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Slept On: A Series, Part One: Chief Keef, by Jason Meggyesy

We are in a new era of hip hop. The hip-hop artists of our times push the genre’s boundaries, from the introduction of unconventional rap styles to fresh approaches for music releases. To accredit only big-time artists like Drake, Kanye West, or Young Thug for the rap scene’s current state overlooks those other artists whose contributions have helped evolve and revitalize the genre.

To honor some of these underappreciated, genre-pushing artists, WMSR introduces Slept On: A Series, a collection of articles that seek to explain why we ought to better appreciate these other artists and their contributions to the rap game. To kick things off, let’s take a look at an icon from the Chicago drill music scene: Chief Keef.

Chicago-born MC Keith Cozart grew up in the southern suburb of Washington Park (or O-Block, as the locals call it) with his grandmother after moving out of an unstable living situation with his mother on the east side of the city.

At age five, Chief Keef began to develop a love for musical experimentation. With a karaoke machine in his house, Keef would freestyle with neighborhood friends. Keef attended Dulles Elementary School and Dyett High School. Still, a string of insubordination and lousy behavior led to him becoming a dropout at fifteen.

After a few run-ins with the law, Keef shifted his focus toward music production while under house arrest. After producing a music video to one of his most famous tracks, I Don’t Like ft. Lil Reese (another prominent figure in the drill scene), Keef began to amass a following of local teenagers. With its meager budget, the music video shows Keef and his friends smoke weed, dance, and point guns at the camera for five minutes straight—a true drill music masterpiece. The video’s release, alongside the debut of Love Sosa and Hate Being Sober (both produced by long-time friend and collaborator Young Chop), catapulted the 16-year-old rapper into the national spotlight of fame.

The unique, mumble-infused flow of Keef combined with the dark, sullen beats created an entirely new sound that captured ears all over the country. From O-Block to suburban Ohio (and farther), the new face of the rap had everyone bobbing their heads to Keef’s unique sound style.

In the early 2010s, Atlanta was the hub for mainstream rap music. Young Thug, Future, and The Migos dominated the game, solidifying the South as rap music’s epicenter. At the same time up north, Keef gave an inside look at the competition rising to the top in Chicago.

In 2012, Keef released his first studio album, Finally Rich, a chart-topper from day one. The 12-track album featured several high-profile artists like Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross, and 50 Cent; this album took the young artist’s career to another level. Keef garnered attention from everyone in the industry, including Chicago legend, Kanye West, who would remix Don’t Like for his tape, Cruel Summer.

Admiration, however, seems always to be paralleled by criticism as Keef faced severe pushback from detractors. Opponents of Keef said that he and other drill artists were promoting more violence in an already high-crime area, and his music wasn’t hurt more than it helped a city already in jeopardy.

Regardless of the hate or love, Keef keeps it consistent. Since releasing Finally Rich, the former O-Block resident has released 20-plus projects each year since his major studio debut in 2012. These projects include two studio albums and various collabs with notable artists and producers like Gucci Mane and Zaytoven.

Keef’s sound reached various listeners and helped usher in a whole new type of artist into the rap game. With his low-budget music videos, gang-infused lyrics, and indistinct flow, Keef helped push the genre to an entirely new space. Artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Pump, Juice Wrld, and Playboi Carti are among some of the artists who have paid homage to Sosa for influencing them as artists and fans of hip hop.

Chief Keef’s story is far from over, but his presence is felt on music today. Chief Keef’s rise to stardom from troublesome kid to famous artist is one worth noting. The Chicago trap star reframed the music scene and gave a gritty, authentic perspective to a genre dominated by designer-wearing megastars.

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