Chief Keef's newest album is upon us. But is the wildchild of the rap game starting to become tamed, or is he now just too elusive to follow?
It's been less than half a decade since the initial rise of Chicago's Keith Cozart, best known as Chief Keef, to the level of national rap icon, and treasure, some might say. In that relatively brief period, the former teen sensation has gone through more career shifts and weird hi-jinx than most rappers accrue in a lifetime. We've seen him change from representative of the burgeoning drill movement, to major-label backed lightning rod of controversy, to challenging mixtape maverick. The latter period, while often resulted in mixed reactions from fans, cemented Chief Keef as an innovator, where he released constant deluges of strange rap, almost incomparable to anyone else in the genre. That's ignoring his strange extracurricular activities-- such as attempting hologram-projected concerts and signing strange record deals with mysterious billionaires. Even as recently as last year he managed to drop multiple projects (including Two Zero One Seven, Thot Breaker, Dedication and so many more) that each went in wholly different directions to surprising results. This year, we've been blessed with his newest release Mansion Musick, a record that remains impressively off-kilter and uncompromising, in the way that we've come to expect from Chief Keef.
Besides remaining surprisingly prolific last year, arguably one of the most fascinating things about Keef's career is the championing of him by younger artists. Certainly, an artist like Chief Keef is an obvious blueprint for the careers of your 21 Savages, Tay-Ks or 6ix9ines; people who attract equal parts positive and negative fascination from outsiders based on the aura of danger they project. However, it isn't solely about getting attention that demonstrate Keef's influence, as more and more rappers have brought him in on their records, welcoming a chance to collaborate with someone who has, in a way, created the direction many have since emulated. Recent features on records by the likes of Trippie Redd, Smokepurrp, Lil Pump and IDK, among others, show Keef eager to work alongside them, similar to how Gucci Mane worked so extensively with Keef and others in Keef's own era of come-up. Of those rappers, only Playboi Carti managed to appear on the album (the only feature on Mansion Musick at all, in fact) but as a listener, you can feel that energy of Keef embracing the styles and the approaches of his progeny, coming out with even wilder and more bizarre work than even Keef fans are probably used to.
When it comes to Mansion Musick as a whole, the entire project feels diverse, to the point of baffling and perhaps even inconsistent. The material isn't necessarily weak (save for the extended piano vamping freestyle on “Letter” or the dull one-note pop returns on “Belieber”) but there isn't any sort of cohesive sequencing or vision. In short, Mansion Musick feels a little bit like a grab bag of material that Keef's releasing without rhyme or reason. That said, considering last year's long-form projects could often become overly conservative over the course of a full listen, this sort of wildstyle approach is not without its benefits. The whole record feels like a roller coaster of moods and styles for Keef. Tracks are so strangely disparate, like the warped and psychedelic update of the Gucci & Zaytoven formula for “TV On (Big Boss)” or the extra-dense pressure of “Rawlings,” you never quite know what to expect next. If one were to come to Mansion Musick after failing to keep up with Chief Keef outside of his brief period on the radio, they'd probably wonder how in the world he became such a puzzling presence.
As far as production goes, Keef is remaining both out of step and all to himself. Rather than opting for some of the bigger names of the now, much of the production is provided by names who've fallen out of the limelight but have typically provided him with great material before, such as DP Beats, Nard & B, KE On The Track and Keef himself under his Turbo alias. The results are that Keef is still mining territory that, for plenty of newer rappers, would feel a bit old hat. Keef provides value because of his experimental nature. The aforementioned Carti collaboration “Uh Uh” or solo cuts such as “Part Ways” don't feel quite as densely produced as the dreamier material of Carti or Lil Uzi Vert, but could certainly hold it's own beside some of their less lucid tracks. Meanwhile on the electro-twitchery of “Hand Made,” Keef is still pushing the very edges of trap within the panoramic clarity of the early decades, as opposed to the post-Ronny J distortion that's claimed so much of the present scene. As much as you could argue that Keef is no longer leading the pack anymore, his sense of exploration and satisfying those unusual instincts are still taking precedence over any need to fit in or observe the trends.
In the greater scope of Chief Keef's career, Mansion Musick is not the most exciting or exceptional chapter, but that isn't to say it's disappointing as much as its another case of being peculiar. Normally being bewildered by a Chief Keef release should be par for the course, but here we have a selection of tracks with little to no hint as to what's his next plan for going into 2018 and beyond musically. It's hard to say what this album might achieve for his career compared to previous releases; perhaps we're simply left with some of the better material from his vaults, or the sounds of Keef trying to reconcile with the present while still ensuring he'll make records on his own terms of enjoyment. But for lifelong fans or the morbidly curious, Mansion Musick is still a satisfying and enjoyable release that demonstrates just why Keef has become so endearing a figure to as many, and still has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.