Words by Tony Grands
Southside Chicago, Illinois’ Chief Keef is a Hip Hop commodity at the moment. His clumsy jog through rap music’s seedy middleground has obviously been a successful one. How can we tell?Because the one-time house arrestee is now an employee of Jimmy Iovine. (& he was an employee before Lupe-Gate, Lil Jojo’s murder, & the Instagram lovin’, to drive home the point.) That entitles him to access to all levels of media, & a chance to make his boss tons of monies, stipulations & propaganda be damned. Regardless of popular opinion, Chief Keef is the hottest, most exciting thing to happen to rap music in a while, & one has to wonder if it’s a coincidence that Iovine scooped & hired the troubled teenager. It wouldn’t be the first time Jimmy’s Interscope Records would be associated with controversy, violence, & well-placed character assassination.
Keef is the rebirth of the marketable rapper. Unlike the rap artist template of yesteryear (built on paper & designed for profit), he’s constructed & polished in the cold, hard actualities of his real life. That’s totally different than the Frankenstein Rappers that once ruled the lush audio horizon with iron mics & red-taped contractual obligations.
Frankenstein Rappers were built in the boardroom, behind closed doors, under the watchful eye of capitalist businessmen who wanted nothing more than to make
more money. So when signing rappers to semi-lucrative, fully debt-creating record contracts became the popular thing (some time in the 1980’s), the sharks smelled the fiscal blood & began to circle. Much like today’s kingpin of Brick Hop©, Rick Ross, said rappers were contrived & fluffed in preparation to become a company’s property bread winner.
Some record labels dedicated entire divisions to rap artist development & manufacturing. They could take any nominally talented kid with a flow out of whatever hole-in-the-wall they’d found him in & transform his proverbial Pinocchio into the rappin’ real deal. Through this smash-n-grab, guerrilla warfare-meets-Star Search technique, record labels controlled the music, thusly controlling the culture, whatever culture you may be indentured to.
Once the internet piracy thoroughly crippled the traditional record industry complex (roughly 10 years ago), the days of the monetary monster machine dominating rap music’s caged passion disappeared. Every rapper across the country was now privy to the lampooned popularity that established rappers enjoyed, thanks to social media. No longer were brick & mortar offices, boring meetings, & corporate backing needed for a young boy from “the ‘hood” to reach his goal of generating cash for his words. & with record companies losing command of what the public consumed, people began flocking to the ‘net to find new rappers to hate & old rappers to hate on.
Blogs, bloggers, & commenters became the new DJs, Vjs, & accident(al) tastemakers, even if it’s because they’re all mimicking one another. That digital rat race for exclusives & discoveries only serves as an aggressive marketing plan that the rapper never even has to get involved with. No wonder street teams died off. More frequently, internet rappers are finding their way to Hip Hop’s overpass, that much closer to the success that they all crave. Some more than others, but that’s for another day…
So in steps artists like Chief Keef, who grew up in the early stages of the internet’s misappropriated influences & the harsh destitute of the surreal world that houses them. These artists, armed with camera phones, computer programs, & “no fucks to give” have taken gangsta rap to it’s reality-based brink, & the line between authentic & augmented just got that much blurrier. In a strange, somewhat comical turn of events, it seems labels need the artists more than the artists need the label.
During an interview with us some months ago, fellow Windy City MC Tree said record executives are roaming around places like Chicago & Detroit looking for the next break-out Hip Hop artists based on their urban survival skill level. A total role-reversal of the days when rappers, DJ’s, & producers hit the pavement in search of a receptive label representative, willingly sacrificing themselves to become the next “Frankenstein Rapper.” Unfortunately, really real Reality Rap killed all that, & there seems to be no turning back.
This situation kind of reminds me of when actors decided to start doing their own stunts, except stunt men don’t make gang videos & get killed in drive-by shootings (unless it’s in the script).
Long live Hip Hop, though.
Words by Tony Grands