An influential figure in the 2010s drill scene, rapper Chief Keef pulls inspiration from the Chicago streets, delivering hardcore rhymes that often focus on inner-city tales of violence and drugs. Kicking his career off at the age of 16 with the street single “I Don’t Like,” he was a hit on Chicago’s high school circuit before mixtapes and viral videos led to a contract with Interscope. His official debut, 2012′s Finally Rich, was a hit, peaking in the Top 30 of the Billboard 200. Following a pair of 2015 albums, a prolific Keef issued a string of mixtapes — five per year in 2017 and 2018 — including Two Zero One Seven, Thot Breaker, and Mansion Musick. Over the next several years, he focused on a recurring series called The GloFiles, which released its fourth volume in 2020, after which he issued the album 4NEM (2021) and a series of collaborative singles.
Born Keith Cozart in Chicago, Keef first hit with 2011′s “Bang,” a slow-rolling, simple cut that was an instant hit with the youth of his hometown’s South Side. The mixtapes The Glory Road and Bang were both released that year by Keef’s label, Glory Boyz, but at the end of 2011, the rapper was arrested for unlawful use of a weapon, having pointed a gun at a police officer. In early 2012, Keef was finishing his sentence of house arrest at his grandmother’s home as his track “I Don’t Like” was topping a million views on video-sharing sites. It caught the attention of Kanye West, who completed a remix of the track with Big Sean, Pusha T, and Jadakiss all added to the mix. The single landed on Finally Rich, Keef’s debut album released late in 2012 by Interscope. 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, and Rick Ross made guest appearances, while production came from the likes of Young Chop and Mike Will Made-It. Late that same year, as the Chicago Police announced the MC was being investigated in connection to a shooting death, a video of Keef at a gun range triggered a parole violation investigation that ended in 2013 with a two-month sentence in a juvenile detention facility.
Interscope dropped the artist a year later, and in early 2015, while the rapper was under house arrest due to more parole violations, a planned concert with Keef beamed in as a hologram was canceled when the venue was pressured by Chicago’s City Hall. It didn’t stop the release of music, as the MC issued four mixtapes, as well as a pair of LPs — Bang 3 and Nobody 2 — at the close of 2015. In 2017, on New Year’s Day, he released Two Zero One Seven, followed that summer by his fifth official full-length, Thot Breaker. Later that year, he issued Dedication, which included features from Lil Yachty, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, and Tadoe, along with production from D. Rich, StuntMan, Turbo, CBMix, and K.E. on the Track.
In 2018, Keef repeated the prior year’s prolific streak with a dizzying slew of mixtape releases, including two installations of The Leek series and the first two parts of The GloFiles. He issued Mansion Musick in July, featuring Playboi Carti on “Uh Uh” and Tadoe on “Sky Say,” before closing the year with The Cozart and Back from the Dead 3. The following year, the seventh and eighth volumes of The Leek arrived just before his high-profile collaboration with trap producer Zaytoven, GloToven, which featured just one guest, Lil Pump. With barely a pause in his output, Keef picked his GloFiles series back up, issuing the third volume in late 2019 and the fourth in 2020. “Bang Bang,” a collaboration with Mike WiLL Made-It, appeared later that year, followed in 2021 by singles like “The Talk” and “New Bugatti,” the latter of which featured Ski Mask the Slump God and DJ Scheme. The album 4NEM appeared at the end of the year. Several singles, including “Tony Montana Flow” (with Akachi) and “Almighty Gnar” (with Lil Gnar), were released in 2022. ~ David Jeffries