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Chief Keef Enters Legendary Status With ‘Almighty So 2’

The rapper’s long-awaited fifth studio album is the link between millennials and Gen Z that rap needs

Chief Keef

Casimir Spaulding*

When Chief Keef released his mixtape Almighty So in 2013, Obama was still president and the then-18-year-old Chicago MC was something of a symbol for street violence, viral fame, and rap’s new cacophonous young generation. The tape, while far from a critical darling, solidified Keef, who’d risen to fame with his hit single “Don’t Like,” released when he was just 16, as a moment-defining talent. Fast forward more than a decade, two presidents, and a “vibe shift” later and Keef, now 29, has begun to age gracefully into an elder statesman of the genre. His latest, the long-awaited Almighty So 2, is a polished and refined distillation of the sound Keef brought into the mainstream and, especially at this moment, feels like a bold declaration of a changing of the guard.

On the original mixtape, Keef’s adventurous ear found him collaborating with younger producers, creating a blend between Chicago’s drill sound and the airy, melodic production later popularized by SoundCloud-era rappers like Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert, Keef’s slightly younger peers. The result was a project that’s brilliance makes sense in hindsight; Keef arrived right at the forefront of a sea change in rap’s sound, and he was able to surf the zeitgeist effortlessly.

Almighty So 2 arrives amid another shift in rap’s trajectory, as a group of established superstars reassert their dominance by effectively duking it out in public. Much as he did at the start of his career, Keef sounds like he’s leading a rebellion, cutting against the grain by staying out of the news and simply sounding like himself. The album opens with vintage Keef extravagance. A diced-up sample of the classical composer Carl Orff’s recognizably epic “O Fortuna” wails over sputtering drums that, for rap fans of a certain age, immediately place you back in the peak days of the blog era, when the marauding, infectious drum patterns coming out of Chicago made their way to regional rap sounds linking up online. “Almighty” lays the groundwork for the album’s level of intensity and manages to retain a specific ethos characteristic of Keef, but with a recognizably more polished, intentional sensibility.

There is something to be said for the charm of early Keef being in its undercooked edges — the way “Macaroni Time,” from 2015, sounds kind of like it was recorded in a bedroom. Almighty So 2 isn’t jagged and surprising in the same way Keef’s earlier work was, but there’s what feels like a thought-out recalibration in the trade-off. It’s as if Keef, who has so far done more press for this project than he’s likely done in his whole career, recognizes the cost of success. The much-discussed Tierra Whack feature “Banded Up” sees Keef deftly finding a pocket alongside a spellbinding double-time flow from Whack, who Keef jokingly DM’d about outrapping him on his own song. It’s the kind of left-field collaboration that brings about fresh ideas, something mainstream rap feels all out of as of late.

Chief Keef isn’t mentioned often enough among rap’s most influential producers, and on Almighty So 2, the crisp evolution of his sound brings together his playful and dynamic sensibility. “Jesus Skit” pokes fun at the rap industry’s racial politics and feels like a Chappelle’s Show skit on the recent acrimony among rap’s chart-toppers. Keef’s brooding synths underneath the comedian Michael Blackson’s delivery give the moment a balance of levity and sonic texture, almost driving home the punchline about a fictional record label named Fuck Y’all. The song segues into “Jesus,” featuring Keef’s longtime collaborator Lil Gnar, where he flows in classic cadence and intensity on lines like “Where I’m from, it gets live, but we don’t rehearse it” and “We aint mad about a bitch/EA, it’s in the game.” Gnar’s verse gets an added dose of reverb, as his voice ascends into the stratosphere.

The most striking element of Almighty So 2, and Chief Keef’s career at this moment, is his emotional progression. Keef’s greatest skill, even as he came onto the scene at age 14, was his ability to translate exactly what he was feeling. At the time, that meant plenty of rage. Regret doesn’t linger in the background of Keef’s more grown-up bars, but you can hear the weight of experience — both good and bad. On “Believe,” Keef takes stock of his journey to this moment. With distance from his old life, he reflects candidly: “Smart as shit, most of the time had to be an evil kid,” he raps. There’s a strong case to be made for Keef as the most influential rapper of his generation. Throughout Almighty So 2, we get both the bravado of Keef stepping into that role and the recognition of the toll of success.

From Rolling Stone US