, or at least ignorant/self-serving, human being.

  5. The fact that you cite then openly refuse to link to an article by a music critic expressing his criticism — writing him off as “grandly clueless” and expecting us to take your word for it — already puts you in a pretty indefensible position. With the wave of shootings there’s going to be a lot of hand-wringing and moral tsk-tsking around this sort of thing, but that doesn’t having a discussion of violence in popular culture wrong.

    Assuming his moral preaching is why you didn’t provide a link, and not just because you disagree with his opinion: “Chief Keef is a thick-tongued, mush-mouthed rapper with little grace and stilted flow who stumbles through generic, unimaginative, frequently plodding and numbingly repetitive backing tracks bragging with little imagination and forced conviction about his bad-ass self and utter disregard for anyone else in the universe.”

    • I mean, people can google it if they want. But I found his piece so self-aggrandizing and preachy and righteous that I was sorry I read it, and I didn’t much want to direct traffic in his direction. I don’t think I mischaracterized his argument at all.

      • Actually, you did misrepresent DeRogatis’ article, as he did not, as you state, “[draw] parallels between Keef’s rise and the Connecticut kindergarten massacre.” He didn’t do that. When he speaks about it, only in the first five or so sentences of his article, he essentially states his position that he thought that any album that glorifies the profligation of violence, especially in the context of the murders in Newtown, would have been universally condemned.

        That’s a lot different than drawing parallels, and that’s just not arguing semantics or splitting hairs.

        • It read like parallel drawing to me. But more importantly, Chief Keef sucks.

          • Wrong. 3hunna is the best rap song of the year by a long shot. Chief Keef is really goodI figured Tom was going to give this album of the week, and Im glad he did, because I was getting a little annoyed that it wasn;t being talked about on this site. His album is better than Kendrik Lamars, by a pretty large amount. This shit is like Mobb Deep 2012. Really scary stuff.

  6. I know it’s a bad idea to be the one who disagrees, but I honestly can’t believe SG chose this for the album of the week. It’s so unimpressive it hurts. There are far better rap albums that have come out recently and there are far better trunk busting albums that have come out recently. I could care less of the ethical implications that others have commented on, because I’m more annoyed with the musical aspect of it. Some beats are solid and could actually really lead to something if there was someone better rapping over them, but Keef doesn’t have one song that gives me any reason to consider him album of the week.
    The 50 Cent verse was pretty great though.

  7. Hey Tom, that’s not Keef on the intro, it’s a sample of this Youtube video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaEdQV7_6dE

  8. ‘its general point was “ohmygodguys, this up and coming thug rapper is a violent psychopath.”’

    huh?

  9. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood, Connor Oberst, Prince, David Bowie, Bjork, Fiona Apple… I’ll stop, you were wrong enough already.

  10. Jeez – since when did Album of the Week become so sacred?

  11. “I don’t like” — SG commentors

  12. I don’t understand Chief Keef. Will someone explain why he’s worth discussing? i get the ethical dilemma thing, but I don’t understand why someone would listen to him in the first place. There’s nothing, that I hear, that distinguishes him from hundreds of other rappers that have nothing interesting, innovative, or intelligent to offer. There’s plenty of good hip hop out there, but this is just typical junk/dance hip-hop. Why is he so much more special than any of these throwaway rappers?

  13. I wonder if when he was a little boy the other kids called him Chief Queef to tease him. Kids can be so cruel.

  14. this album b.s. of the week i wouldnt even call this a album more of a collaboration of 98% mixtape material….i guess interscope done it again signing garbage giving garbage out,…don’t tell me you all going waste your 12.99 on this bulls*** go buy some red wine & download this shit for free and when u listebn to it …delete it

  15. this is a joke right?

  16. I feel sorry for you Breihan, and your ilk, in that you have to be a music critic/reviewer in these times, for rap music, in particular. To assign this project any merit whatsoever (Album of the Week, even. Really?!?) must have been a very daunting task. The best that I can say for this album after listening to it last night, is that it wasn’t as bad as I had expected it would be. The classic artists and albums are few and far between in these times of McDonald’s drive-thru music. Thank god I was able to experience the Old School through the two Golden Ages of rap.

  17. Tom I like the point you make in the third paragraph. Part of what makes albums like Good Kid M.A.A.D City, Based on a T.R.U. Story, and Channel ORANGE so successful is that they feel like a singular vision.

  18. I really liked this album. I also thought Zan with that Lean pt. 2 was one of the best songs I have ever heard in my entire life. Some people just like this stuff you guys.

  19. Guys its not like there was a wide choice of albums to choose for this. It was basically either this or T.I.’s album. And most people don’t even know T.I.’s album exists.

  20. His music sounds wafer thin to me. I can understand how a lot of you guys might like it. I suppose it makes good party music. Just not my thing. Too much great rap this year for this thing to be getting so much attention.

  21. Forget about Chief Keef, did anyone notice that Capital STEEZ killed himself immediately after Pro Era dropped their new mixtape over the weekend? RIP

  22. this album, thats that shit i don’t like

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