Following up a three project run in 2017, Chief Keef returned last week with his fourth release of the year in Dedication. The 15 track offering is technically his first studio album since Bang 3 dropped in 2015. While 2016 was a fairly quiet one for Sosa, the stream of music he’s dropped since then (Thot Breaker, Nobody, The W) has been more than enough to keep his fans satiated. Drawing inspiration from Lil Wayne’s Dedication mixtape series, the intensity on all the tracks makes it clear that Keef is trying to embody the type of breakneck work ethic that Wayne became known for as well. Considering how long he’s been in the game, and how instrumental he has been to the development of Chicago’s drill scene, at times it’s hard to remember that he’s only 22 years old. Much of the recent surge of melodic “mumble” rappers owe a large part of their success to the Chief’s rap stances as he all but invented the monotonal lean drenched flows heavily employed in today’s rap scene.

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One of Chief Keef’s strongest suits has always been the authenticity of his music and the consistency of his themes and subject matter. You know what you’re in for when you listen to Chief Keef: guns, drugs, his poor relationships with the “thotties,” and the nihilism that comes from growing up in a warzone. As he says on “Be Back,” “Don’t come to Chiraq, you’re better off in Baghdad.” Lyrics like these are less of a boast and more of a dire warning. There aren’t many metaphors or much heavily coded language on the work but as Keef has said at multiple points in his career this seemingly simplistic style cuts to the heart of the matter without much frill or pomp. That being said, despite the outward malice and machismo of the tape there are incredibly light-hearted lines sprinkled in, like his reference to glowing up like Adobe Lightroom, or on “Bad” where he says, “Grab the bullets for my llama / Ride right or wrong with my partner / Burger King I got that whopper / And I’m on some playa shit, facial cleanser with cucumbers.” Right next to describing his steadfast loyalty to his comrade, and willingness to shoot it out for him, he casually throws in a mention to his skin care regiment. 

Even song’s like “Told Ya’ll”  which is theoretically celebratory are tinged with regrets and the feeling that any at any point we could have lost Sosa to the violence of his city. On “Let Me See” he describes shopping at designer stores and bedding exotic women, but at the start of the tune he very clearly says  “All I’ve got is my glock and my pride.” It’s lines like these that seem to indicate that Sosa is a lot more introspective than he’s portrayed to be by the media, or even than he portrays himself to be.

Keef manages to bring variety to the tape via the disparate nature of the beats he uses and occasional stretching of his traditional flow, on tracks like “Negro,” where he speeds up his cadence and spends the majority of the track crooning in auto-tune. These divergences are much welcomed as they provide a relief from the hard hitting menace of most of the production. The beats are primarily handled by Atlanta’s D-Rich who masterfully crafts an ominous soundscape for Sosa to frolic over. Additional production is handled by Ness, Stuntman, and Chief Keef himself under his Turbo alias. More so than anything, Chief feels completely comfortable throughout the tape and handles the entire project with a steady voice that is occasionally very reminiscent of Gucci Mane but without losing Keef’s individuality. 

As per usual, Chief is rather sparse with the features on Dedication and this has resulted in only three inclusions: Lil Yatchy (“Come on Now”), A Boogie wit da Hoodie ("Glory Bridge"), and long time friend and Glo Gang member Tadoe (on "Let Me See" and "Bad"). The tracks with Tadoe hardly count as reaching outside of the box, but even the tracks with new collaborators Lil Yatchy and A Boogie sound right at home. Considering the popularity that these two artists have achieved in the past year, and how different their styles are from Chief Keef, they could have easily taken these records over. Instead Chief brings them into his fold and they adapt stances that meld synergistically and energetically with Sosa’s. 

Highlights from the project include the booming “Mailbox” and “Text” in which Chief hilariously (and terrifyingly) references Little Miss Sunshine as a metaphor for his AR-15. “Keke Palmer” definitely slaps, and is also the track that feels the most like the “old” Chief Keef. Enjoyable but nothing really that hasn’t been done by him before.

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Although the content isn’t much different from the standard Chief Keef fare, there is clear sense that this tape represents forward progression for Keef. His flows are getting tighter and the songs maintain a certain finesse through them that hasn’t always apparent in his music. Despite having made a number of hits over his career, one of the most admirable things about Keef is that he seems fairly unconcerned with making “hits.” Rather than making the music of the times he instead makes the music that he feels at the time. These types of musical risks are where projects like the the heavily melancholic, Nobody, or the tropical R&B influenced, Thot Breaker, arise from. Despite having a number of heaters, I can’t help but feel as if the album left me wanting for more. Although the line between album and mixtape has long since blurred, Dedication, feels more like the latter rather than the former. Dedication (and 2017 to a larger degree) feels like a revitalization of Chief Keef, representative of a new era for Sosa, which means we look forward to what he has planned in the upcoming year.