The house that acts as a backdrop to Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” doesn’t look lived in. The interior design is sparse to the point of vacantness; the space is so clean it feels sterile. Take a glance through the window of Youtube and one thing comes through clearly: there was never any love in that house.
This suburban dwelling is the antithesis of what had been expected from an archetypal rap video prior to 2012, when “I Don’t Like” smashed the template forever. Now, the (presumably) Chicago building ought to be up for historical landmark status so it’s eternally protected.
“I Don’t Like” captures Chief Keef (né Keith Cozart) and his crew at their wildest. They smoke weed, flash their ink, count money stacks, mosh topless to Young Chop’s punishing beat. Co-star Lil Reese is seen in a blood-red hoodie — a vibrant contrast to Keef’s blue denim. The one gun the squad appear to have between them is aimed at the camera’s lens intermittently. Grainy production techniques are often deployed to give rap videos a raw feel. Here, the clear picture and close-up focus on its subjects only heightens the video’s in-your-face intimacy. There is no narrative or veiled messages. Just teenagers made of blood, bone and wrought iron. Young men in adult bodies but not yet with grown-up minds.
“I Don’t Like” wasn’t the first inexpensive rap video deployed on the internet. The likes of Odd Future and Lil B spent the early shots of the 2010s making rusty clips that felt low budget, low stakes, and fit a kind of Tumblr post aesthetic. Just 16 years old, Keef set a new bar on how immediate and impactful cheap clips could be. Coming a year after director and rap video legend Hype Williams dropped one of his most ambitious projects ever in Kanye West’s “Runaway,” director DGainz’s simplified production marked the spiritual end of the big-budget, bling-bling rap video era, and established a model that young stars have been drawing from ever since.
Evolving tech and economics played a part in the production of “I Don’t Like” and its subsequent influence. The internet, combined with cheaper recording equipment, allowed burgeoning artists to bypass the gatekeepers at MTV. Labels cut back, too. After the bottom fell out of music sales, companies couldn’t put up the kind of budgets that could turn Busta Rhymes into a sperm-like creature anymore. Conceptual videos with cinematic ideas but without the production values can often feel cheap and cringy. You can, though, stunt to camera for virtually no money at all.
“I Don’t Like” is the archetype. As with any good music clip, the song sets the tone — Young Chop’s sledgehammer drums and skyscraping, hard-angle keys matched with Keef’s short, catchy bars were stark, uncompromising, and totally undeniable. From there, DGainz captures the personality, the energy, the sense of don’t-give-a-f*ck teen rebellion.
The lack of women in a music video genre that has traditionally commodified female bodies is striking. Not entirely unspoken at the time of the release of “I Don’t Like” was the homoerotic streak that runs through it. Within the all-male space is a palpable sense of intimacy, both physical and spiritual. It’s a raw depiction to young masculinity that seemed to capture the humanity behind the headlines coming out about young Black males in Chicago at the time.
Viral impact helped make “I Don’t Like” into the single most influential Chicago drill song and, by extension, synonymous with Chicago violence. Reports from the city made grim reading. 2012 was the height of the hysteria, when South Side Chicago became a maxim for urban mismanagement. Images from clips like “I Don’t Like” promised to put faces to the statistics. Just a few months before recording the video that would launch his rap star, Keef was reportedly shot at by cops after flashing a blue-steel handgun at the officers. In an alternate timeline, his story ends there and rap history takes a different course.
The influence of drill on contemporary rap was immense. It pulled trap into an even starker ethos than before. Drill’s core tenets can be strongly felt these days in the fashionable sounds of Soundcloud rap. And the effect of the “I Don’t Like” video has continued to percolate. Five years after its release, 6ix9ine’s video for his viral hit “Gummo” recycled the same elements: the lack of overarching narrative, the stunting towards camera, the general menace. Lil Peep’s “Benz Truck” proved you didn’t need a storyline to wear a synthetic pink and green fur coat and pull shapes in front of The Kremlin.
Life hasn’t been as straightforward for the young stars of drill. Built on the artistry of often troubled kids, the scene largely burned itself out. By the end of 2012, a disturbing and brutal video allegedly showing Lil Reese assaulting a woman was posted to the internet. As for Keef, his career has struggled to gestate among a lengthy rap sheet. He may have flamed off of Interscope, but he’s remained prolific and, at still only 24-years-old, his recent work has shown renewed promise.
Regardless, Keef’s place in hip-hop lore is forever established. He’s the kid who took the harsh realities of his native soil, alchemized it into something that could punch through a monitor or smartphone screen, and created one of rap’s great visual requiems.