Words About Music
The man, the meme, the legend; Chief Keef has returned to grace us with his latest project, the highly anticipated and much-delayed “Thot Breaker.” This mixtape marks a serious change of pace for the highly prolific Chicago rapper/singer/producer, with its dense layers of buzzing synths, accidental-avant-garde approach to vocal layering, and emphasis on pop over hip-hop.
My personal experience with the music of Chief Keef has been fairly straightforward. I enjoyed his pioneering drill-trap style of hip-hop back in 2012 and 2013, when songs like “Love Sosa” and “Don’t Like” were impossible to avoid. The tumultuous teenager put together what would today be lazily labelled as “mumble rap,” and it’d be hard to say hip-hop would be the same today without him. I grew out of his music, though, or so I’d thought, trying certain projects of his here and there and feeling only that Mr. Keith Cozart from Chicago, Illinois was getting lazy and sloppy.
The now 21-year-old Keef has proved me wrong, however, with his most colorful, catchy work to date. “Thot Breaker” threw me through a loop the first time I heard it, and now that it’s taken some time to really marinate inside my head-stomach, I feel ready to give my thoughts on how this project has turned out.
The tape kicks off with the self-produced “Alone (Intro),” which establishes the project’s general sound. The psychedelic, bass-y sound is akin to Travis Scott’s music, with Keef setting the lyrical tone with crooned bars about a relationship gone awry. Right off the bat, I get the sense that this will be an emotional project for Keef. As a song, this track is incomplete and sort of unnecessary, but I think it does an intro’s job of setting the stage and letting the listener know what sort of music they’re in for. Still, things only get weirder from here.
The next track, “Can You Be My Friend,” co-produced with Young Chop, features a dancehall-inspired beat, cashing in on a trend that we’ve seen attempted by everyone from Major Lazer and Meek Mill to Drake and Travis Scott. I do think the production on this song is fantastic, and the song does have a discernible hook, but Keef’s despondent vocals don’t completely suit the song’s charismatic elements. It’s also a pretty short song with not much to it, and it’s definitely not the most memorable track on “Thot Breaker.”
I think Chief Keef starts to hit his stride on “My Baby,” which features an ultra-catchy refrain. I like the way he entertains the “love = drug” metaphor, and the production continues to impress. This track reminds me a bit of pre-2016 Gucci Mane mixed with Rae Sremmurd, without sounding exactly like either of them. Keef has more energy on this track, and it translates into a more up-front, outstanding song. He also hits us with a life lesson, with the line: “To those who I influence, just say no to drugs.” Someone get this man to a D.A.R.E. lecture.
The self-produced “You & Me” sounds like every song on “808s and Heartbreak” played at once. It’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess. Again, there are numerous sticky hooks on this song, and Keef is beginning to flex his chops when it comes to producing beats. I really enjoy his raucous, cloudy, almost-overbearing style of production, and he matches it with a spacey codeine flow. It’s another fairly short song, and I wish he’d developed it more, but it presents something unique in a sea of forgettable trap mixtapes.
He continues with this inventive style on “Whoa,” one of my favorite tracks on the tape. It combines PC Music-esque pop with a Skrillexian approach to wobbly synth bass. It’s a colorful, glitzy track that glitters like a golden explosion on the Sun. It’s a fucking weird track that you’ll either find unbearable or undeniable. This song is impossible to ignore, and it’s a dense, well-put-together production to my ears.
Mike Will Made-It nicely coopts Sosa’s new style on the track “Couple of Coats,” which Mike produced. It’s a toned down, more polished approach to the style, and it features the instant-classic line: “Butterflies up in her gut from my wrist, damn shame/Got Hillary up in my Bentley, I’m the campaign.” Later on, he compares himself to Zac Efron in the midst of some sung bars about how he’s done with drugs and alcohol (except for lean, of course). I can’t tell if this track is extremely self-aware or extremely self-unaware, but it makes me smile and I like it. “Thot Breaker” continues to break stride as it carries on into its second half.
“Grab A Star” kicks us off with some soft piano playing, before giving us a bit more of the same. It’s not the most eye-grabbing track on here, but Keef does give us some ear-grabbing lines, like “These hoes love Almighty, like Disney loved Miley” and “Ooh, my car so retarded, the bitch just farted.” Perhaps there’s a pinch of irony in my enjoyment of this track, but it’s hard not to enjoy such a goofy song with this much work put into it. I wish it was a bit catchier and that there was more to it, though. There are songs on here that are balls-to-the-wall weirdness, and “Grab A Star” is lost in the eccentricity, a bit.
We get some more beautiful piano and string melodies on “You My Number One,” which was produced by CBMIX. This is another song I love. There’s something about the full, somber instrumental on the track and the way it meshes with Keef’s lyrics and vocals that totally works for me like some of these songs do. It’s like a postmodern Lil Wayne song gone horribly right. I mean, how do you write a heartfelt pop song about love and dedication and include the line: “Girl, I promise I’m gon’ milk you right/Moo moo moo moo moo moo moo moo”? Fucking bananas. Fucking awesome. Add some off-the-cuff references to “Toy Story” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and you’ve got something akin to a masterwork of the utmost genius.
Keef produced the next track, “So Cal,” which I believe was a promotional single for the mixtape. I love the buzzing, galactic synths which color the song’s instrumental, as well as the way Keef’s legendary ad-libs (“Bang bang,” namely) seem to encompass the track’s beat as well. This is a recurring vibe on the tape, especially the tracks which Keef produces, redefining the ad-lib in this, the Year of Migos. As much as this tape may rub people the wrong way, it’s pretty fuckin’ defiant.
“Drank Head,” produced by KE on the Track, also seems to evoke comparisons to Travis Scott. It’s not my favorite on the tape, with its focus on a dedication to sipping lean. It fits the mixtape’s general sonic vibe, but I don’t think the guest producer on this particular track really lives up to the standard that Chief Keef sets with his noisy, trademarked style. His off-the-wall style returns on the similarly titled “My Head,” a song which sort of makes my head spin. It has an unusual hook, and it seems like Chief Keef put thought into it. The more I listen to it, the more it grows on me, even though it isn’t the most immediately lovable track here.
The next song is called “Slow Dance,” and it’s a romantic change of pace for an artist who generally sings about drugs, meaningless sex, and the occasional bout of violent behavior. The beat is ambient and thick, and I like CBMIX’s style on this track. “Slow Dance” is a futuristic synthpop song that doesn’t even use any drums for the first 2.5 minutes. It’s like a love song written and performed by a robot, but in the best possible way. I don’t care for the bit of anti-Asian racism that pops up in this track’s lyrics, but sometimes you need to accept a few specks of dirt in a cup of water when you’re really thirsty. If it wasn’t clear already, “Thot Breaker” is a turn-your-brain-off kind of project, despite its many forward-thinking musical ideas.
The tape closes off with “Going Home,” which was the second promotional single released for “Thot Breaker,” and it’s yet another highlight. It’s a triumphant, poppy song that stands out as one of the most uplifting tracks on this record. This mixtape is potently sad and full of heartbreak, sonically and lyrically, so it’s nice to feel like I’m finally listening to a classic Chief Keef summer jam. And with that, one of the year’s most memorable mixtapes is complete, and I’m floored that Chief Keef put together a project that is mostly worth listening to for its entirety.
You won’t hear anything else that sounds exactly like this in 2017, and if you do, it was inspired by “Thot Breaker.” While this probably won’t be at the top of my end-of-the-year list, at least based on how I’m feeling in the moment after taking my time with this project, I’ll definitely be recommending it formally. It’s a weird, obscure little mixtape that is all too easy to miss in a world where Chief Keef is thought of as passé outside of his cultlike fanbase. Truthfully, this record is a world of its own, even if it doesn’t live up to normal, typical hip-hop standards. Chief Keef has his own standard and his own rulebook, which he effectively ripped into shreds in order to put together the fully realized version of “Thot Breaker” which sits before us today. Equally hatable and lovable, I’m leaning more toward “love” with this one.
SCORE — 7.75 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — My Baby, You & Me, Whoa, Couple of Coats, You My Number One, So Cal, My Head, Slow Dance, Going Home