03 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #3


Chief Keef, Back From The Dead (Mixtape) (DatPiff.com, 2012)

Chief Keef is a 17-year-old rapper from Chicago who's notorious for a hit single called "I Don't Like" and for how young he is. He was placed under house arrest recently for pointing a Glock at a cop, and is definitely in the post-Waka Flocka Flame mold of radio-ready gangsta rap for 2012. All the beats have that same, impossibly grandiose-yet-cheap-sounding synthesized pomp that still characterize so many Lex Luger productions, and stomp away with impunity at the listener's ears. They're not interchangeable, per se, but they're all very definitely in the same style and have that same mood of triumphant, cinematic, knuckle-headed machismo. There's absolutely no variation in the beats whatsoever: they all coagulate into one hard-headed mass of surface-level chest-beating. These beats don't generate the moronic excitement that Flocka's "Hard In The Paint" did so effortlessly, or the violent thug aggression of "Gun Sounds"; they just sit and blare at you, satisfied to be following trends.

Keef himself is a fairly limited presence. His primary strengths are his voice and his delivery. He's noticeably cold: there's no attempt at making any kind of emotional connection with anything. He doesn't seem invested in the sketchy and vaguely defined threats he regularly makes. He doesn't even seem angry. What he does convey at his most effective, though, is a willingness to cap you for the hell of it. This is good for gangsta rap, and for Keef, that convincingly violent aspect of his personality has come through most clearly on "Bang," a song which unfortunately isn't included on this mixtape. He also has a strange way of enunciating at times - he can make it sound as if he's delivering his verse on springs. Keef's oddly bouncy delivery and cold voice, though, don't make up for the fact that his flow is almost nonexistent: he never connects a line to the next with a linking word or phrase. He just raps a line in rhythm, stops, and then raps another line in rhythm. Combined with the facts that none of these verses really go much farther beyond shallow gangsta nihilism, and that they aren't even fun to boot, his rapping is not that impressive.

The best songs on Back From The Dead, unsurprisingly, are the songs where Keef and his producers realize their aesthetic most clearly instead of just relaxing within it. "Monster," the inescapable "I Don't Like" and the mixtape's best song, "Winning," manage to put Keef's coldness together with memorable hooks, beats and choruses that will definitely stick in your head. (Best line, from "Winning": "I can't lose, bitch, I'm so used to winning. Fuck with my family, and you are finished.") But so much of this tape sounds the same as itself that it's kind of stupefying. I can't come up with really any worthwhile praise or insults because it's just… generic. It goes through the motions and it's happy to do so. Outside of a charmingly naive tendency to compare himself to Sammy Sosa (you really want to compare yourself to an irrelevant steroid-addled idiot who's bleached his skin into Michael Jackson territory? If you say so, kid), Keef just doesn't have much personality, and neither does the tape itself. There's nothing here that's unforgivably offensive (although two Soulja Boy cameos in a row at the end of the tape, particularly the verse where he sounds exactly like a retarded alien, is really pushing it), but there's nothing that's amazingly great either. It has a few decent songs and a lot of mediocre, unimaginative, boring soundalike gangsta rap. It's not bad or good. It's just 42 minutes of learned behavior.

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