Key! is the rapper that perhaps best embodies the “New Atlanta” era of minimalism and weirdness.
With stripped down production and a nontraditional delivery, Key! is one of the most recognizable rappers in the game… and I have no idea why he hasn’t blown up yet.
Most of this may be due to his own actions.
In 2009 Key! started the collective Two-9 along with Curtis Williams. But when new management came in and things started to become more business oriented, Key! dipped on Two-9 to do his own thing.
He told Creative Loafing back in 2014 that he saw how Two-9 was changing and wanted to break out,
“The more organized and the more known we got other people started coming in and trying to control it. To me, that’s what it looked like… I have thing about old people coming in and trying to buy something new to keep their money going. Initially, it’s for the older person to get back where they was when they were booming.”
But it’s not a personal thing, Key! is still “Two-9 forever” and he was as happy as anyone when Two-9 signed to Mike Will Made-It’s Eardrummer Records.
This seems like somewhat of a theme with Key!, he’s constantly put himself in interesting situations seemingly on the verge of stardom, only to sort of hijack the situation if it’s not up to his standards.
There’s a lot of honor in that, but it’s possible that it’s hampered his rise slightly.
Take his beef with OG Maco. The pair of post-modern rappers teamed up for the bonkers Give Em Hell EP in 2014. Key! refused to take part in the video for “U Guessed It” because as he told Alex Russell for Complex in 2014, “Man I don’t even like that song… well I like my verse.”
The Key!-less “U Guessed It” video now has over 57 million views on YouTube.
Maco and Key! started throwing shots back and forth, and Key! told Russell that his relationship with a co-worker doesn’t have to be friendly,
“I called him I was like, ‘Ay bruh, everything cool, let’s do what we got to do for this tape. But personally, I can’t rock with you.’ He was like, ‘What don’t you like, bro?’ You know, it’s just like if we work at McDonald’s and I don’t like my co-worker.”
On the surface that makes sense. OG Maco would release a diss track aimed at Key! called “Fat F-ck” but then they made “Street Fighter” together so who knows. And while that video and EP earned OG Maco a record deal, it’s been a minute since we heard anything from Maco.
The “U Guessed It” video is perhaps a microcosm of Key!’s career thus far. He seems to know everyone in the Atlanta hip-hop scene. He’s a good friend of former OVO signee iLovemakkonen, he’s collaborated with Awful Records but never signed to them.
Key! was of the first artists to feature Playboi Carti and Key! has now popped up all over the new A$AP Mob album, but he’s not officially signed to the Mob.
It’s like he refuses to ride anyone else’s wave even if it would benefit him.
It’s clear that there’s a lot of rappers riding Key!’s wave and biting his style.
His laidback, almost stream of consciousness flow, full of random adlibs (“HELLO?”) has been copied repeatedly.
I take niggas biting as a sign of success.
— KEY DARKO (@FATMANKEY) January 16, 2016
A$AP Twelvyy told XXL about Key!’s influence on his own music and how Yams told him about Key! years ago,
“Fatman Key is a part of the A$AP Mob. He is one of the illest musicians ever and when I started really listening to him I started getting the confidence to make any kind of music I want so shout out to Key. He’s a leader. He had his own wave in Atlanta years ago. Yams was telling me about Key! years ago.
Twelvyy went on to say that Key! is A$AP Mob’s version of Kevin Durant,
“He’s kind of like our KD, you feel me? Key be in the studio like, ‘What y’all doing, stop playing!’ I love Key. Key that’s the battery in my back… Everybody else on [the Vol. 2] is just A$AP Mob.”
This kind of praise from Twelvyy is not rare. It’s a sentiment shared by many in the game, A$AP Ant declared Key! “the hardest out.”
— YG ADDIE A$AP ANT (@ygAddie) August 27, 2017
There’s something about Key!’s delivery and general presentation that’s just sort of magnetic.
Take, for instance, the “Look At Wrist” video. It’s a one-take video shot in a bedroom with Father and iLovemakonnen and when the shot pans to Key! for the third verse he just looks at the camera smoking a cigarette playing with two phones.
He doesn’t lip sync along to his verse because apparently, as he told Russell, “we didn’t know the words to that shit!”
Key! just doesn’t really seem to give a fuck about anyone else’s opinion, he’s going to do whatever he wants and what he thinks is best for him.
It’s cool to see A$AP Mob fucking with him and putting him on multiple tracks off Cozy Tapes Vol. 2 alongside artists like Gucci Mane and Rocky. Surely this will get some new recognition for Key! within more mainstream circles.
Maybe Key! is just too weird for the super-mainstream. But one way or another this dude is gonna blow up, lord knows your favorite rapper is already biting him.