June 23, 2017

thot breaker

Harold Bingo once cooled with some hoes from the valley. He still has yet to hop in a Rally.

“Will you take me for who I am?
I’ma hold the deal up on my end.”

Anyone who has been paying even a modicum of attention can attest to the widespread influence of Chief Keef. Artists like 21 Savage and Lil Uzi Vert have been exploring various aspects of Keef’s sonic DNA to varying degrees of commercial and critical success. As for the architect himself, Thot Breaker serves as the moment where Keef has begun to discover the proper merger between his melodic instincts and the urgent verve that drives the writing of his more traditional material.

The Keef on Thot Breaker is one we can relate to, an affable stoner who can drop his guard from time to time. As a whole, the tape evokes that feeling we all have when we meet someone new. The urge to allow ourselves to fall headlong into love is only matched by our urge to remain cautiously optimistic.

Few songs exemplify this marriage more than “My Baby,” one of the tape’s various standouts. Over production that sounds like a slightly less thunderous version of his cult classics, Keef offers a tender, heartfelt ballad to the lady who matters most….Mary Jane.

So it goes, as “Whoa” kicks off a stretch that showcases Keef vacillating between the romantic on “Whoa” who only wants 20 minutes of her time and the braggart on “My Head” that dares a hater to try him at the red light with an audible grin.

“Drank Head” takes the general conceit of “My Baby” and pushes it to its most logical conclusion: a woozy paean to lean tailor made for after-party spins. For his part, Keef alternates between wistfully recounting Actavis & Hi-Tec packaging and grousing about a girlfriend who caused him to spill his beverage all over his clothes.

The tape does have its rote moments, as “You My Number One” provides us with the umpteenpth song where the female protagonist is assured of her spot at the top of the rotation. Songs like these serve no purpose other than to provide Instagram captions and tweet fodder for men who can’t get a text back from one woman, let alone juggle two or three. Unless I’m underestimating the number of women in the world who wish to ascend to the top of a dating ranking board?

“You & Me” also attempts to merge Keef’s more traditional production instincts with writing that fumbles toward vulnerability. The song itself floats by like an inconsequential wisp. “Couple of Coats” wouldn’t have been too out of place on Two Zero One Seven, but is a song Keef could crank out during a weed nap.

“Slow Dance” serves as the project’s de facto denouement, the moment where Keef finally drops all pretense. Ardent Keef observers have been waiting nearly a year for a fleshed out version of the original leak and the track doesn’t disappoint.  

Over production that abandons drums almost completely and wouldn’t sound terribly out of place on a Bon Iver album, Keef croons about her righteous curves and the love that he feels. He even promises to share all of his weed, which is how you know it’s real.

In a fractured rap universe where the critical consensus and the tastes of the partisan listener rarely ever seem to align, the best working rappers do not always receive the acclaim that they deserve at the appropriate moment (just ask Mozzy and Lil Boosie).

History is littered with cases of rappers growing and progressing into more well rounded artists as the bright lights begin to wane. There are few artists who exemplify this all too common conundrum more than Chief Keef. We’re all familiar with the origin story and the early material by now.

Keef has always specialized in the sort of writing that tends to reward repeat listens. Songs like “Faneto,” “Earned It,” “Sosa Chamberlain,” and “Fool Ya” have allowed him to maintain a strong foothold in the corner of the rap universe that considers “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa” to be sacrosanct. What has gone ignored is the artistic evolution that has steadily been taking place since the Finally Rich era. This evolution has taken Keef from his stylistic beginnings as a promising Brick Squad acolyte and allowed him to become something that is almost wholly unique.

Almighty So and Bang 2 both contain their fair share of such moments and along with the aforementioned smashes and underrated projects like Sorry For The Weight & 2015’s 1-2 punch of DP helmed tapes, a bridge has been formed. The Keef who became a star from the confines of his grandmother’s living room and put the world onto various forms of South Side Chicago lingo has become one of the game’s most fascinating multifaceted talents.

He’s even managed to pull a Future 2.0 in the process. While the Atlanta mainstay who has made a career out of bouncing back and forth between trap and R&B/pop based experimentation decided to release his twin salvos within a week of one another, Keef (intentionally or unintentionally) has executed a similar release strategy, albeit in a more protracted fashion.

Leading off the year with the quietly brilliant Two Zero One Seven, Keef catered to the sector of his audience that enjoys hearing boasts and taunts piled high over dark, creeping beats that evoke a vague sense of existential dread. He also provides a glimpse into a universe where Lex Luger actually had been able to recreate the magic of “BMF.”

There will be always a certain giddy thrill associated with hearing Keef playing the dozens (“My watch tried to take your bitch from me” has been permanently seared into my auditory cortex) over production that evokes a steroidal 2012. On the other hand, with those who consider themselves Keef completists there’s always been a sense that he had a HNDRXX in him waiting to get out.

Two Zero One Seven and other thrilling loosies like “Kills,” “Minute,” and “Text” have shown that Keef will never lose his knack for casual menace and seemingly tossed off hooks that nestle themselves in your brain. “Come Down” off Mike Will’s Ransom 2 also places Keef in a similar sonic universe to the one that he has created for himself outside of the bangers he’s primarily known for. But the 2017 Keef offering that hints in the most intriguing artistic direction that precedes Thot Breaker is “Can You Be My Friend.”

Citing Drake as an influence, Keef grabs a beat that flirts with current tropical production trends without crossing the line into parody. Although there is a scary moment where “pum pum” is made to rhyme with “dumb dumb,” this song remains an irresistible earworm. 

When the long awaited Thot Breaker was finally teased in the wake of Can You Be My Friend’s positive reception, longtime Keef fans reacted in a similar manner to early Future adopters when HNDRXX was first announced. Future Hive was ready to hear an R&B/pop infused project after 2+ years of emotionally numb offerings that had begun to provide increasingly limited returns. Keef loyalists had long believed he was capable of similar feats and had been longing for him to push himself into new places over the course of a properly promoted project.

Keef’s much quieter 2016 and staggered release strategy has allowed for each project to enjoy a life of its own. The previous 2017 releases were largely sermons geared towards the already faithful flock, but Thot Breaker has delivered on the promise that was shown on formative gems such as “Valley” and “Go To Jail.”

There will be a rush to refer to Thot Breaker as an experimental project and this sells Keef short. It is not so much an experiment as it is a culmination.

It is a culmination of the Keef who has spent the years since his rise toiling in relative obscurity. The Keef who has embedded hooks as disparate as, “Paid 100 for my Ones and 200 for my gun” and, “Riding with my chopper/I’ma beat him like his father” into brains all over the rap universe, brains that will define the direction of the genre in the years to come.

Keef’s 2017 output may not land him on any prestigious year end lists or yield another “Faneto” or “Earned It” that connects with a wider audience. In the words of the man himself, he does this for the world……and you should appreciate him.