Chief Keef’s Influence Is as Strong as Ever
Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches his attention.
Nine recent tracks that speak to Chief Keef’s impact on a new generation of artists
Everyone knows Chief Keef had a seismic impact on the sound of rap in the 2010s. But even as we enter a new decade and get further away from his commercial peak, a new batch of young artists is once again looking to Keef for inspiration. During my daily scrolls through the underworld of SoundCloud throughout this year, I would often find songs that nodded to different pockets of his deep catalog, tracks that doubled-down on the brooding chaos of Back From the Dead, the Auto-Tune experimentation of Bang Pt. 2, or the weirdness of Almighty So. Here are nine of those tracks from 2021 that owe a debt, intentionally or not, to specific highlights from Keef’s vast body of work.
There are only two reasonable responses to “Playing Wit Da Autotune”: What the hell is this bullshit? or What the hell is this bullshit—please play it again. For years now, Georgia’s Duwap Kaine has not been afraid to embrace the least commercially appealing elements of his music. His lack of concern with structure, tendency to prioritize experimentation over cohesiveness, and willingness to push a sound to its limits (even if that limit might be insufferable) feels in line with Keef at his most uncompromising. On this track, Duwap cranks the Auto-Tune up to a level that’s more annoying than a car alarm going off directly outside your bedroom window. He sounds like a malfunctioning robot. It’s sick.
The internet is an amazing place, because one day you could just find out that a teenager revamping 2013 Keef through the lens of modern-day SoundCloud happens to also be the son of R&B singer Monica and “U.O.E.N.O.” rapper Rocko. Rodneyy’s self-produced track “Bummy” sounds like it was made during a weekend-long binge of Almighty So with a Blu-ray of Blade Runner 2049 on repeat in the background.
It’s funny that Portland upstart Yeat has become a face of “rage rap,” because on his most memorable songs he actually sounds numb. On “Bak on Em,” his heavily filtered vocals wipe away all emotions as they’re consumed by a beat so drowned-out that the only immediately recognizable sound is a chiming bell. It’s the furthest he stepped outside of his comfort zone on his recent tape Up 2 Më—and maybe the best track on it, too.
There are some Bloody! songs that sound so much like Keef that simply listening to them will make a pair of Trues magically appear in your closet. “Cappin” isn’t one of those, but the way it layers clashing melodies on top of one another is very much in tune with Keef’s spirit. It’s hard to focus on more than a single element at a time, turning the song into a choose-your-own-adventure journey. Every listen is an opportunity to discover something that didn’t seem like it was there before.
Lil Yen isn’t attempting to reimagine the work of Keef and Gucci Mane as much as he’s just recreating it. Sometimes he’s pretty good at it, though. “Commas” could have been a leftover from that early Keef era when Young Chop’s beat curation somehow convinced the world Keef was a pop star. The song doesn’t really bring anything new to the sound, but it’s still pretty fun to hear Yen try to transform into one of Keef’s shadow clones.
South Carolina’s Lisha G is holding a seance on “Shiesty.” If you were to listen to it during twilight hours at a cemetery, the ground would start to slightly shake. Her dark and mystic style is probably more inspired by Memphis horrorcore and Raider Klan than Keef, but it slightly reminds me of those less experimental but still cold-hearted records that would pop up on his mixtapes every now and then.
Bear1Boss’ vocals are launched through so many filters and effects that he barely sounds human. Then he’ll take that alien voice and plop it over a sugary beat that would typically be suited for a pop star to sweetly coo over. It brings back memories of DP Beats’ moody keyboard symphonies and Keef’s frigid melodies on Almighty DP.
Technically, the glitches and buffering jags of Daesworld’s music are trademarks of digicore, though some of his tracks sound like they could have been ripped from any volume of Keef’s The Leek series. On “Tht U Wanna” all the sweeping synths and rattling drums move at a speed that makes the song transcend time. It’s supposedly two minutes long, but I swear it only lasts about 10 seconds.
The peaks of Keef’s melodic warbles can be found on 2019’s GloToven—the way his voice bends, warps, and cracks on that album makes the numbness feel like a cloak for very real and raw emotions. BabyxSosa has some of that emotional complexity, too, even though it’s delivered in a much softer and ethereal way. On “Me n U,” it’s as if she just stepped into the booth, closed her eyes, and let everything drift out of her soul in one take.
An unnecessary recap of the 1995 pilot for LL Cool J’s sitcom In the House
This week it was announced that the ’90s LL Cool J vehicle In the House will be hitting HBO Max, giving me an excellent excuse to revisit the corny slice of Clinton-era nostalgia. The convoluted pilot opens with Debbie Allen, a newly divorced mother of two (a snotty teenager daughter and a young Fake Urkel-type son) who is forced to rent a house for her family to live in. But a clause in the lease’s fine print states that their landlord will be occupying the apartment above the garage and sharing the house’s kitchen. Yes, the landlord is LL Cool J, as a washed up NFL player. When he divulges the sketchy living arrangement, Debbie Allen is weirdly not that upset. But I get it. LL Cool J is smooth as hell. If I moved into a home, and he happened to live there too, I guess I would put up with it.
Immediately Debbie Allen is extremely trusting of this dude she met less than 12 hours ago, and asks him to drive her kids to school and babysit them while she works late. When Debbie finally comes home she learns that Fake Urkel is in the emergency room because LL tried to teach him a one-handed backflip. She passively confronts LL about it, and he is extremely defensive. Like, bro, the kid is in the hospital! Still, they both get over it without any explanation.
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