By the time the rest of the world caught on to Keef's music, the violence within was what most people were focusing on, shocked that this young dude was talking about shooters and choppers with such glee in his voice. The truth is, he wasn't always the type to revel in gun talk, as his early tapes reveal a much more happy-go-lucky, if still a little discourteous, Keef.
On Mulah Express, a tape that originally dropped in July 2010, Keef was more likely to proclaim that he was "white boy wasted" and "paper chasing" than he was to talk about gang violence, although he still takes some time to shout-out his "pretty glocks." The beats, primarily produced by DJ Kenn, follow suit. Constructed mostly from bright synths, horns and string presets, they sound somewhat akin to Zaytoven's technicolor take on trap music (the "South Side Shit" beat would almost fit nicely on Future and Zay's Beast Mode).
The Glory Road, another early tape, is even more striking in its cheerful content. "Do It For The Hood" is even almost a little cheesy in its uplifting sound, with Keef sounding akin to a less-practiced Rich Homie Quan on the string-led beat. The instantly-recognizable vocal style that highlights nearly all of his music was there early on, with his garbled enunciation and auto-tune letting us know that despite the stylistic differences, this was still Keef who was rapping.
Things seemed to change for Cozart around the time the aptly-titled Bang dropped in Fall 2011. Spend thirty seconds watching the title track's video (below), and that'll become immediately clear. Bringing out a whole host of homies, including recognizable faces like Lil Durk and Lil Reese, Keef's still celebrating his hood, but with much more menacing overtones. Guns are pantomimed at an almost absurd rate, and the hook consists of just "I'ma let this hammer blow like bang, bang, bang" -- even if the beat wasn't at all ominous (which it totally is), "Bang" paints Keef as a much more dangerous character than his early music did.
The other big change around this time was the level of attention the 16-year-old began attracting, with the "Bang" video racking up millions of views despite its low-budget look and relatively unpolished music. Virtually unnoticed as a mixtape artist with a lighter heart, Keef seemed to only blow up once he began incorporating gun sound ad-libs and darker sonic palettes, which definitely raises some chicken/egg-style questions. Obviously, the neighborhood he grew up in played a role in determining where Keef was headed, but imagine making an uncharacteristically violent track, putting in online, and waking up one day finding that it had gotten something like 50 times the views of your previous work. You're not about to go back to "Do It For The Hood" anytime soon.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, this was also when Cozart began getting in trouble with the law. After a particularly bold incident that involved him pointing a gun at some cops, Keef was sentenced to home confinement at his grandma's house, leading him to devote much more time to music. Long story short: it paid off. Largely due to the tremendous popularity of videos like "3HUNNA" and "I Don't Know Dem," as well as his Back From The Dead tape, Keef started a bidding war between labels in Spring 2012 (even getting a brief reprieve from his confinement to take meetings with Atlantic and Bad Boy in New York), and by June 2012, Interscope had beaten out Cash Money, CTE, and a whole score of others. Just about to turn 17, Keef now had several million to his name and his own imprint.