As the Hip-hop lightning rod of 2012, Chief Keef has a lot riding on his major-label debut. The problem with the pressure is that Keef’s notoriety is not based on the talents people are expecting to hear in his songs. It’s based more on the timing of his emergence. The murder rate in his hometown of Chicago turned attention to him in a way that no rapper has experienced in recent memory. The zeitgeist of gun violence made the nihilistic anthem “I Don’t Like” strike an open nerve with people who have no business speaking on Rap music.
With that said, Chief Keef is not a lyricist, nor should he try to be. His appeal lies elsewhere. The criteria for a good rapper include far more than just being about to spit rhymes, employ deft metaphors, or just simply flow with the beat. Keef doesn’t do any of these incredibly well. He isn’t much of a communicator (see any of his interviews), much less an entertainer. He’s only like his closest predecessor, Tyler, The Creator (who, in his early 20s, is still a few years older than Keef), in that he also scares the shit out of white people. Charisma (a.k.a. swagger) is another criterion by which rappers are judged (think Jim Jones, Lil’ Wayne, or Keef’s closest contemporary analogue, Waka Flocka Flame), but, as 50 Cent illustrates, rappers don’t even necessarily need that to be successful. I hate to admit it, but Jayson Greene at Picthfork nails it when he writes, “If Waka Flocka Flame woke up tomorrow utterly drained of the will to live, he might sound like Chief Keef — all the unilateral forward motion and aggression, none of the audible joy.” Indeed, unlike Flocka’s Flockaveli or Triple F Life, Finally Rich lumbers along with barely a glimpse of joy. The few anthems here, aside from “I Don’t Like,” barely reach that song’s notable energy. The title track, “Ballin’,” “Hate Bein’ Sober” (featuring 50 and Wiz Khalifa) “Hallelujah,” “Diamonds” (with French Montana), and perhaps most tellingly “No Tomorrow” draw their power from an abject belief in nothing. They’re all completely devoid of any hint of emotion.
Even so, there’s something infectious about Finally Rich. The vibe is undeniably consistent, making it an album one can put on from beginning to end without unchecking any of the tracks. That’s a rarity even among the best albums out—Rap or otherwise.
Even when unapologetically violent, most Hip-hop is fun. The only fun found here is in head-bobbing to Young Chop’s entropic funk, the very sound of impending doom, and Chief Keef’s ability to aptly accompany it with successive one-line rhymes. Given Chief Keef doing what Chief Keef does, I can’t imagine Finally Rich being any better.
—Roy Christopher, 22 December 2012