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Hype: [Bleep] I don't like

OPINION

  • Chief Keef performs at Lollapalooza.
Chief Keef performs at Lollapalooza. (Brock Brake/RedEye )
August 09, 2012|By Ernest Wilkins, RedEye

Chief Keef and his GBE crew have taken the rap world by storm during the past few months. So much so, in fact, that he was a last-minute addition to the Lollapalooza lineup last weekend.

Music fans are in two camps about the Chicago MC. Either he's the end of rap music as we know it (a little dramatic, yeah?) or he's the kickstarter to a renaissance in Chicago-based rap getting national attention. (I'm in the latter camp, with the caveat that musicians still have to work to make good songs.)

Anyway, Keef-a-mania got me thinking about hype itself. How many times have you been bombarded with claims that Artist X or Band Y is the next big thing, only to never hear from them again? As a cultural anthropologist (shhh ... I don't know what it means either), I think it's necessary to define and catalog the hype cycle of an artist.

Step 1: Underground

Regular life. No one knows or cares about his or her music, save immediate friends. This is where it ends for most artists.

Step 2: Ascent

A ton of shows/songs/tapes/videos later. Artists gain a fanbase of small-yet-entitled folks who will take any possible opportunity later to tell people they "liked their older stuff better."

Step 3: Pre-game

A big single. Trendsetter blogs and invites to play SXSW/ACL/Pitchfork/CMJ/Starburst Fruit Explosion Hootenanny follow. An opening gig on a big tour. A record deal.

Step 4: Fame

Play on MTV/VH1/NFL stadiums. Money to blow. Invitations to secret parties where amazing-looking women wear paint on their boobs.

Step 5: Descent

Using the same logic that all of us would ("You want to give me $300K to do something I've been doing for years for free? OK!"), they become overexposed. Backlash. Saying something stupid in an interview. The media will use this point to extradite them from the popular collective conscious.

Step 6: Life after

Novelty act/street fest status. "Celebrity (insert mundane activity here)" reality show offers. Someone doing a "Where are they now?" piece on them in five years.

So what's in the stars for Chief Keef? I don't know, and neither do you. There was a time when Lil Wayne was the weakest rapper on his own label. Now he can wear furry green boots and no one bats an eye. The key is to focus on making quality music. Everything else is just ... hype.

Ernest Wilkins is Chicago's wingman. erwilkins@tribune.com | @ernestwilkins

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