The average music listener probably hasn’t thought about Chief Keef in a long time, not since his meteoric rise to superstardom four years ago and the controversy that followed. It seemed then that the young Chicago rapper was poised for great things; he had a slew of hits under his belt, a popular debut album featuring a who’s who of big name guests, and a lucrative deal with Jimmy Iovine and Interscope Records that allowed him to move off the war-torn streets of Chicago and into a sprawling suburban mansion. However, things didn’t quite turn out the way everyone, including Interscope, had expected them to. Now thrust into the public eye, Keef continued to be plagued with legal troubles, and addictions to lean and Xanax led to an increasingly abstract musical output. His follow-up to the breakthrough success of Finally Rich, a mixtape titled Bang 2, was almost universally panned, as Keef ditched instantly catchy choruses and booming Young Chop production for autotuned slurring and a lo-fi aesthetic. From there, the 18-year-old’s projects steadily became stranger and more outside the box, influencing a new generation of Soundcloud rappers but leaving mainstream listeners wondering what had happened to such a promising talent. Unbeknownst to most, as Keef lost much of his radio appeal, a rabid cult following was developing in the one dark corner of society were such things are encouraged to grow: the internet. These were rap fans who embraced the weird, who understood Sosa the way nobody else could and who recognized the bizarre modern art he was offering up for public consumption.
Always the innovator, the pioneer behind Chicago’s drill movement has often said that there is nothing he hates more than others biting his style, and to avoid this, he sheds ideas just as quickly as he embraces them. A casual fan listening to Almighty So and Back from the Dead 2 in one sitting will find themselves wondering if it is even the same person vocalizing on such radically different sonic landscapes, one being an almost continuous melodic drawl while the other is tightly coiled with spasmodic flows and aggressive, nightmarish production. This unique style of being impossible to pinpoint musically has only encouraged the Keef community online to grow. Fueled by passionate forum posts, Instagram comments, and the magic of Reddit, these diehards have become a real and true force on the web, even being recognized by members of the Glo Gang camp and the captain himself. What they thrive on is leaked music, loose tracks that Keef teases extensively on social media and then seemingly forgets about, leaving his fans to scour any possible source to find them in glorious studio quality. This is their story, told as completely as they were willing to reveal.
Chief Keef’s music has been finding its way online through illegitimate means for almost as long as he’s been making it. This usually occurred the same way it does for most rappers: one or two dishonest members of their entourage looking to make a quick buck rip the tracks from laptops or iPhones and sell them to desperate fans online. This is a story as old as the internet, and after Keef got hot nationally in 2012, demand for his leaked music increased exponentially. As his sound became more niche, this demand narrowed to that same cult fanbase that had begun to develop organically, namely one individual, the central figure in this tale of black market music trading. He goes by the name “ch0ppa,” and is by far the most infamous character within the community, due to his eccentric mannerisms and seemingly unlimited vault of unreleased Sosa gems. It would be accurate to describe him as the quintessential Chief Keef superfan, a soft-spoken young white kid from New York whose obsession with the music led him to go beyond most and actually try to get his hands on the mythical songs that had been teased but had never materialized. Starting in 2013, ch0ppa began to buy tracks from those close to the Chicago rapper and leak them online, or sell them to the highest bidder in massive Instagram direct message threads that gradually came about as a sort of auction ground for the latest songs to find their way into his hands. This was the beginning of the ring, the birth of a seedy practice revolving around doing whatever it took to get those most sought-after masterpieces that Keef refused to release for reasons that were likely as simple as the forgetfulness associated with regular drug use. It is rumored that a laptop containing all of the rapper’s recordings from that year was stolen from his house, which would explain the sudden torrent of leaks, on top of the well-known fact that his friends were burning CD’s of his newest tracks and sharing them with each other, a practice which undoubtedly led to the music falling into the wrong hands.
The story continues with DJ Kenn, an early collaborator from the days before widespread fame that linked back up with Sosa in 2014. They recorded a veritable treasure trove of music together that year, but none of it was slated for release any time in the near future and thus it was locked up in the studio indefinitely, awaiting placement on a project somewhere down the line. It was around this time, after Keef had collaborated extensively with Kenn, that a local Chicago rapper named Dinero began to record in the same studio, likely surrounded by the remnants of his hometown hero’s extended stay. The details are hazy on how exactly Dinero was able to get his hands on all of the unreleased music that was kept in various hard drives around the building, but it didn’t take long for him to capitalize on what he must have seen as a golden opportunity and begin to lay down his own verses on the unfinished Keef tracks he had scavenged. Soon enough, many of the songs from those studio sessions began to surface online, sold by Dinero in the same Instagram circles populated by the likes of ch0ppa and the other dedicated fans chomping at the bit for any new music. He even traded some of the tracks for what he thought were beats from Metro Boomin, one of the most in-demand producers of the moment, but what were actually just re-tooled Youtube instrumentals tweaked by a trader known as Kashews with the intention of tricking Dinero into giving away leaks for free. Most fans by now were aware of the fact that Keef was generally considered something of an unsavory character among those he collaborated with. He seemed to have trouble with the concept of paying his producers, instead expecting free beats in exchange for the name recognition that the producer would receive from doing a song with a famous rapper. Because of this, nobody really questioned the morality of stealing so much of his music and selling it for personal gain; Sosa’s fans love him for his talent as much as they hate him for his antics, and from his Instagram it’s obvious he’s not exactly strapped for cash anyway. Regardless, a significant amount of the leaks can be chalked up to his poor relationships with those producers, as many of them decided that if Keef wasn’t going to pay them they were going to find some other way to be compensated.
In early 2016, the floodgates finally opened, an event that the most hardcore fans had been anticipating for years. Within a space of about a week, nearly all of the most sought-after unreleased Keef songs leaked online, on the personal Youtube channel of arie2929, himself somewhat a celebrity in the community akin to ch0ppa. Arie was previously known for his homemade music videos dancing along to his favorite Keef tracks, as well as his efforts to compile all of the rapper’s music into different eras based on what drug he was using at the time of recording. Now, he had become another member of the small band of leakers whose output had gradually transitioned into a very real force seemingly buoying the Chicago rapper’s career in between his official releases. Arie’s source happened to be Dinero, the same opportunistic no-name who had taken advantage of sharing studio space with a more talented artist, and from him he managed to obtain a sizeable amount of Keef material through basic deception and more devious means. During a conversation over the phone, he described in detail how he would scam Instagram users trying to buy unreleased Sosa into sending him money, which he would then use to purchase more songs from Dinero. It was a vicious cycle, but it worked, and on top of that Arie was receiving a steady stream of music from ch0ppa, the original Robin Hood of the vast message chains that eventually expanded into a full-scale operation. “I probably spent $350, maybe $400 on music from ch0ppa,” Arie recalls, straining to remember all the details of his days as a leaker. “We also tried to scare Keef’s management into dropping stuff we wanted by teasing on Instagram that we had full projects of unreleased music, but it didn’t work.”
The management he’s referencing is Brandon Zehrer, an associate of Keef who has dropped for-sale compilations of leaked music in the past against the will of his boss; after Sosa went on an Instagram tirade about the unauthorized releases, it’s assumed that Brandon wasn’t exactly in any hurry to release a new one. Regardless, Arie assembled the most valuable songs he had in his collection and dropped them one by one on his Youtube channel, creating a frenzy of discussion and celebration among the online community and finally exposing the world to songs that Keef freaks had been chain-listening to snippets of for years. Since his rise to prominence, the young Chicago rapper has had hundreds of songs leak, a number incomprehensible to the average listener unfamiliar with just how productive Keef can be musically when the inspiration strikes. While most of these have come through the hands of ch0ppa and his associates, others have found their way onto the web through more straightforward means: Keef has admitted that he keeps a multitude of email addresses to send songs to friends and receive beats from producers, email addresses that he often forgets the passwords to. Anyone able to access these inboxes is also able to access the files inside, and thus a leak is sprung. Others come perhaps from Keef himself, looking to drop new music without the constraints of the label’s expectations, silently uploading them to Audiomack and letting the people discover them. It seems recently that the Glo Gang camp has gotten a much tighter hold on their captain’s music, most likely stemming from the strict terms of the contract he signed with billionaire Alki David and FilmOn Group last year. The majority of the songs that have leaked can be traced back to studio sessions from 2013 and 2014, but to many fans they are fresh, and more than enough to hold over hungry ears until the ever-enigmatic Chief emerges from his mansion with his latest musical offering.