It’s a new day and age for Chief Keef and the blistering battlements of Chicago. He’s no longer the rowdy savant with the finger-length dreads, army guns twirling around his fingers, and a careless drawl that made much of his earliest music endeavors come off as balderdash. The drill age has largely subsided, with the larger industry soaking up its aesthetics. Vagrants took his style and ran with it, and now they’re what’s hot while Keef hangs around the background. Aside from the quick hunt with Tekashi 69 that roused the entire city, Keef has largely been an afterthought.
It’s a good thing that no matter how jokey his music is, he knows how to create tunes that start a conversation. He never shies away from trying something in true “hold my beer” fashion. His new album Mansion Musick is comprised of Keef’s wide, ever-changing range of eccentricities; it’s equal parts new, old, and just flat out zany. He’s not pleading for attention or showcasing artistic growth — he’s rapping, singing, and crying lethargically, and it just happens to sound good. And, because of that, this project shines. It shines hard. Even through the rotten apples, the batch still remains desirable.
“I’m 18 now, but I feel like I’m 30,” said Keef in 2014 in an interview with Billboard. Years of partying, a flabbergasting $6 million deal with Interscope, and a plethora of legal charges meant that, even then, Keef was exhausted, on the verge of defeat. You could hear it in his music. The decrepit warbling that hissed from his throat felt lazy, causing for most of his music released around the time to go swirling down the toilet drain. In the four years since, he’s endured loss and he’s shied away from the spotlight to just... exist. Mansion Musick is full of crooning, but this warbling is a little different. Within there’s passion, angst, and a dash of innovation. There’s a return to purpose that may even excite you.
It turns out, a world-weary Chief Keef is a sight to behold (or hear). On album opener “Beileber” (Yes, Keef is every bit as self-aware as you would imagine him to be) the lowly hum of the bass heavy tracks he typically traverses is stripped away, leaving a near-inspirational heft of soothing strings that, on the first listen, will lead you to check and make sure you’re listening to the right thing. But when he eases into his pitch with a near tear-inducing moan, the breadth of his exploration is laid out. He’s removed all traces of drill Keef. Now, we get the kid that Kanye found inspiration in so many years ago.
But the entire thing isn’t glitz, glamor, and imitation-'90s heartthrob vocalizing. Keef’s tune reeks of new inspiration, even if it all doesn’t translate successfully. In addition to the gravelly, monstrous production that makes Keef one of the horrorcore mainstays of rap, he goes for some of the eclectic sounds that are in today, currently Pi’erre Bourne’s area of expertise. “Uh Uh” even features Bourne’s partner-in-crime Playboi Carti for a dual-pronged warbled pit of nonsensical street raps. Keef tumbles up and down octaves like they are flights of stairs, brandishing hints of a heavily-improved flow similar to “I Don’t Like” from some time ago. This kind of sound is what Carti does best, but it could have been a challenge for Keef. But he pulls it off admirably, with the track being one of the project’s true highlights.
At 11 tracks, it’s a little longer than G.O.O.D. Music’s recent plethora of seven-track albums, and maybe it’s because we grew accustomed to the length, but Mansion Musick could stand to be trimmed just a little. “Part Ways” and “Tragedies” make for a horrendous stretch that siphons blood from the ears with a sequence of grating deliveries, making you wonder how either track escaped the cutting room floor. Ugly God’s recent reveal that Lil Yachty serves as his judge and executioner when the former thinks about releasing a song should be standard. Maybe Keef just missed the memo.
Closer “Letter” is as close to a sonic sequel to “Belieber” as we’ll ever get. It reexamines that emotional space, but this time, the focus is a glossy-eyed reflection of where he’s come from to where he’s at now. You know, typical rap boilerplate. But Keef’s pained singing make it sound different and authentic, like we’re just now understanding that he’s far, far from broke. It’s best put in the final two lines with “Made it from the bottom to the top, n*ggas didn’t/That’s why my mansion 2 million, n*ggas bitter.” He wraps up the song, and the project, with a glimmer of light in the darkness. That’s more than the bleak, violent manifesto that Keef usually emits, so if anything, this signals some growth.
And with the album coming to a close, some hard to admit truths come to the light. Again, as with projects like Sorry 4 the Weight and Bang 3, Keef has shown that he can make out-of-the-box music that can pleasantly shock, but, in the same breath, he can also overdo what tastes good in small doses. Experimentation isn’t always good if the end result makes someone wish that they would have went with the original. Another thing to note is that he’s pretty much off the deep end in terms of traditional rap styles. It’s been something that he’s been working towards for a while now, and, now that it’s here, it’s a little harder to stomach over the course of eleven songs. With multiple parties within the genre pushing this style of warbling (in some instances, better), will there be room for Keef’s definite overconfidence? Or will he fall to the way side?
The best thread of Mansion Musick comes in the underlying feeling of luxury that permeates the backbone of the project. Grandiose notes that strum the heart’s rhythm begin and end the tape, with garish, punchy bass crashing through its more morose cuts. No two songs, even when they do venture into street bravado, sound the same. Whether good or bad, everything kind of just fits together for a picture of what could be Keef’s decadent mansion where this was probably recorded. Through extravagant parties and stair rails being slid down with gleeful smiles in place, Mansion Musick is the soundtrack to youthful wealth. Blunders aside, it makes for fun, careless music that shows Keef has come a long way, but has a way to go as well. If he can discern the good stuff from the garbage, he could reclaim his spot as one of the genre’s best. Mansion Musick is rough in places, but it paints a picture for improvement.