Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
With three words,16-year old Chicago rapper Chief Keef completely eviscerated the hip-hop landscape, and reshaped it in his own image on his 2012 breakout single “I Don’t Like.”
Featuring production by frequent collaborator Young Chop and a guest verse from fellow drill scene mainstay Lil Reese, the song seemed destined to stand out based on Keef’s concerted effort to do the exact opposite of his peers, with Keef explaining, “People make songs talking about all the things they like, and I wanted to switch it up.”
The result is a blistering rebuke of everything and everyone not living up to Keef’s standards — reaching legendary levels of hype when paired with Chop’s escalating synths, ominous bells and a snappy 808 beat. Already one of the defining pairs for Chicago drill music, Keef and Chop’s mainstream breakthrough was at first seen as the misfit on the rapper’s third mixtape Back From the Dead with its experimental production eschewing the gritty sound of their previous collaborations. Chop even reveals that the track was all but buried until guest vocalist Lil Reese pushed for its moment in the sun.
“We never talked about the song ever; two weeks went by and we never talked about the song,” Chop recalls. “Then when it was time to shoot the videos, Reese’s like, ‘Man, let’s shoot that ‘Don’t Like’ song’ and I was like, ‘What? What ‘Don’t Like’ song?’… We shot the video, then the rest of it is history.”
Dropping in March 2012, the song had a response that immediately set it apart from previous cuts, aided by a home-movie style visual that raised the song from an underground to viral hit. Its success initially came as a surprise to Chop, who remembers building the beat before school and locking in the vocals within 20 minutes later that day, while Keef seemed to embrace the moment as a milestone for his career and a major victory for his hometown.
“We had the whole city looking like, ‘What they gone do next?’” he says. “But ‘Don’t Like’ really put things in cement when it dropped.”
Though the song garnered plenty of buzz from the beginning, it wasn’t until Kanye West and his G.O.O.D Music compatriots jumped on a star-studded remix a few months later as part of the label’s Cruel Summer compilation that the full impact of their creation began to set in.
“I’m telling you the truth, I didn’t know it was a hit record,” Chop insists before asking himself, “‘Okay this kind of is a hit record if Kanye wants to jump on it, isn’t it?”
The remix shot the song to next-level heights, pushing the new Chicago sound into the mainstream and giving “I Don’t Like” a nudge into the Hot 100, where it topped out at No. 73 later that year. For Keef, it seemed like only a matter of time before two of Chicago’s pioneering artists collided. “My manager had hit me like, ‘Kanye wants to remix “I Don’t Like,”’ and I knew it was time for something like that anyway, on some Chicago s–t,” he says. “It came out hard as f–k overall. I like what they did.”
The success of “I Don’t Like” has had an undeniable influence that continues with shout-outs from the newest crop of hip-hop talent, like rising chartbreaker Lil Tecca, while the so-called “Young Chop Snare” has reached near-ubiquity with its imprint on the likes of Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert and the entire spectrum of modern trap music. Chief Keef’s lasting impact is all the more impressive considering his breakout moment occurred without the baked-in benefits of the streaming era, where his nonstop output, viral sensibilities and outsized personality would have easily translated into the lucrative opportunities and instant notoriety afforded to today’s hip-hop upstarts. Keef was creating the blueprint for a model that didn’t exist yet.
Now serving as the elder statesman of Chicago drill, Keef reflects, “It’s love seeing all the acknowledgement and respect from the newer artists. We were just shorties doing our thing trying to make it, but I always felt we’d have that kind of impact in the game. To see that happen has been a blessing.”