As Fake Shore Drive has pointed out, a couple weeks ago Chief Keef announced he’d retired in a series of tweets. He explained that too many rappers “sound jus like me or saying shit like almighty would.” He’s got a point, at least as far new MCs are concerned. When Keef broke out in 2012, his take on the emerging drill sound—claustrophobic, apocalyptic, larger than life—became a blueprint almost immediately, though the mimics always missed something crucial. Usually it was Keef’s unpredictable rapping, if you want to call it “rapping”—plenty of folks would rather not. Few could pull off the seesawing, mush-mouthed flow that’s made his music feel alive.

That’s beginning to change, though. Several emerging young rappers have borrowed Keef’s burbling vowels and blurred consonants, and the more interesting among them have arrived at their own molten sounds by veering away from the pack. Chief among them is Lil Yachty, an Atlanta MC who’s rapped over the theme for Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and was among the models for Kanye’s Yeezy Season 3 line at the premiere of The Life of Pablo at Madison Square Garden last month. Local rapper Famous Dex also has an intuitive grasp of what makes Keef’s style work, and he combines it with elements that sound indebted to Atlanta oddballs and contrarian Internet-famous MCs such as Young Thug and Makonnen, plus a bit of Odd Future flair. Not at all by coincidence, Yachty makes a guest appearance Dex’s new mixtape, OhhMannGoddDamm.

The past few months have been particularly rewarding for Dex. In October, Soulja Boy posted a video that included Dex’s “Swagg,” which appears on Dex’s recent Dexter’s Laboratory. The mixtape opens with “2 Times,” an underground hit that’s made its way onto local radio station Power 92. After Dex dropped his Drippy mixtape at the end of January, he and Chance the Rapper recorded some material that’s yet to be released. And earlier this month, a little less than a week before OhhMannGoddDamm came out, Rich the Kid announced he’d signed Dex to his brand-new label, Rich Forever Music.
“I ain’t never knew I was gonna be right here,” Dex said in a recent video interview with SayCheese TV. By “here” he means to a place where his music has value and his name means something to people he doesn’t know. The interviewer had been asking about Dex’s tattoos—they’re all over his chest, arms, and even his face. Dex mentions the ribbon tattoo on his cheek, which he got after his mother lost her battle to breast cancer—he admits that even when he got it, he was aware he’d have trouble finding stable work with ink on his face. The interviewer says, “So you didn’t plan on working a nine-to-five anyways—you knew you was gonna make it big.” Despite the lure of that cliche, Dex doesn’t bite: “I ain’t gonna say that.”
Dex’s music can hit you unexpectedly. I struggled to make it through the repetitive Drippy, but when I heard Dex’s voice pop up on Power 92 while driving around Chicago last week, suddenly I got his appeal. As much as Dex initially seemed derivative to me, I can hear him assert himself on OhhMannGoddDamm. His flow is like a kid playing “the floor is lava”—he lurches around unexpectedly, following a rhythm and a thread that make sense to him. He often slurps through his lines like he’s rapping with a mouthful of ice. OhhMannGoddDamm feels monotonous in parts, but even at its least inspired it demands my full attention. That’s a power more musicians should hope to wield.
Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.