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Chief Keef Interview
Conducted in January 2017; Published for the first time here, 11.21.22
In January 2017, I conducted an interview over the phone with Chief Keef. It was to be a part of a bigger Chicago Reader piece I had pitched which was to reflect on the five years since he’d emerged as a major creative force in the genre. The piece didn’t really come together—at a certain point, it felt like the boulder was too heavy to push uphill. At the time, the notion that he was ‘influential’ was still controversial, never mind the idea that he’d be held in high regard by a generation of fans, artists, etc as he plainly is today. While the full journalistic piece never came together, my philosophy about his influence as an overall argument did eventually make a piece for the now-defunct publication The Outline.
The interview was conducted a little under a year before he would release his album “Dedication.” you can see the seeds of his aesthetic interests (Jeezy, Bankroll Fresh, Detroit) in his answers here. The textures of that project — beats by D. Rich and Stuntman in particular — have recently gained some real traction within hip-hop’s collective moodboard, with beats by Akachi (who also came up producing for Keef) reigniting the sound on tracks like EST Gee’s “Riata Dada,” DJ Khaled’s “Keep Going,” and Keef’s own “Tony Montana Flow (Informant Tellin’).”
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He’s also pretty down on Bang 2 and AlmightySo in this interview, but I’d take that with a grain of salt. Al Jourgensen of Ministry once described his goal as “outstanding performance through creative engineering.” He could as easily have been describing these two projects. I also suspect Keef may have come around to some degree on his fans’ interest in these releases. AlmightySo has a sequel out this December, and remains a sleek gem in his catalog, much more widely acclaimed than it was on release. And the ragged Bang 2 may be the most influential rap tape of the decade; his performance on “12 Bars” alone feels like a direct inspiration for Playboi Carti. And it’s really tough to imagine Uzi Vert sounding as he does without it—his approach to melody, its punk-rock willingness to let his vocals sound ugly, has few precedents prior.
Do you feel like the artists out today—a lot of them to me sound like they've imitated things you've been doing. Do you feel like that's true?
Yeah...I don't feel like that, that's too cocky, that ain't being humble. What I feel like is I inspire, and I'm influential, so that's bound to happen, because I create and I started something that'll never end. It'll never really get old, you know? Like you say, it's a bunch of new artists that's coming in, that came in, but I respect it. Long as they show me respect, like they do. Tweet lyrics like 'Yeah, that's my idol.' You might seem them in interviews say something like that. Long as they do that, they're paying homage, I'm cool with it, let them keep doing what they do. Because I'm influenced by people too. There's a couple folks I'm influenced by. So you can't be mad at that.
I really like the new project [Two Zero One Seven], my favorite since Back From the Dead 2, but I'm curious, when it comes to your own catalog, what ones have aged the best for you?
That right there was just showing I could drop something when I say I was going to drop it. Not that much time like it was. It was straight. I liked a lot of shit that was on there. I personally picked those by myself, on my own. So that means I really liked those songs. But I make so much music that stuff get old and I get tired of it, even though no one never heard it. So it'll be new to everyone else and it'll be like bang, I like this. But me, I just make so much stuff that that stuff just gets old to me. Because as I make the stuff, I listen to it, and then I make new stuff and then I might not listen to that stuff no more. It was straight, though. It was just something, but I got a lot better and a lot more… Ain't gonna do nothing but get better every time, long as I keep going with the consistency, ain't gonna do nothing but get better. Can't get worse. My next stuff that I got going on, all that's going to be better than the last. Everything's gonna be better than everything. It'll all be different too. I'm gonna try to do everything different a little bit, switch everything up. Do more different flows.
What's your plan this year?
You'll see. I ain't really gonna talk about it like that. I've got something in the works. I’m just non stop. People feel like I don't drop enough music. But I understand, I don't do videos. So I feel where people are coming from. And they always ask for the old me. But I don't think there's really such thing as that. You don't get younger, you get older. I can try to bring as much of it back as I can, in the midst of being older. But anyways, yeah.
I've been following your taste for a long time, you've been at the front of what's happening in music. I'm a huge fan of Kehlani and no one had tweeted about her except you.
I see what they doing, I be seeing her, I be seeing Kehlani, I be like, damn, that's crazy. Because i was the first person to see, and then tweet. I love seeing that, though. Especially with girls, like them too. I just be thinking like damn, that's crazy. That's power, you know?
You were up front with a lot of the Detroit stuff. Are you still listening to a lot of that?
I only listen to myself. I listen to Bankroll [after the word ‘Bankroll,’ it sounds as if he’s speaking in a really slurred strong accent, but then it seems like almost certainly gibberish, and then back] my boys, listening to that [gibberish]. I don't feel like [gibberish] common sense to other people, [gibberish]. You know what I'm saying?
I didn't quite catch all that.
[laughs] I be moving fast as fuck. But you from Chicago ain't you, [accent/gibberish]. Probably won't even, that's that South in me. You just gotta listen slowly. When you listen back. [accent/gibberish] You writing or recording this shit?
I know [accent/gibberish] speaking English too. What'd you say though bro?
It's hard to hear through the phone and also I feel like your voice has a particular slang to it that I'm not catching in the moment.
What'd you say your other question was though?
I wanted to know what the situation is with the label. Are you still with the label?
No I don't have a label. I'm not in no label. I got my own shit.
AlmightySo and Bang 2 are ones a lot of fans are into. What projects were you behind?
I don't even remember those. Them ain't even nothing—that AlmightySo shit, I was recording myself back then, and that shit sound hideous. So I don't even really like that shit like that. So I couldn't tell you. I don't remember, actually. I don't want to really remember. I really don't want to remember that shit so I really don't remember it. That shit was wack. It was recorded all bad. I ain't know what I was doing. I'm putting my own shits on there. Didn't know what the fuck I was doing. What else?
Same shit with Bang 2. Bang 2 was all bad. That was recorded with the same shit, that was recorded at the same time. A lot of motherfuckers like that shit though. And then I did too, when the Actavis was walking with legs. I liked that shit back then too, when there was Actavis everywhere. That was what was going on, I was sipping that. But nowadays though, I recorded myself a different way. Shit crazy. Sound like having a real studio. I've got templates and shit. Engineers come, and as I record songs and shit we save templates of the songs recorded previous that they might have recorded and mixed. And then we put that on a template and I just open that up, with nothing in it, where it's just a blank file. Template and just do it from there. It be already halfway done and shit. It be kinda better than a rough draft.
What's the challenge for you right now in your music. What excites you about recording music? What aspects of music? Production?
That's one. That's just one right there. Thinking though, I like to think. I like to think of crazy shit to say. I like to think of flows, I like to make the next flow. I like to think of different flows. Them the things that make me want to do this. Beats, thinking, thinking of flows, thinking of stuff to say. Crazy shit. Weird shit. Weird in my way.
I noticed your production to me feels like a midpoint between GGP [his producer collective with DP Beats] and Back From the Dead 2.
It didn't take no turn, it took two years, year and a half for me to get better. Right now I can get on the computer and make any kind of beat and that shit will be crazy as fuck. Used to be, as I got better, I could make a beat and then it might sound hard, I might make my hard three beats, and then make my next beats be "what the fuck?" People would be like, "I can't rap [on that]…" The only motherfucker that can rap on those is me, is what I'm trying to say. Now I just make a beat and they be like, "Damn, let me get that." As I was getting better, the shit was crazy though. Every time I make a beat it just seem like I go in, and I have my mind made on some whole other shit, like I'm motivated. I'll listen to other producers, D. Rich, Shawty Redd, and I like that trap shit, so Jeezy. He's always been an influence on me, since a long time ago. I listen to that kind of shit, that put me on some whole other shit. Mike Will, my boy, his beats. And Chop too. Chop come over here and we make beats together. Then I think about what Chop used to do. And I think about what I used to do on Chop's computer. How I used to go on his shit and go in the beats—we'd record on FL Studio. I'd go on Chop's shit, open them bitches up—this is when we did Back from the Dead. All them songs on there, I'd go in the beats and change shit in the beats. I'd put this there, take that this off, that's what I be thinking about. That's how I got better. Now Chop will tell you himself. He's like, "Damn, you really know how to make beats." A lot of motherfuckers be tweaking off that shit. When I make beats, it ain't for nobody else, it's just for me. It ain't for no rappers, it ain't for me to give to him and him, it's for me, my boys, and niggas I respect. Men I respect in this industry and the entertainment business. I'm not doing this for everybody. I'm actually doing this for me. Because I like to fuck with the piano and come up with sounds, and think of the next sound, and a beat. Like this will be hard. You know? So I like that shit.
How often would you say you record music per week?
Every day. I'll do eight songs a day, then I'll do three songs a day, then I'll take a break for three for days, sit in this motherfucker and watch TV, watch a couple movies, I might see a movie that I like so much it just makes me want to go make a hard-ass beat or hard-ass song. I might make two songs off that, three songs again. Go back, watch another movie. Might not even do that. Might just go get into bed because I've done this shit a couple days in a row.
What's some of the work that's inspired you lately?
I can't really tell you about the movies because I watch so many movies. I buy movies, there's some shit call Movies & Tv on XBox and I just be buying all the movies from 2016 to 2005, as far as I'm gonna go. I couldn't tell you. Rappers, like I say Bankroll, Jeezy. Jeezy's new shit, that Trap or Die 3 shit. Bankroll, you know Bankroll died, he got killed. But Ballout and them put me on him. Ballout, Tadoe. I usually don't like them even listening to people. Back then, when I had my other house, this was a year or two ago. They used to be listening to Bankroll all the time. I was like, who is this? This is before he got killed out there and shit in Atlanta. They used to be listening to him all the time, like "Who is this?" Because I don't like to listen to [unclear] Why listen to other motherfuckers when you can listen to yourself? Anyways I finally started listening, we was on tour. They was playing that shit on the tour bus. He caught my ear and I'm like, damn. Ever since then, I paid my homage, I just be fucking with him and I respect the man. I'm like, damn, that's crazy. Soon as I started really liking him. I was on a song with him, matter fact, too. But I didn't know back then. It was him, me and Gucci on the song. He goes hard, you know? I was noticing this man really goes hard. This shit he say, is like what the fuck. You feel me? If you understand how he's coming and where he's coming from. Just Bankroll and Jeezy.
I remember on the Finally Rollin tape you remixed one of his records, right?
Oh yeah, exactly. Finally Rollin wasn't even on nothin to me though. I don't really like Finally Rollin. I was trying to play with words a little bit on that shit, you know. Coming up with little weird ass punchlines. I like to do weird shit, like ‘What the fuck?’ You know? Like ‘damn, run that back, what'd he say? How'd he say that?’ But yeah, I don't know. I'm so high I forgot what we were talking about. I don't even know who I'm talking to. I'm thinking you just anybody.
I interviewed you at your grandmother's back in 2012.
I'm sure, like I know this nigga's voice. I thought I was talking to some whole other motherfuckers. What'd you say?
I interviewed you at your grandma's back in 2012.
I know who you is. Irish looking motherfucker.
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