At 17 years old, Chief Keef is confident that his music is already setting trends. The Chicago native rose to prominence earlier this year with his self-released head-banging anthem "I Don't Like," parlaying online buzz into interest from labels like Cash Money and Atlantic. Months after announcing his signing to Interscope in July, Keef credits his unique style-chants and gruff lyrics over stomping beats-to his success.
"I got a new style that put an eye on Chicago," says Keef, who has been rapping since age 8. "I came from the gutter. I made my own style. If I do get Auto-Tune, I make my own Auto-Tune style. I'm versatile and I got people that rap just like me, like I set trends. As you make music, you get better anyways."
Keef recorded debut album "Finally Rich" (Dec. 18) during two months in Los Angeles, nabbing marquee features from 50 Cent, Rick Ross and Young Jeezy. Album promotion has been somewhat scarce: Interscope only recently serviced the set's latest single, "Love Sosa," to R&B/Hip-hop radio, where it collected 50 adds in its first week, and on Nov. 18 the label released a YouTube video of album snippets that has amassed 40,000 views.
Because of his online success, Keef feels his reach isn't limited to the United States. "I can leave the United States and go out of the country and sell and do a show," says Keef, who may not be able to leave the country just yet-he remains on probation following an earlier conviction for pointing a gun at a Chicago police officer in December 2011. "I can go to the U.K.; I can go to London; I can go to Poland. I make music for everywhere."
Interscope executive VP of A&R Larry Jackson is confident the risk involved with releasing a debut from an artist whose success is mainly online will pay off. "That fan-generated enthusiasm carries into radio and becomes something undeniable to them where they can't turn a blind eye to it," says Jackson, who praises Keef's "unvarnished" persona. "There are no more rules. It's 2013. You write them as you go. [The Internet] is how we find our music, so that's how we're going to treat the music."
Keef's success has begun to translate offline. Breakout hit "I Don't Like," featuring Lil Reese, reached No. 73 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October and No. 20 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in September. On YouTube, the "Like" video has 19.7 million views, while the clip for "Love Sosa" clocked 18.1 million in about a month. Interscope plans to release a clip for third single "Hate Being Sober" (featuring 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa) ahead of the LP's release, but doesn't have a timeline for radio adds.
While "Like" picked up steam online before going to radio, WHTZ (Hot 97) New York PD Ebro Darden credits its charting to an all-star G.O.O.D. Music remix from Kanye West released in May. "Hot 97 had some success with Chief Keef," he says, "but the record didn't explode until Kanye and his cohorts placed verses on the 'I Don't Like' [remix]," which racked up 357,000 plays on rapper Pusha T's SoundCloud page and was later included on G.O.O.D. compilation 'Cruel Summer.' "An artist can create a buzz without radio and have some success, but it's not until they get radio play do they become real stars."
Keef dismisses claims that his success is built on cosigns from hip-hop stars including Drake and T.I. He's looking to add artists to his GBE Entertainment label, and has "visions" for his future-just like he did for the present. "I expected stuff like this to be going on," Keef says. "I still got visions though. I got more visions. But I'm going to sit back and enjoy the 'Sosa' ride."