Exclusive interview: 16-year-old Chicago rapper Chief Keef

The rising star on house arrest at his grandma's South Side house is 'ready to rock'

  • Rapper Chief Keef at his home in Chicago on April 28th 2012.
Rapper Chief Keef at his home in Chicago on April 28th 2012. (Lenny Gilmore )
April 28, 2012|By Kyle Kramer for RedEye

UPDATE: Listen to Keef's collaboration with Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T and Jadakiss on the "I Don't Like" remix here.

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?

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