Ever since Chief Keef stepped away from the too-hot-to-sustain spotlight in Chicago, relocated to L.A., parted ways with Interscope, and began producing, his music’s taken on a weirder, almost DIY edge. Self-produced tracks began leaking out in 2014, and in stark contrast to the hard-nosed, scene-defining drill that kicked off his career, they meandered, experimented, and in many cases, confused listeners. “Dear,” released one month before Keef’s big coming-out party as a producer, Back From The Dead 2, is the first one I remember startling me. Decidedly lo-fi and unpolished, the track was built around a spaghetti western-style whistle that reminded me of Organized Noize’s work on Big Boi‘s “The Train, Pt. 2” and had Keef sounding looser and funnier than usual, dropping zingers like, “I ain’t got no jets so I ride first class/I swear my fuckin’ seat turn into a bed/The pilot saw my eyes and said they awfully red/I told him ‘I get high as you, I’m the man.'” Since then, Keef’s balanced his weirder self-produced stuff with collaborations with more by-the-book producers like Chopsquad, DP Beats, Zaytoven, and now, on the newly-released Two Zero One Seven, trap architect Lex Luger.
Keef’s still in a weird place career-wise, and may be for the foreseeable future, barring someone offering him a fairly autonomous record deal (at this point it’s pretty clear he’s more content fucking around on Pro Tools and putting out music whenever he feels like it than he would be adding to his millions with a tightly-controlled major contract). His current position of freedom, maturity, and sheer oddballery is best emphasized by a moment on the excellent “Hit The Lotto” when he delivers the tape’s best smart-dumb punchline (“You can’t stand me? Get you a stool”) and then two bars later, offers a bit of wise advice that seems like the last thing he would have said as a popping 16-year-old phenom: “You gotta make investments, stop buying shoes.” For most rappers, the headaches Keef gave Interscope execs and his subsequent removal from the label would spell career death, but for Keef, it’s meant a new chance at life. He was forcibly removed from his Chicago throne by police and major labels, and now exiled in L.A., he’s smoking mountains of kush, riding dirt bikes, and becoming a self-taught enigma. Lil B and Soulja Boy paved the way for this type of rap career, but Keef, seemingly no longer interested in a major Twitter presence or petty beefs, might be the one to eventually perfect it.
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