As biological organisms, we can mark time on this dying blue dot in celestial ways, scrutinizing the moons and stars overhead. As participants in capitalism, we can measure it in billing cycles, haircuts, oil changes or by the expiration dates printed on packages of string cheese. As rap listeners, we can measure time in Chief Keef albums.
So on Halloween night — a time-honored bonbon pillage rooted in ancient Celtic new year’s festivities — the hyper-prolific Chicago rapper slid into the Fillmore Silver Spring to celebrate “Back From the Dead 3,” a murky, claustrophobic new album he had released just hours earlier. Maybe “celebrate” is the wrong word. There were no balloon drops, no confetti plumes, no costumes, nothing like that — probably because “Back From the Dead 3” is the eighth album Keef has dropped this year.
Chief Keef’s music moves time forward steadily and without ceremony — and if that sounds like faint praise, you probably haven’t spent enough quality time with the 30-plus album-length recordings Keef has made since 2012, way back when he first elbowed his way onto the radio at the tender-tough age of 17.
Since then, his tactics have veered from cold-eyed annoyance to weirdo braggadocio to unforeseen singsong and back around the corner again. The breadth of his everlasting songbook should have made Keef one of rap’s biggest stars, but instead, it turned him into his own rogue planet — that rare kind of artist who can really be compared to only himself.
For proof, look to the stage where Keef’s express lack of dynamism — in tone, lyricism, mood and mien — made even his slightest shifts in delivery feel like wild swerves. On Planet Keef, the melodic smirks of “Call’n” became operatic, the smug self-congrats of “Earned It” felt euphoric, the sneaker-stomp of “Faneto” was a stampede.
And while the new stuff sounded otherworldly — an especially warped rendition of “Glatt” allowed Keef to explain what it’s like to “feel like a wizard” in enigmatic mumbles — the old stuff clearly came from the streets of Chicago. In 2012, Keef’s rhymed threats moved in strange directions, seemingly absorbing more energy than they gave off. But hearing the spring-loaded deadpan of “I Don’t Like” and “Everyday” peal across a nightclub in 2018 felt like a reminder that countless contemporary rappers have adopted Keef’s stylistic approach as standard operating procedure. The songs themselves? They sounded like classics.
And that’s stunning when you stand back to think about it. Rappers older than Keef — Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage among them — say they grew up on the blunt force of this music. Imagine being a forebear to a generation of artists older than you. It might make Chief Keef the youngest elder statesman rap has ever known.
Or maybe that preternatural ability to mark time is actually an attempt at reshaping it altogether.