We Went to Chief Keef’s First Art Gallery Show and Interviewed Him
Chief Keef's newest hobby is art collecting. We had to talk to him.
Photos by the author
This weekend, LA’s Fairfax Avenue proved it could still be cool. Chief Keef hosted his first art show at the Seventh Letter Gallery. It had been teased that Keef himself had a couple of canvases. We never got around to addressing that in our four-minute-and-31-second interview.
After the release of his 2012 debut Finally Rich, the 19-year-old Chicago rapper was besieged with legal trouble and even spent time in rehab earlier this year. But over the past six months or so, his name hasn’t been in the news much. Sure, he lit up Twitter in October when he posted about getting dropped from Interscope, but the sudden freedom (not to mention his relocation to L.A.) seems to have been good for him and allowed him to get back to the music: he put out the second installment in his Back From the Dead mixtape series as well as an album, Nobody, featuring Kanye West, uploaded a handful of tapes to YouTube and scheduled the long-awaited Bang 3 for Christmas Day. He’s also been busy indulging a new hobby—art collecting. And Saturday night, he made his first foray into the gallery world to celebrate a collaboration with Frank 151 for their latest book, #FRANKSOSA.
By 7:45 PM, a crowd had gathered on the sidewalk outside the still-gated Seventh Letter, but within, Fairfax insiders (aka pubescent boys who skateboard) rapped through their braces and charged their iPhones. Keef was nowhere to be seen, except on the walls.
Those likenesses included an amazing, fucking insane tapestry by Christopher Henry that places a nature-loving Sosa in what appears to be the Garden of Eden. Most of the art in the show is colorful and fun, if a little stereotypical—cartoonish bloodshot eyes and smoking bullets, a gun for a dick, Keef holding a (snow?) bunny, an installation of a passed-out Keef with “I Hate Being Sober” graffitied above it. Other pieces are more surprising, like the Mr. Potato Head version of Keef or the engraved portrait on metal that only reveals itself when your camera flash is on. One of the most intimate is an abstract drawing that only shows the back of Keef’s head. At $10,000, the most expensive piece is Bill da Butcher’s “Double O Sosa” painting. The least? A drawing by David Santoyo for $60.
Lauren Jenkins, a 29-year-old artist from Chicago, made a primary-colored collage of Chief Keef out of elementary school art supplies, felt, paper, poster board. Five other heads cut out of white paper float around him. “It’s a tribute piece,” she said, listing the names of the friends and family Keef has lost. “I would be remiss not to comment on the reality [of Chicago].”
What I couldn't find, however, was Chief Keef or his own artwork. He showed up around 9 PM, but after parting the sea of people, he disappeared upstairs. I asked Bill da Butcher, a high school art teacher with a silver beard and Keef’s personal artist-in-residence of sorts, for assistance.
“He doesn’t really have any of his own, but he’ll pick up Sharpies and draw on mine,” he said. The two started their unusual partnership when Keef was in rehab. A recording engineer who was set to work with Keef saw Bill da Butcher’s pieces in a Newport Beach art show and asked him to paint a portrait of Keef on the studio’s ceiling. Keef was blown away.
“He said, ‘I want you to fill up my house,’” Bill recalled. To date, he’s done about 30 pieces for Keef and now works out of Keef’s house in LA’s Valley.
Finally, I got upstairs to talk to Keef. He did not want to talk to me, and after the stress the media has caused him (he went back to jail after violating his probation when Pitchfork took him to a gun range for an interview and filmed him holding a gun; Rap Genius mocked him on camera), I don’t blame him one bit. His manager Peeda cajoled him. Bill da Butcher leaned in to tell him I’m cool and won’t ask anything crazy. Keef acquiesced.
Music suddenly blared, and he hollered for someone to turn it down. He nodded and smiled at me, then said, “You can keep going” as he began breaking down a blunt.
His favorite thing about LA, he says, is the quiet. He’s always loved art, and he colors with Bill sometimes. He points out his favorite pieces in the show. The best thing about 2014, he says, is Christmas. I asked what he’s buying for himself.
Quickly, he glanced over and smiled. “What you gonna get me for Christmas?” he said. It was unnerving.
A member of his crew told him the weed on top of the bottle was someone else’s, and he stopped short. “You motherfucker, man,” he said. He smelled his fingertips and paused, thinking. “Mannnnnnn. I’m ready to go. Fucked up. He fucked up. It’s over with, it’s over with. It’s over with for you,” he continued as he walks away, “Thank you though!”
The interview has lasted four minutes and 31 seconds. Bill’s girlfriend shrugged and smiled sympathetically. “He did talk to you longer than he talked to anybody,” she said. “Everybody else—“ She made a slicing motion across her throat.
He may not be a visual artist yet, but Chief Keef does have the temperament. Weirdly enough, it suits him.
#FRANKSOSA is on display at the Seventh Letter Gallery, 346 N. Fairfax, until January 7. A portion of all sales will benefit the REVEAL Foundation, which is helmed by Chief Keef’s manager, Idris “Peeda Pan” Abdul Wahid.
Rebecca Haithcoat is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.