Ahead of the release of the expanded edition of Finally Rich, we explore Sosa’s titanic presence across rap culture
I’ve never seen a group of people look so scared. It was October 2013 and I was on the night bus from Elephant and Castle to Camberwell, when the sedate drunken stupor of the top deck was suddenly interrupted by a group of rowdy teenagers, who spontaneously started singing the lyrics to Chief Keef’s “Aimed At You”. As a muffled version of the song’s menacing instrumental played out of a Blackberry, communal cries of “On that gangbangin’ shit, this is what I do ni***” cut through the air, terrifying a tutting couple draped in Hollister so badly that they rushed downstairs.
This impromptu performance crystallised a moment in time when a mysterious teenage emcee sent shockwaves through pop culture via anthemic hood anthems that were as chantable as they were nihilistic. And just like in his hometown of Chicago (where breakthrough 2011 mixtape Bang became the infamous O-Block’s mixtape of choice), Chief Keef’s music seemed to re-energise London’s inner-city youth – as well as providing a lifeline for terminally online, disenfranchised teens everywhere.
A shy high school dropout who hid his face behind a wall of dreadlocks and lived at his grandma Margaret’s house on the South Side of Chicago, Chief Keef was an unlikely rap sensation. He inspired a feverish fandom and showed the industry how it could lucratively ride the wave of viral videos, such as this classic, where a man talks animatedly about Chief Keef like he’s a gangster comparable to John Gotti. Today, this kind of internet memery is commonplace, but back in 2012, Keef was doing something truly pioneering.
Introducing the masses to hood colloquialisms like “sneak dissing”, “opps”, and “thots” (all terms that seemed to have entered the online vernacular of young people), Chief Keef was a true original. He also helped ignite drill music into a global movement, making it no surprise when A&Rs started fighting for his signature. And with so many of the songs he made in the 2010s now going viral on TikTok, there’s a feeling that the artist (still only just 27) was ahead of his time.
This week the Chicago artist’s major label debut, Finally Rich, is re-released in an expanded edition. And, ten years on from its initial release, the rap game feels like it is completely moulded in Chief Keef’s image. Paranoid, auto-tune-driven drill – the music Keef helped birth – is everywhere you turn. Meanwhile, the jumbled staccato flow that Chief Keef helped popularise can clearly be heard in the vocal stylings of popular artists like Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, Young Boy Never Broke Again, Drakeo The Ruler, Yeat, and the late JuiceWRLD. Not to mention Drain Gang and the countless baby-faced producers following in their footsteps.
With endless mixtapes and collaborations, Chief Keef’s discography is perhaps a little daunting for newcomers to step into. However, the following five songs go a long way to explaining why the hip hop world (and beyond) still loves Sosa so much.
“I DON’T LIKE”
With cursed vibraphone chimes that sound like they’ve been lifted directly from a Freddy Krueger movie and explosive drums that mirror the heartbeat of someone whose life is in perilous danger, “I Don’t Like” (produced by Young Chop) has lost none of its raw power. Released in 2012, this breakthrough anti-snitching anthem sees Keef and Lil Reese dismiss the everyday fuckery they see in their hood, as the pair treat gang members who “play both sides” like enemies of the State. One of those glorious rap songs that inspires mosh pits without the need of a guitar, “I Don’t Like” captures two kids with no patience, white Audis, and a deep hatred for losers who wear fake True Religion jeans. This is Chief Keef’s official superhero theme music, and that’s unlikely to ever change.
His vocal chords almost breaking under the strain of barking the word “gang” so viciously, the addictive “Faneto” carries the unapologetic energy of a tank rolling through enemy territory and reminding the locals who their ruler is. Here Chief Keef sounds like he’s slightly behind the beat, but his unconventional flow works off charisma alone and the fantastical reference to a “Gorilla in a coupe” brings light into a song so obviously designed for angry 4AM drives through the city streets during the Winter months. The highlight of legendary mixtape, Back From The Dead 2, “Faneto” and its moody synth line practically invented the drill sound that dominates the charts today. And despite all the military-minded raps and infectious yet reckless gun noise ad-libs, “Faneto” doesn’t forget its responsibility to speak to the underdogs on O-Block, as Chief Keef references Velveeta, a cheap brand of processed cheese that his grandma Margaret bought because she couldn’t afford cheddar.
As someone who hardly does interviews and has revealed little of his personal interests beyond playing video games and collecting assault rifles, not much is known about Chief Keef as a person. But what’s so great about 2017’s Thot Breaker mixtape is how Keef showed more vulnerability and an ability to create soppy lovelorn harmonies that went beyond the invincible gangster aesthetic he made his name off of. On “My Baby”, an ode to weed that hits so good it makes you want to cry, Keef displays his intoxicating skills as a crooner and suggests that the high from his blunt is among the only things in life he can truly depend on. Keef also displays a wicked sense of humour here, with one bar about sipping lean (“My cup filled with mud / to those I influence, just say no to drugs”) showing a playful self-awareness that the rapper is rarely praised for.
”BANDS IN DA BASEMENT”
One of Chief Keef’s all-time great guest verses, this 2019 collaboration with Watts’ outlier 03 Greedo and traffic music composer RONRONTHEPROUCER sees the Chicago artist trade his typically icy sound for a warmer, melodic verse that attempts to make outsiders understand what triggers cycles of violence and people to choose to store cash inside of a mattress rather than a bank. In what feels more like humming than rapping, Keef warbles the words: “Heart frozen cold, playing with fire just for fun / bang bang got his education, but he got a gun”, powerfully showing outsiders why picking up a gun is a more logical option than clutching a school book. “Bands In Da Basement” is also proof of Chief Keef’s influence on the West Coast, but beyond the natural chemistry with LA’s 03 Greedo, the haunting emotion present here shows the clear growth of Keef as a songwriter and the journey from boy to man.
Comparing his enemies to jelly and hilariously boasting about holding an AK-47 that’s as tall as Kendall Jenner, “Yes Sir” is filled with earworm one-liners and nutty flows that make it the obvious standout of brilliant 2021 comeback album, 4NEM. Had he played the music industry game a little more obviously, actually showing up to interviews and perhaps dropping guest verses on Dua Lipa songs, Chief Keef could be a much bigger name than he is right now. But “Yes Sir”, just like the rest of 4NEM, is so clearly the result of an artist moving at his own speed and making music for himself rather than following the trends laid out by others. Boisterous and deliriously silly, “Yes Sir” is further proof of Chief Keef’s wicked sense of humour and auteur approach to making music, and proves the artist can still make trunk-rattling rap tunes a full decade on from his big mainstream breakthrough.
The expanded edition of Finally Rich is out now