I remember when I first started listening to Chief Keef when I was in high school. This was right at the end of the bling era for rap music, and the intensity of the drill music coming out of Chicago was a very fresh sound because it was so energetic. It was much different and harder sounding than other popular rap music at the time. Chief Keef was the first of the drill artists to start to gain a major following, becoming huge in Milwaukee, Chicago, and other areas of the northern Midwest before the rest of the country caught on. This drill sound that Chief Keef popularized in Chicago in the early 2010s became the basis for the trap sound that dominates hip hop today. The Chicago GloGang artists led by Chief Keef became the inspiration for modern rap music. Having kind of stepped out of the mainstream a few years ago, the industry seems to have forgotten about the artist that essentially started what became the current formula for hip hop. Chief Keef deserves so much more credit for what he and other Chicago drill artists did to pave the way for trap to take over the mainstream.
Chief Keef grew up on the south side of Chicago and dropped out of high school due to legal issues at 15. He started to gain immediate traction in Chicago with his mixtapes Glory Road and Bang. While on house arrest, he started putting a bunch of videos on youtube that went viral, being highlighted by sites such as WorldStarHipHop. His song ”I Don’t Like” became the premier party song in the Midwest at this time, and he was thrust into superstardom when Kanye West, Pusha T, Jadakiss, and Big Sean did a remix to it. I remember when this song was the most popular thing among people my age when I was in high school. It became an anthem for people my age pretty quickly after being released. Chief Keef literally went from the streets to Hollywood. Being so young and coming from where he did would be a huge culture shock for anyone, and it wasn’t any different for Chief Keef. Almost as quickly as he was in the biggest of spotlights, everyone stopped caring about him, and people seem to have forgotten how he and all of the other drill artists from Chicago completely influenced trap.
When you listen to some of Chief Keef’s bangers on his first mixtape it is easy to hear the similarity to new trap artists. There are some older songs by Chief Keef that are so similar to today’s trap that if you didnt know the specific song playing you probably wouldn’t be able to tell when it was made. When you hear songs like ”Love Sosa, ” the melodic trap instrumental sounds very similar to songs by artists like Gunna or Lil Baby. ”I Don’t Like” sounds like it could be by more hype rappers like Shy Glizzy or O.T. Genasis. Songs like ”Apeshit” or ”3 Hunna” have that smooth trap flow that is so prominent on Gucci Mane’s music. Chief Keef made so many different styles of drill music in a short amount of time that he ended up influencing multiple subgenres of trap music.
If you listen to some of today’s biggest rappers, they will tell you Chief Keef was one of their favorites growing up. In an interview with Lil Pump by J. Cole, Pump states “I used to listen to a lot of like, Chief Keef and shit. That’s like, who I looked up to … it was a whole different era he came with.” Lil Uzi Vert also has expressed a similar sentiment when talking about his influences: “I’m not going to lie: I listen to a lot of Sosa. Even in my early days of rapping … everything I listened to, you can hear the influence in my music.” (Sosa is a nickname Chief Keef uses to refer to himself a lot) These aren’t the only artists who have stated how big of an influence Chief Keef is; that list is too long for this article. When Chief Keef came along, rap music was in more of a soft era, with melodic stripped back rap, internet stoner rap, and bling rap being the crazes. Keef and the other Chicago drill rappers took the world by storm with their intensity. They gave representation to the druggy trap stars who didn’t identify with what was popular in hip hop at that time.
One of the biggest ways Chief Keef directly influenced today’s trap music is through his excellent use of ad-libs. Ad-libs are a staple in pretty much all hip hop music being released right now. Chief Keef was the first rapper in the trap generation to make such excellent use of Ad-libs. Two of Chief Keef’s most known songs, ”Bang” and ”I Don’t Like, ” are excellent examples at his prowess at ad-libs. The exclamations of phrases like ”Gang Gang!” or ”Bang!” are infectious, and the formula Chief Keef used to make these songs with ad-libs is very prominent in rap today. I do not know if you will hear really any popular music today without ad-libs; even pop artists like Ariana Grande are using them profusely. Ad-libs have become a staple in the music of today, and we can thank Chief Keef for making them so popular.
In recent years, Chief Keef has kind of faded into obscurity. He has opted to stick to making the hard drill music that got him so big in the first place, and has kind of lost a lot of the huge following he initially garnered. Those within the industry know how much he influenced hip hop, but casual fans have seemed to forget about it since we don’t hear as much about him anymore. Chief Keef deserves to be recognized as one of the pioneers of modern rap music, and I hope this piece helped to explain why. To listen to his music, click the Spotify page linked below!