Another one of Keef’s managers runs some album art suggestions past him and asks if he would like to fly out to see an older rapper who has asked to meet with Keef. Another is discussing show dates over the phone. Chief Keef is 16 years old. He has a multimillion-dollar record deal. He is the focal point of the operation that has sprung up in this random apartment’s kitchen, and, while getting his dreads twisted, he is busy scrolling through pictures on Instagram.
“I’ll just say yes, say no,” he’ll explain later. “Let them do whatever, and if I like it [or] I don’t, I let them know that.” At some point, the guy comes back with the snacks.
Here’s the story: Keef grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Late last summer he put out a video for “Bang,” a lurching, sinister track which, as the fall progressed, picked up a fan base among local kids and amassed several hundred thousand YouTube views. In December of last year, Chief Keef was sent to juvenile detention, for allegedly pointing a gun at a police officer. A rumor spread that he had been killed.
When he was released into house arrest this past January, a video of a young kid celebrating went viral, arousing the curiosity of Chicago hip-hop fans and bloggers. The video for his song “3Hunna” came out; Soulja Boy hopped on a remix and claimed he was going to sign Keef to his label; co-signs from rappers like A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa surfaced; Keef released a mixtape in March that featured the monster single “I Don’t Like.” To top it all off, news broke in April that “I Don’t Like” was one of Kanye West’s favorite songs, and that West planned to release a remix. By May, Chief Keef, still on house arrest at his grandmother’s house, was the most buzzed-about artist in hip hop.
He still lives with his grandma, but since being taken off house arrest at the end of May, Keef’s career has only accelerated. He’s collaborated with Waka Flocka Flame and Young Jeezy. T.I. brought him onstage at a show in Atlanta and called Keef the voice of a voiceless segment of American youth. That same trip to Atlanta netted Keef a record deal with Interscope that gave him his own imprint on the label, as well as a movie contract and a deal to market his own line of Beats by Dre headphones. The money, presumably, has poured in.
So now Chief Keef is in this kitchen waxing on the relative merits of different high-end clothing brands. He’s “getting tired” of Louis Vuitton belts. He claims that True Religion jeans sit the best on any type of shoes. And Gucci, well, “everybody’s wearing Gucci—fake Gucci,” which, as fans of his music know, fake apparel has been listed among the things Chief Keef does not like. Real Gucci, on the other hand, is something Keef has expressed a taste for—in purchases of various types of eyewear (sunglasses, ski goggles) and shirts—as well as in a popular Chicago song right now (appropriately titled “Gucci”) that features Keef on the remix. “Gucci means ‘good.’ Like ‘I’m good’ or ‘all good,’” he explains. It’s probably safe to say Chief Keef is only really beginning to contemplate the consequences of his success, and his personal definition of “all good” still has a certain teenage cast to it. (He is, after all, talking about buying $400 belts while eating a one dollar bag of popcorn.)
“I want a house with some jet skis and shit. Some four wheelers and shit,” he says. He confidently declares that he wants to date Keke Palmer, the Chicago-area actress best known as the young star of Akeelah and the Bee, although he observes that “when you’re famous, it’s hard to keep a girlfriend.” Case in point: although Keef has a seven-month-old daughter and is still on good terms with the mother, he says they’re no longer dating. Another major inconvenience of his success, it seems, is doing interviews like this one, which tend to push Keef into the kind of reluctant, monosyllabic mode of expression that most kids his age might take on when asked to do their math homework.
It’s only after he’s sat through the hair, the interview, the photo shoot that he relaxes, but the change is immediate. Relieved from his vocational obligations, he answers a phone call from a strange number and pretends to be Chicago rapper Johnny May Cash until the exasperated caller hangs up. He talks about going to see a movie with another rapper, Fredo Santana, also his cousin. Although he just took a bunch of professional photos, he asks his uncle to take his picture on his phone so he can post it to Instagram.
Out in the street, Keef’s team discusses the next day’s photo shoot, the next month’s shows, and the next place Keef needs to be driven. As he hops in the car, Chief Keef is, of course, oblivious to it all, face in his iPhone, tweeting to his growing masses, fingers still sticky with the residue of bargain-priced, gas station munchies.