Chief Keef's road to releasing Bang 3, his long-awaited third studio album, is one of the most intriguing stories in rap music over the past few years.

The Chicago rapper rose to stardom as a teenager posting YouTube videos of his songs like "Bang" and "3Hunna." His 2012 song "I Don't Like" in particular got the attention of Kanye West, who helped turn the song into a monster jam. Keef signed to Interscope Records fresh off his online hype and was seen as one of the leaders of Chicago's rising drill movement. In late 2012, he released Finally Rich, an album that was truly great for what it was: a collection of short, easily digestible drill tracks that doesn't overstay its welcome. Chief Keef was looking to be one of the biggest names in rap at just 16 years old.

After the release of Finally Rich, everything started to change. As Keef entered the public eye in a greater capacity, his actions were more public. He had multiple problems with the law and became more of a divisive figure. Thinkpieces about whether or not drill music was good for the Chicago youth began pouring in. Keef started experimenting with his sounds, becoming increasingly experimental and alienating many of the fans he made with his first string of mixtapes. Eventually he even began making his own beats as well. Interscope decided they couldn't do anything with the new Chief Keef and dropped him.

That move was probably for the best. Chief Keef clearly isn't interested in making any music other than the sounds he wants, and what he wants to creates isn't exactly easy for any mainstream label to sell to the general populace. Yet in the immediate aftermath of being dropped from the label, Keef has released his most digestible project since Finally Rich dropped with Bang 3.

The album doesn't have any tracks that sound like monster hits like "I Don't Like" or "Love Sosa," but the production values in general are a step up from what fans have gotten used to with Keef in the past few years. The post-Finally Rich tapes were defined by Keef rapping in a sort of indecipherable mumble that would make Young Thug sound like he's enunciating every word. The songs didn't always have a traditional structure and sometimes blended into each other. The beats were noticeably flawed, largely due to Keef's own inexperience as a producer.

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On Bang 3, the Chicago rapper sounds much less drugged out than he has for the past few years. He's rapping more clearly than he has since 2012, maybe even the clearest he's ever been. Keef also showcases his improved production talents on songs like "Sing to the Cheese" and "Greenlight." Zaytoven is the only relatively big name to help provide beat duties, providing some of the album's biggest highlights, such as "New School." On this track, Zay gives Keef some glistening keys and booming bass to perfectly suit the energetic rapper, who absolutely bounces all over the track.

What makes Keef an interesting figure in hip-hop is that he seems to rarely seek the help of guest features on his albums and tapes. Sure, he's had the likes of Gucci Mane and Kanye West show up on his projects over the past few years, but since Finally Rich, Keef has been very picky when it comes to other voices showing up on his tracks. It's something that deserves respect in the current feature-heavy climate of hip-hop. So when Chief Keef does collaborate with other artists, it feels less like a feature for the sake of having a big name on the track and more like a genuine effort by artists who want to work together. That comes across on the A$AP Rocky-assisted "Superheroes" as well as "I Just Wanna" with Mac Miller. The Mac Miller track in particular works great as the song switches up multiple times throughout its duration.

It's silly to expect tons of bars from Chief Keef as a rapper. His lyrical skill has always been the biggest knock against him. Bang 3 is no different as Keef treads the same lyrical waters he's been in for years: money, hoes, drugs. "Millions" is another solid Zaytoven-produced track but we're not learning much about Keef we didn't already know with lines like, "Only language that I speak is million dollars cash down." Much of Keef's career can be summed up with the first three lines of his second "Greenlight" verse: "All I talk is money, uhhh I'm Master P / Bad bitches on me, uhhhh you after me / Dope got me coughin', uhhhh it's nasty."

Yet he's also matured a bit. The death of his cousin Blood Money led to what is by far the most emotional Chief Keef has been on a track, "Ain't Missing You." The words "emotional" and "Chief Keef" don't necessarily seem like they belong in the same sentence, but the track is incredibly heartfelt and the uncharacteristic-for-Keef tone of the track may be the best thing he's done in his career up to this point. Keef shows how Blood Money's death changed his outlook with lines like, "I done partied, I done sipped Bacardi/Rollin' with Blood, we done crashed all the parties/We done rode Ferraris, rode Lamborghinis/Now only thing that I care about is breathing." Keef still parties and counts his money, but he's realized that those things aren't what's most important. He realizes that it's the ones we love that inspire us the most, and that our time with those loved ones is limited.

Chief Keef is almost 20 years old now and has clearly matured from the teenager who was sounding off on the things he didn't like. The deaths of those close to him as well as having to leave his Chicago home may have sped this process up. Keef, who was accused of glorifying violence in Chi-town years ago, has actually helped the Stop the Violence Foundation in an effort to decrease the city's problems. Even when Keef raps about the same stuff he has for years, he still seems like he's grown as an artist, and more importantly as a person. Chief Keef has been doing whatever he wants for a few years, but he's never felt this genuine before now.

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