The MC has attempted to appear in this digital-avatar form twice in the past couple weeks. He hasn't been able to play more than one entire song due to pressure from Rahm Emanuel's office, which said Keef's hologram "posed a significant public safety risk." Redmoon Theater was originally slated to host the first hologram performance on July 17, but the Pilsen venue cancelled the show. Keef's 3-D image did manage to play his 2012 breakout hit, "I Don't Like," during an unannounced set Saturday night at Craze Fest in Hammond, Indiana, but local police cut the power shortly after.
It's a bizarre series of events focused on a digital representation of a public figure with the potential to add a wrinkle to First Amendment issues. Chicago magazine's Whet Moser covered the legal precedent behind issues of free speech when it concerns safety and public performances in a thoughtful piece that questioned whether or not the city of Hammond infringed on Keef's rights. The conclusions are murky, as Moser found legal precedence that could be used to support both sides.
But regardless of who is in the right in the eyes of the law this entire episode feels like a big win for Keef—or at the very least a publicity coup. The story's gone national, with Keef becoming a symbol for free speech activists in the process, and it's easy to see him staying in the spotlight, at least as long as the rapper and his camp push the hologram issue with no sign of the mayor's office relenting. That might not last longer than a couple weeks, but a couple weeks is more than enough time to give a boost to Keef's latest project. His forthcoming album, Bang 3, is due to come out August 18 on FilmOn TV and MondoTunes, which signed Keef to a $2.5 million deal for two albums. Greek billionaire Alki David owns a majority stake in MondoTunes and nabbed Keef the deal; David also founded Hologram USA, which has been behind Keef's aborted virtual performances.
While Keef has reentered the public consciousness in a big way, he never lost his grip on rap fans, for whom he supplied a steady stream of stylistically scattershot mixtapes and singles. And Keef's still making hits: most recently his 2014 track "Faneto" grew into an underground phenomenon that spurned countless remixes. His voice isn't quite everywhere, but it still feels somewhat present—I heard at least one DJ drop Kanye's remix of "I Don't Like" at Pitchfork Music Festival. As the New York Times pointed out Craze Fest was no different:
Malcolm Jones, a promoter for Craze Fest, said the Hammond police and a representative from the mayor's office visited him on site after 7 p.m. on Saturday. The authorities asked if Chief Keef was present, or if his voice or music would be played. "I said his music had been playing all night," Mr. Jones, 22, said. "His voice has been here since the beginning."
Now people who wouldn't attend Craze Fest or spend a chunk of their week scrolling through mixtape sites and rap blogs are once again aware of Keef's activities—and it's happening while Keef takes more odd stylistic turns. His first single from Bang 3, "Ain't Missing You," is a remix of John Waite's "Missing You" dedicated to rapper Big Glo, aka Mario Hess, a cousin of Keef who was shot and killed last April. Keef recounts fond memories of his older cousin through ripples of Auto-Tune on the sparkling track, inserting a strong sense of loss and pain while finding a new pulse in a familiar melody.
The song's spirit lends itself to the antiviolence message Keef's been pushing since David signed him, which may still be a hard sell to those incredulous about the rapper's actions since his rise to fame. But "Ain't Missing You" is a hit to some. The song's video has racked up close to 1.5 million YouTube plays since debuting earlier this month, and I imagine the numbers will climb once Bang 3 drops.