, December 19th, 2012 07:48
The line between reality and fantasy in rap music has blurred so much it might seem like a blessing to some, a tapering-off of an unreasonable double standard that demanded every bar out of a lyricist's mouth to be rooted in truth. One need only look at the improbable ascent of “Officer Ricky” Ross to see that some talent, an unwavering dedication to a narrative, and corporate music business backing can trump an otherwise inopportune smoking gun.
This clouding, however, carries unavoidable sociological consequences. Much like the Republican Party's years of cynical Southern strategising led to the terrifying true believer Tea Party movement, an entire generation raised in American poverty on survivalist thug tales and pusher parables was bound to produce some legitimately hard dudes. Those of us who grew up huddling around our friends' parents' stereos listening to the same N.W.A. cassette over and over know better than to blame rap music for anything more than the further romanticising of an urban gangster lifestyle that would exist and assuredly thrive even in its absence. The ecosystem, after all, encompasses both the streets and the beats.
By some accounts - including that of the Chicago Police Department - Chief Keef is the real deal, a teenaged gang-affiliated menace to society with a multimillion dollar record deal, hardly alarming given the scores of artists who've parlayed an arrest record into hip-hop legitimacy. The September murder of Joseph “Lil JoJo” Coleman, another young rapper who beefed with Keef and Chicago drill scene cohorts like Lil Reese, raised some uncomfortable questions for those who have largely sought fit to imagine the ghetto as a convenient Urban Outfitters adjective instead of a place where people live, struggle, and, yes, die daily. (Hardly a choirboy himself, Lil JoJo apparently repped a rival gang, and in an alternate reality, he'd have been the one on Interscope.)
This, along with a fair amount of publicly available information and hearsay, could provide a useful context for Finally Rich, Keef's major label debut. But no amount of street cred can make up for this mostly middling, only intermittently marvellous record. The most visceral musical moments come courtesy of up-and-comer Young Chop, the barely legal producer behind the two brawniest hits of Keef's career thus far: 'Love Sosa' and the breakthrough behemoth 'I Don't Like'. Though the almost absentmindedly spat latter may ultimately be Keef's best known cut, the feral former improves upon the sing-song formula and makes for a more robust mission statement. However, neither of these tunes are particularly new to anyone within range of a Clear Channel hip hop station's signal.
The pitfalls of pre-release front-loading of Finally Rich's best material becomes evident fairly quickly. Mike WiLL Made It had one hell of a 2012, with massive singles for 2 Chainz and Juicy J. Yet his sole beat here for 'No Tomorrow' is as spiritless as Keef's listless Auto-Tuned verse, his tone not dissimilar to dancehall dude Mavado. The death of that omnipresent vocal enhancement software has been greatly exaggerated, with Future single-handed dashing Jay-Z's dreams and undoubtedly inspiring Keef's dead horse battery of the studio tool on chiptune-reminiscent 'Ballin'' and 'Kay Kay'. '3Hunna', another Young Chop gong-banger familiar to the mixtape set, trades Soulja Boy's original guest verse for a marginally less generic one from aforementioned Maybach Music kingpin Ross. Easily the album's stinking nadir, 'Laughin' To The Bank' aims for Odd Future and ends up as callow as Insane Clown Posse. Even 'Hate Being Sober', a infectious club-ready series of tough beats and scintillating synthwork, only works thanks to its two gifted guests 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa, both of whom remind of that time Eminem murdered Jigga on 'Renegades'.
Though there's still plenty of big timer boasting vis-a-vis bands, the opposite sex, and status-indicative brands, Chief Keef's distinctly sinister materialism threatens the status quo maintained by the contemporary crop of doped-up cloudsters like Curren$y and Khalifa. Indeed, some even see this release as an opportunity to condemn Keef not only for his own sins but also the sins of his genre and even of American violence at large. Those who choose to use Finally Rich as an opportunity to take some sort of moral high ground ought to take a hard look at (or listen to) their music collection, lest they discover how much sexism and thuggery they've been mindlessly bumping to date. If anything, Keef is a product of America's unwillingness to adequately deal with the problematic socioeconomic miasma of poverty and race. And he's but one of many.