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Chief Keef DECODED: The Tantric Mantras of a Burgeoning Rap Guru

CHIEF KEEF DECODED:
The Tantric Mantras of a Burgeoning Rap Guru 

by Kreston Kent, author of

The Literary Genius of Lil Wayne: 
the case for Lil Wayne to be counted among Shakespeare and Dylan


At first, Chief Keef sounds like a mumbling, repetitive drone; but once you catch on, Chief Keef will stop you in your tracks and captivate you. His celebrity is bewildering to the outside observer, but his success is not an accident: Chief Keef is no flash in the pan. His rap has a mysterious, elusive, but undeniable genius to it. Keef is not a literary genius; there will be no comparisons to Shakespeare and Dylan here. I find no overarching literary merit and precious few literary devices in his rap. But Chief Keef is an arresting* lyrical genius. *no pun intended



The same two aspects of Chief Keef's raps that will initially drive you to dismiss him (as a lucky oaf who won the fame lottery) are actually the keys to his virtuosity: 

The first key aspect is Keef's seemingly idiotic repetition of phrases. Over and over and over, the same phrases. In the songs “Win,” What Up,” Don’t Want None,” “Get Money,” and especially “That’s What,” the repetition is nauseating and seems beyond excessive until you can hear it as a trance. The cadence is hypnotic. This is how Chief Keef climbs into “the zone”: the same zone elite athletes occupy when they compete in championships; the same meditative zone Eastern gurus induce through repeated mantras; and the same zone battle rappers seek through introductory “uh"s, "yeah"s and "check it"s. Keef has taken the battle rap warmup process and elevated it to a compositional method. Sometimes, Keef uses his chorus in the same way, droning on with the chorus far too many times for a standard song structure but just the right amount to induce a trance that grows into an ingenious progression of subtle evolution. He doesn't often change up his flow; when he does, it's gradual; it's mutation, and it’s captivating. Once you listen for it, you’ll hear that the entrancing repetition gradually and organically shifts, with the changing words and the lengths of the rhymes at the ends of lines growing from 2 to 3 to 4 to 6 to 9 to sometimes 12 syllables. These lengthier rhymes are a recent Keef development. Through his prolific output, he has arrived at a critical point in his growth as a rapper and stepped into the elite ranks of long polysyllabic rhymes, or “multi”s. 


The second key aspect is his lack of enunciation, the slurring of his words that deceives the uninitiated into deeming him a dunce — the same unfair shake given to the sage Rocky Balboa for his lack of vocal acuity. But Chief Keef’s mumbling is not a sign of mental deficiency. The slurring preserves the vowel formations in the mouth as he maintains a rhyming pattern through a verse or song. He physically inhabits a particular vowel pattern with his throat and mouth through mantra-like repetition and then seamlessly spouts unending variations on that pattern. Again, “That’s What” is a perfect example: he begins with a two-syllable mantra, slowly builds to three-syllable rhymes, then builds up to a tantric finale of twelve-syllable parallel structures


In The Literary Genius of Lil Wayne, I laud Wayne’s unmatched polysyllabic rhymes, up to fifteen syllables long, which is the longest ever in rap music. This claim is supported in the book by computer scientist Eric Malmi’s rap algorithm, which analyzed over a half million lines of rap and found the next-longest to be 14 syllables, by Tech N9ne. I have found Keef to hit twelve syllable parallel structures, which is extremely rare. This does not mean that Keef approaches Wayne’s mastery of polysyllabic rhyme. Keef has not yet even stepped onto the playing field at which Lil Wayne is the stadium’s namesake. But, Keef is only nineteen years old and has time to earn a call-up to the majors and a spot playing in The House That Wayne Built. Where Chief Keef has much room to grow is in combining rhyme with other literary devices such as puns (which Keef has only dipped his toe into), extended metaphors, erudite vocabulary, literary forms of repetition (as opposed to mere repeating), jokes and word puzzles. In these areas, Keef is a rookie, if in the game at all. And he may never aspire to head down the same path forged by Lil Wayne. (Although he is obviously a fan: the Chief Keef songs cited are from his Sorry 4 The Weight mixtape, a homage to Weezy’s Sorry 4 the Wait 2.) 




Perhaps no one can compete with Wayne in those areas. But this does not diminish the virility and power Chief Keef is bringing to rap. Of note, Chief Keef far surpasses Lil Wayne in one measurement calculated by Prof. Malmi’s algorithm: rap density. In rap density, Keef ranks 7th all time, whereas Wayne ranks 31st. [Casual radio rap listeners may not have ever heard of the top six ranked in rap density by the computer program. Check it out at mining4meaning.com


Chief Keef stepped into a vacuum in rap music. The great masters of the genre have all passed away or transitioned from the streets to the stages of Hollywood. Once hungry scrappers, Jay Z, Diddy, Eminem, 50 Cent and Dr Dre are now capitalist fatcats. Drake was Hollywood from the start, and Lil Wayne is an alien; he’ll never fit into anyone else’s cohort. If the others are the professors in a college physics department – the ones you see in class everyday – Wayne is the crazy-haired Einstein who can’t keep a steady job working for others but who blows the rest out of the water with his sheer intellect, approaching problems (rap) from an entirely different angle. 






To extend the metaphor, Keef might be a Richard Feynman, the badboy genius of physics who experimented with LSD and sensory deprivation tanks. Keef is a true thug. His aura of danger appeals to adolescents who crave the lost genre of true gangsta rap. Even when Keef’s fame and earnings are well deserved, it still feels somehow like he’s stolen them. Keef is both a street scrapper and an artist, whereas most street rap is nothing more than veneer: while authentic and maybe even heartfelt, it has no artistic substance, no intellectual power behind it. But Chief Keef is a gangster and a prodigy at the same time. 






It is said that Beethoven was the first true superstar entertainer the world ever knew, where a majority of the Western world knew him by name. Lil Wayne is the first and only literary genius in rap and, by many measures, the most ubiquitous and exceptional rapper alive. If Wayne is the Beethoven of rap, perhaps Keef is the Johannes Brahms, who was at a young age pegged as “the next Beethoven.” Brahms never matched the elder’s fame, but is still one of only a handful of composers that everyone who studies music can name. Or maybe Keef will be more a Rachmaninov, renowned for his particular brand of music but never quite a household name. If he continues with his rapid pace of innovation and development as a lyricist, we may someday regard Chief Keef as a literary genius too. For now, he is the most exciting and dynamic young rapper around. 


It will strike many as odd reading a comparison of Chief Keef and Lil Wayne to Feynman and Einstein, or Rachmaninov and Beethoven. In the first two decades of rap, comparisons between historical geniuses and rappers would have indeed been absurd. Rappers used to be nothing more than clever. But the times, they are a-changin’. Lil Wayne brought true genius to the genre. Now, Chief Keef suggests there may be room for one more true genius in rap; only time will tell. 


by Kreston Kent 


Kreston Kent, an exact contemporary of Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. (aka Lil Wayne or Weezy) studied political science alongside Wayne at the University of Houston in the Spring of 2005. While Mr. Carter left academia to pursue his music, Kent continued on to graduate school at the University of Virginia en route to his future professorship. In addition to studying politics and philosophy, Kent studied classical composition at the Moore's School of Music and wrote a thesis analyzing musical forms and structures in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. 

A recipient of the Earhart Foundation Fellowship, Professor Kent has taught at the University of Virginia and Piedmont Virginia Community College, and college preparatory schools, instructing politics, philosophy and mathematics. 




Prof. Kent's book, The Literary Genius of Lil Wayne: the case for Lil Wayne to be counted among Shakespeare and Dylan can be found on Amazon and iBooks, where it has been a #1 bestseller in its categories.

Comments

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