4NEM is the latest proof that Chief Keef’s singularity and eccentricity are second to none in the world of hip hop.
While there’s been little to no media fanfare surrounding its release, Chief Keef’s 4NEM is an album that demands your utmost attention. Honestly, this is something of an emergency — not just to those who’ve invested a considerable amount of time and energy into the Chicago rapper’s career, but to hip-hop fans of any inclination or proclivity. This isn’t to say that Keef’s sold out this time around; on the contrary, the vision on display here is so singular, so peculiar to a specific subset of intended listeners, that it may naturally turn some off from the sheer eccentricity of its disposition. But the degree to which this is an obstacle — which has always been the case with Sosa, at least since Almighty So — has never been less severe as it has on 4NEM, his most approachable release in terms of basic comprehension. Not in a strictly literal sense, mind you; his enunciations and utterances are intelligible, even lucid in a way that might seem a bit too professional. But, broadly speaking, there’s a clear-sightedness to the direction and structure of these tracks — the type that’s been sorely missing from Keef’s (admittedly legendary) independent run at the start of the previous decade.
Not only is 4NEM the first “proper” project Keef has dropped since 2017’s Dedication, but it’s his first “proper” sounding release in ages. The album’s cover art, a sandbox littered with jacks and plastic army figures fighting an undisclosed battle — call it Sosa’s Small Soldiers — confirms this to be a call to arms, a rallying cry after taking a few much-needed years off. Here, his delivery is focused, almost militant in its indifferent tone; he lobs his voice across these blaring beats (those booming horns and 808s on “Tuxedo”) like grenades into enemy territory, taking no prisoners in the process. “Hadouken,” with its looping Young Buck sample, is a banzai charge in the form of a drill song, with an unstoppable forward momentum that’s unfortunately almost halted by outdated transphobia (“you the type of n***a link up with a tranny”). The gonzo “The Talk” is equally as guttural, with hard-hitting hi-hats and a sinister synth line that sounds like a didgeridoo; imagine a 2012-era Lil Bibby beat, but polished ever-so-slightly and improved upon. “See Through” has this never-ending opening snare build-up that sounds like a drum march, led by Drill Sergeant Sosa training new recruits, barking at them “you don’t smoke or drink, boy, your fuckin’ pee see-through.” There’s an enthusiasm to his delivery that’s unmistakable; one can sense a certain amount of glee that’s evident in his cadence, bursting with confidence and perseverance. This isn’t the work of an industry veteran pumping out albums in order to fulfill contractual obligations — which very well could have been Keef’s fate had Finally Rich gone platinum — but an invigorating, exciting piece of art that could have only been authored by a talent uncensored by commercial success, one who’s been afforded the time and resources needed to continue developing his style and sound.
After all, where else can you listen to a remix of “Slob on My Knob,” with a final line that compares fellatio to cooking (“In the morning I need head, in the night make me soup”), where the following track is a Thot Breaker-esque anthem with a Cars reference and a funny double entendre involving a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye and “red eyes”? (For the record, Sosa has both). Or where a plain-spoken piano ballad called “I Don’t Think They Love Me,” with lyrics like “I don’t think bitches love me,” is sandwiched between the menacing “Yes Sir” — where Keef over-emphasizes the ending “er” syllable of each line, which somehow allows him to rhyme “toaster” with “chauffeur” — and stream-of-conscious “Hurry B4 The Gate Close,” which jumps from different acronyms (“CBD” to “CPD,” “EBT” to PND”) to disparate definitions of the word “toast” (“‘So’ what ya eat?’ bitch, I ate toast”), to a disclosing of abstinence from pornography, all in a little under three minutes? The point being, a record like 4NEM is a rarity these days, if not flat-out the only one of its kind: there are zero trends chased, no hot features flaunted, little re-hashed from past efforts, and it carries a general disinterest with anything popular within contemporary music. Even saying it’s a “Chief Keef record” doesn’t do it justice, implying there’s an established paradigm for something this fresh and immediate; yet, considering how idiosyncratic this is, calling this an auteur project would still certainly fit the bill. Better yet, let’s name this as simply as possible: an all out-attack from General Glo, the highest-ranking officer in the Chi-raq Army, who, once again, honorably reports for duty.
Published as part of Album Roundup — December 2021.