Over the last four months, 16-year-old Chief Keef has come from almost complete obscurity as a kid on house arrest to being one of Chicago's most buzzed-about artists. Last week, Kanye West announced a remix of Chief Keef's song “I Don't Like” with rappers Pusha T, Big Sean, and Jadakiss, helping to expand Keef's national profile. On Thursday, Chief Keef flew to New York to meet with labels and press outlets. RedEye sat down with him after his trip to get the full scoop on labels, find out how his music has gotten so big and ask how his grades look on his latest report card.
What was that trip to New York like?
It was cool.
Did you meet Kanye?
Who did you meet with out there?
We met with everyone: Mark Ecko, Complex Magazine, Shade 45 or something [Manager: “Atlantic Records, Bad Boy Records, Fader”], XXL.
Did you meet with Cash Money?
No, I talked to Birdman. We're going to Miami, though.
That's pretty cool. So you still haven't signed a deal or anything yet?
Nope. Just have labels talking.
What do you think of the fact that your music has taken off so fast?
I don't really feel nothing because I knew it was gonna happen. So that's why I'm not really that excited because I knew this was coming. And I've been doing it for so long, you know, waiting for this, and it finally came. Everybody I was looking up to is looking up to me.
Why were you so sure it was going to happen?
'Cause I knew. 'Cause I know what I'm doing. I mastered it. And I don't even really use metaphors or punchlines. 'Cause I don't have to. But I could. People don't want me to start doing it. But I don't like that. I think that's doing too much. I'd rather just say what's going on right now. Real talk, you know? Like, what's going on. I don't really like metaphors or punchlines like that. I'll leave it up to them, people who do that. It's good for them. But as me doing it, I don't do it. I could, though. I used to, when I first started rapping, coming up. I did, I done it before but then I slowed down like 2008, 2009. I slowed down with that punchlines and metaphor.
A lot of other people I've talked to in Chicago have said “Chief Keef, his realness, that's what makes people like him so much.” And you're saying kind of the same thing. What do you think it is about you that's so real that people see?
Like I said, I say what's real. I say what's going on right now. What we doing. I just say what's going on with the girls, what they doing, and the n****, and everybody, the people, just people period. What's going on. What we doing, what my guys doing, what I'm doing and what's happening right now. So that's what I do. People like that. And they like my squad. They like how we be rocking to the music.
Do you think videos have helped?
Yeah, videos have helped. Visuals are going to always help. 'Cause like [someone] hearing a song, like if you always look, Gucci [Mane] songs or somebody's songs, their visuals always be more than the songs. The songs be at like, 50,000 [views on YouTube] or something like that; the visuals – like 5 million [views] or something like that. 'Cause [audiences] like seeing, they like looking at videos. Like, who wouldn't like – people like watching movies and all that. Especially videos – music videos.
And it seems like a lot of people in Chicago – you have a lot of high schoolers watching videos on their phones.
Yeah, they love videos. They just like looking at videos like 'look at this, look at that, look at his face' like 'what's that, what's he have?'
You're really big in the high schools here. Do you think part of that's because you have a network of friends in the high schools or is it just based on the music?
My friends aren't even in high school though. I've got some friends in high school but my guys aren't in high school. My guys are all older than me and out of high school.
So you think people are just rocking with the music in high school because they like the music?
Yeah, they like how I just – they can go through a test or something with one of my songs. It's like a pump up. It's like candy, eating candy, a lot of candy, or something.
Are you at all worried about jumping into this industry at age 16?
Nah. I'm ready to rock.
You kind of brought the spotlight to Chicago. Do you think there's something special about Chicago right now?
Yeah. This is New Chicago, new era. We got our own little flow. East Side. Like the West Side got their look, Houston, Texas got their look, now we got our look on, that we created, the new generation, the new era. We created the New Chicago thing now that'll probably have everybody from Chicago rapping like this in the future. Rapping like – we set that trend and everybody rap like that now. Rap how they rap now. Everybody in Chicago starting to rap like, you know what I'm saying. Starting to use [Chicago producer Young] Chop beats too. So you starting to hear a lot of 'Young Chop on the beat.' Everybody in Chicago starting to have a Young Chop beat now.
What do you think about DGainz, as far as helping people blow up with the videos?
DGainz been my dude since I first started seeing his videos. But yeah, he knows. He mastered the videos, you know? Just imagine with everything, all the stuff, all the video equipment and all that. It's going to be over with. His videos just be a done deal. He just uses a simple camera. Imagine him with all the stuff. But he's coming too. DGainz, he's coming, going to be a director.
As far as the collaborations you've got coming up –
What do you think it's gonna be like when the Kanye remix drops? Are you excited? Have you heard what he's going to do with it yet?
No, and that's crazy that I couldn't hear my own song yet. I don't like that.
There was this big controversy when you had that show at the Congress Theater, and people were blaming the police coming on you. People are saying your music is really violent, encourages violence. What do you say to people with those kinds of criticisms?
I don't say nothing. I say let them talk. I can't say nothing about none of that. Let them say what they're going to say. Just let the people – I mean, I could make other songs but it's how we is, and people like that anyways. They like three hunna. I'm three hundred percent. People like being three hundred percent. Y'all [gestures to RedEye staff] even like it. I mean, three hunna, who wouldn't want to be three hunna?
So when you're saying three hunna, that's like three hundred percent?
What about Fredo in the cut? Is he a scary sight?
That's my blood cousin. Don't he look like the Joker, though? Just think about the Joker and look at Fredo. The latest Batman movie with the Joker – when did that come out? 2010? Nine? – that Batman movie, he looks just like that Joker, I swear to God.
Looking ahead, how much longer are you gonna be on house arrest?
I don't know man. I've been on this too long. But they ain't trying to take me off so I'm just trying to go to school and get some good grades for them and do all that. That's my judge's main focus, is school, and I respect that, that it's his main focus. It's cool – and not catching another case. That's his main focus, really. Like all the little stuff ain't really that big, but he really likes school so I'm trying to go to school and get some good grades. My last report card I got some good grades. I got some Bs, some Cs. I ain't get no As yet. Just got to the school, anyway. Yeah, I got Bs and Cs on my report card. That's good enough.
So you're still taking classes from here, then?
Yeah, I'm still...even though I didn't want to, really. But it's just, I gotta get through this to do what I'm trying to do anyways.
What do you think about King Louie? He's a little bit older. Do you think he kind of helped pave the way at all for New Chicago?
Yeah. I listened to King Louie. When I first started rapping my guys listened to King Louie and they put me on to King Louie, actually. Chyeaaa! Skrr skrr! He'd be going crazy. He was way over me. I would always be saying like “I need to get like Louie.”
Who else were your influences as far as rappers?
Gucci [Mane]. Like I said, Young Jeezy, Yo Gotti, like I listen to them. Future, he's decent too. He says what's going on now. He just explains, he just – right now, what's going on, or what happened yesterday, he puts what happened yesterday in a song. He just talks about it. What happened last week, he just talks about it.
Have you talked to Future at all?
Nah. It's gonna happen though.
You two, right now, are the two people are paying attention to. That's pretty sweet.
Yeah, it is though. For real. If we did something it'd be just...it'd be crazy. Everybody'd be like “man.” They'd be playing that for years.
Do you have any more comments on Chicago in general?
They know Chicago violent, anyways. Our city is violent. What should I say about Chicago? But everybody's trying to rap now. Everybody's trying to rap now, so they could probably stop the violence. But it's too much hatred in Chicago, to me. But it is my city. It is my city, where I was born, but you know, that's how it is.
You don't think that there's any way the music can be something that helps people get past the violence or get out of it?
Why is that? Too much hatred?
Too much killing. It's over with, man.
Do you think there's anything artists like you could do? Everybody's rocking with Chief Keef, right?
Yeah, but it's a lot of haters too. It's like 98% of people following me, and then it's like 2%. It's a big 2%, though, of people who hate me. But it ain't nothing. That's how it is in Chicago, though. But like I said, keep working, though. I ain't saying “stop working, you ain't gonna make it” or “they ain't gonna make it” or none of that but I'm just saying keep working because that's what I did. I worked for a long time. I mean, I made this a goal. Instead of saying I want to grow up to be police or I want to grow up to be a firefighter, I want to grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer, I made rapping a go.
You think it makes sense that the whole industry's eyes are on Chicago?
I mean, now it is. I think because of me, though. Because I run that bang bang three hunna, you know. I think all the rappers looking at Chicago artists – such as me, [King] Louie, [Lil Reese] Reesy, Fredo [Santana] – the only artists [being paid attention]. Everybody's looking at us. Because I ain't seen nobody come up with nobody else from Chicago. It's other artists, like Spenzo. Spenzo, he cold. They should look at Spenzo. He's like a Lupe Fiasco. [To photographer] You heard of Spenzo?
[Photographer] Oh yeah, we just did a photo shoot.
He's like a Lupe Fiasco. I respect his grind, even though I wouldn't rap like that. I like how he come and he just be “phooo” [makes leaving gesture] – just gone. He be going crazy. Like Lupe – not even only Lupe but he just be going crazy like he got that, and he's from Chicago and I like that. I think he should get signed soon. I think he should come. They should let him right in. He could make commercial stuff, all that. I know he could. He's raw.
When you say “make commercial stuff,” do you think you wouldn't make commercial stuff?
Yeah, I could, I could. I'm saying but he got that – like Andre 3000, like that, he just be going. I wouldn't do that. I'm not the type of person. I'm too... Even though I do hop around and stuff. That's cause I like tweaking out.
Like Waka Flocka more?
You don't [bleep] with Waka?
Yeah, I [bleep] with Waka, but it ain't like, it ain't from him. It's like, we get wild, [bleep] it. And it ain't just Waka Flocka, it ain't 'cause of him. I know he shake his dreads and go crazy too, but we just go all out. Psssh. We be pushing, elbowing. Like at the Congress Theater, I almost fell. I almost fell over the speaker, I don't know if y'all seen it. I almost fell. It always happens like that way 'cause we be going too crazy. I love falling into my crowd, falling into my n*****. It's like, “catch me.” They ain't gonna let me fall. If I fall, they gonna get me right back up, right back up.
Well, and that's in the “I Don't Like” video.
Yeah. And I really did fall! It wasn't on purpose or nothing. It wasn't like we planned it or nothing. I really did fall in that video. And they picked me back up because I was tweaking. And somebody let me fall, though! One of the guys let me fall. But they caught me and pulled me back up in time. They moved, I guess. I don't know what happened, I know I just fell. It was gone.
That was the moment. That made it.
And I pushed my man by accident. I was just feeling it, you know? That's my right hand though, that's my boy. He's coming too. SD [is his name].
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor.