Chief Keef Thot Breaker

[Glo Gang; 2017]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: mansion music, sosa&b
Others: Sosa, Otto, Young Chop, Lil Durk, SD

Fuckers in school don’t say much about Chief Keef these days. It’s hard to predict when Keef will re-surface; his brushes with traditional stardom have been not quite “accidental,” but certainly incidental to his creative process. The music’s better for it, and Sosa gets to enjoy life as rap’s last true underground superstar. He’s the ultimate YouTube play-count paradox, the owner of numerous 50+ million view videos for songs that have never sniffed radio play. More telling still, he seems incapable of putting anything out without reaching at least the low millions. That’s the crux of his position: provided that you are able to capture the rapt, obsessive interest of enough fans, the rest comes easy. Just be yourself. Sosa’s branding isn’t actively anti-corporate or outré; in fact, it just isn’t, period.

Utterly impervious to narrative, Chief Keef’s is the only career that could be sustained largely on the strength of — and despite — a deluge of snippets that often precede official releases by years. A quick visit to KanyeToThe will amply evidence the existence of rabid fandom for other rappers, but Keef obsession, which could understandably scan as single mindedness to the uninitiated, lacks the cultural cachet of performative devotion to Kanye or Young Thug. Held down by his juggalo-like devotees but unbeholden to any sort of outside influence, Keef has spent the last few years as the most exciting rapper out.

All of this is what makes the immediacy of Thot Breaker so unexpected. Around the time that Keef started self-producing, it looked like he’d taken his Finally Rich money and run, reorienting his career around total musical self-indulgence. The resultant 2-3 years of material include some of his strongest, but that’s beside the point; one could be forgiven for believing that Sosa’s pop cultural star had already shone its brightest. With the benefit of hindsight (and a few spins of “Can You Be My Friend”), its become clearer that we as a society are simply still catching up to Chief Keef’s odder inclinations. More than anything else, Thot Breaker is a flex, an earworm of a reminder that were Sosa to set his mind to it, he could render the broader pop landscape irrelevant (nearly singlehandedly, even — he produced nearly half the tracks as Turbo).

J. Cole memes aside, an album being featureless is not in and of itself a virtue; too often artists simply don’t have the versatility to carry an entire album without monotony setting in. Not so with Thot Breaker. The great advantage of Keef’s uninhibited creative impulses is that they pay no heed to what’s possible or expected of modern rap. From the FabricLive.37 wobbles of “Whoa” to the stuttering show-not-tell of “Drank Head,” the only common ground from track to track is that each sounds utterly unlike anything else, either within or without his catalog. Keef’s sense of melody (and equally important, his ability to mold lyrics and flows to it) suffices to diversify his unaccompanied appearances; further, his arrangements of secondary and tertiary harmonies and vocal tracks is without parallel. Every fawning word that’s been gifted to Justin Vernon’s prismized Antares auto-fellatio applies doubly here.

It’s crucial to remember that Chief Keef is only 21. Listening to “Slow Dance” for the first time (whether it was when Thot Breaker dropped or anytime in the year prior after the snippet leaked), it’s impossible not to smile at the childlike wonder of it all; the juxtaposition of “I fucked up fucking hoes” and “Baby, do you want to slow dance? /Do you wanna hold hands?” is less jarring than a perfect representation of the simultaneous adolescent onset of heart-aflutter emotion and outward pressure to mask it entirely. Sure, Sosa goes back to the well of cliché here and there, but I’m willing to forgive a couple of “You don’t be sippin’ no drank / You don’t be fuckin’ no hoes” for each “Snap for me like I’m a poet” or “I don’t see nothing wrong / With a gangster being on your mind” after R. Kelly. We’re well within the bounds of Keef’s juvenilia period, and yet for years he’s been both astonishingly prolific and at the top of the class in distinguishing himself from his contemporaries. While Keef’s projects resist comparison to one another (to say nothing of speculation about where he might go next), Thot Breaker is by far the latter-day effort that most neatly fits our expectation of what constitutes an album release in 2017. Through that framework, it’s exceptional, a cohesive and thrilling work that is the year’s most complete rap project. More exciting yet, it’s still far more of a by-product than a culmination for the Almighty Sosa.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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