Rap's chaotic glory boy continues to rampage and bewilder on "Bang 3."
Keith Cozart, best known to the world as rap's enfant terrible Chief Keef, doesn’t do much to imply a typical career is in the cards for him. As of the current news cycle, he is planning to run against former Obama advisor Rahm Emanuel for mayor of Chicago after a failed venture at a holographic concert for his deceased friend and artist, Marvin “Capo” Carr, was shut down by police. He followed up his debut album Finally Rich with a series of fantastically warped mixtape ‘sequels’ to his early classics, full of auto-tuned meowling, eccentric boasts and eventually his own corroded production values. Despite putting out a series of unhinged straight to YouTube bangers, his relationship with Interscope deteriorated until they dropped him, only for his Back From The Dead 2 to emerge to surprising buzz. His “Faneto” was his hottest record since his arrival on the scene, despite failing to be released as a ‘proper’ single. Chief Keef is possibly the one artist of our time who seems to always succeed in spite of himself.
So after a cooldown period following a handful of collaborative producer albums, signing himself with a suspicious Greek billionaire, and starting from scratch, Bang 3 is finally upon us and it's fair to say Interscope might be kicking themselves in the back. There is no mistaking that the album is the most straight-forward and commercial project he’s released in quite a while. After all, it wouldn’t take much, just hold out on the beats that suddenly drop out, and bearing bass mixes that cause buildings to collapse, overwhelming the whole record. Not to mention keeping Keef’s voice away from the auto-tuned swamps he loves to play around in most of the time, or his tendency to create walls of schizophrenic adlibs leaving his tapes infested by gremlins. So the end result is a clear and cohesive Sosa that doesn’t make you stop and do a double-take. It's cohesive, stays in its lane and feels like a proper record. Which is ultimately disappointing.
Now make no mistake, in no way has Chief Keef gone "pop" on his fans per se. The album consists of the usual boasts of drugs, guns, girls and cars, meant to belittle any poor listener who might make the mistake of thinking “Hey! I can be like Keef!” Keef disagrees, and with the typical dead-eyed bully tendencies we’ve come to love, he has no issue letting you know that. But the problem is that for most of the album, Keef’s bars feel rather discardable. Last year this kid was calling himself a president and the sun, but now he seems happy to make straightforward brags involving doing pills, getting head with little to no distortion of reality or free association. Thankfully for him, he’s still arguably one of the best masters of infectious flows amongst his generation, so even on auto-pilot he bounces and bounds through beats effortlessly.
This same sort of formulaic quality seems to also latch itself to much of the production selection here. It's a bunch of familiar faces such as DP, Chop Squad, and Zaytoven; guys who’ve worked with Keef enough to know how to bring out the best of him, and he even takes on some of the lifting in the production department himself. But again, nothing seems to suggest the sound Keef has spent the past two years or so forging. The polish removes the sense of urgency and extremity, instead resembling something that feels like you’ve swam around in the seas of “Chief Keef Type Beat!” ads on YouTube. That is, until you get to the Keef-produced mania of tracks like “Green Light” and “Go Harder,” demonstrating the astonishing leaps Keef has made as a producer, his frenetic synth lines resembling something Yellow Magic Orchestra would’ve cooked up on a good day.
However, the most obvious singles, in addition to the songs most people will invariably end up talking about, are the guest-featured records. A holdover from the original Bang 3 sessions, “Superheroes” features an aggressive beat and a particularly cocksure A$AP Rocky appearance, while Keef lists off a bunch of comic characters, a result that works, despite of how bizarre that sounds on paper. Also present is Keef’s “I’ll Be Missing You”-moment, the conflictingly-titled “Ain’t Missing You.” Featuring a John Waite interpolating hook and drums made of gunshots, it's more than a bit hammy in execution. However, beneath the weeded out disconnect is genuine distress from Keef, in the wake of cousin Mario “Blood Money” Hess' death, only gaining poignance with the demise of Capo.
To say Chief Keef is going to use Bang 3 to reclaim his past hopes of superstardom seems fair, but it's hard to say that this will be the end result. His new album is full of the elements that make him so compelling and entertaining, but at the same time it feels a little compromised. When Keef isn’t working at either extremes of his ambitions, you end up with rather middling results. However, there’s still plenty of the eccentric curve-balls that make him one of, if not the most compelling act of his generation in rap. And given his propensity to give us the unexpected, it wouldn’t be fair to use Bang 3 as an indicator of where his attentions have gone, because knowing Keef, it can go to the places you least expect.