It’s been heavily documented that rap music has changed – arguably – for the better throughout the past five years. With the internet age birthing apps such as SoundCloud to help self-starting go-getters, it’s easier than ever to feel limitless in this new generation of hip-hop. The start of the digital era saw the popularity of trap music taking over the underground rap scene with stars such as Young Thug blazing a trail for some of today’s biggest pop-trap rappers to take centre stage. Mix that with the wave of the anarchic mumble rap scene that prioritises melodies over the most astonishing bars, and there was a new fleet of rapping pop stars to come.
In came Atlanta’s baby-voiced smooth talker, Lil Keed, who has tragically died at the age of 24. Nearing the end of 2018, Keed (real name Raqhid Jevon Render) became the newest recruit of his idol and mentor Thug’s Young Stoner Life rap label, and enjoyed a speedy rise to notoriety. Before his signing to YSL, the star held odd jobs at Subway and McDonald’s – all while in the studio making underground trap hits like ‘Blikky Blikky’ with his younger brother and fellow rising rap star, Lil Gotit. Over piano-accompanied 808s, the duo showed off their sticky staccato-like flows, which were similar to those of fellow Atlantan Young Thug. When, one day in 2017, Lil Keed saw the trap legend in the street, he didn’t hesitate to freestyle for him.
From then on, Young Thug took the young rapper under his wing, calling him his “son” after Thugger’s mother told him to give Render a chance. The protégé faced the loss of a friend to gun violence and the challenge to get himself and his brother out of the hood via their rapping passion; Keed might not have been the most unique rapper, but he was all about hard work.
This hard work paid off in just a year, as Render became one of modern rap’s most hotly anticipated acts. With his first major label mixtape (and fourth in total), 2018’s ‘Keed Talk To ‘Em’, the then 21-year-old pulled together some big names in emo-rap star Trippie Redd and the R&B pioneer Brandy, who featured on the refreshing collection. Keed had that same exuberant cockiness of his mentor, which instantly made you gravitate to him. But there was still a freshness to his style.
The mixtape’s single ‘Nameless’ was the track that started it all. With Young Thug’s cosign, all eyes were on Render, and his debut single was a sultry breath of fresh air. Meanwhile the commercial trap sounds pushed by the likes of East St. Louis’ Comethazine and Florida’s Lil Pump were gaining notoriety with hefty 808s blaring in the background of their braggadocious hits. What made Keed stand out? Maybe it was the way he used his high-pitched voice as an accent melody in most of his songs, or the fact that he’d sing-rap, recreating a whine similar to the most popular baby-voiced assassin, Playboi Carti. Either way, the mixtape showed the potential of the superstar-in-the-making.
“With ‘Snake’, Keed transcended from fizzling out to becoming the next big thing, and there would have been so much more to come”
After an underground hit like ‘Nameless’ – which became his only Billboard-charting song, peaking at Number 42 – Keed should have been only going up. With the little notoriety he had, Keed brought his younger brother, onto the world stage by featuring with him and Lil Uzi Vert over the bouncy single ‘Heavy Metal’. This was just another instance of Keed rubbing his shoulders with more trap lords around him.
With ‘Keed Talk To ‘Em’, Render earned some coveted rap accolades, like being nominated for the 10th spot on 2019’s XXL Freshman List before making it to the 2020 list alongside Jack Harlow and Fivio Foreign. He also got to shoot a music video with the prestigious and prolific rap tastemaker Cole Bennett for his ‘HBS’ single, and after he dropped his debut album, 2019’s ‘Long Live Mexico’, made his viral comeback with ‘Snake’.
Blowing up all over TikTok and Instagram, ‘Snake’ was the track that solidified Keed’s prominence. ‘Nameless’ might have made him a one-hit wonder, but the infectious and meme-able ‘Snake’ erased those talks with its catchy verses and and repetitive chorus, which made it easy to use in some funny videos. With ‘Snake’, Keed transcended from fizzling out to becoming the next big thing, and there would have been so much more to come.
‘Trapped On Cleveland’ became a mixtape trilogy that showed what Keed was all about. On all three records, his stories relay his life on the roads before his come-up and how he overcame opponents, tribulations and more. As he had escaped that life, the final two instalments find his narration imbued with added bravado from finally living a life of luxury, and this was inspiring for many from his neck of the woods.
Days before Lil Keed’s untimely passing, 28 members of YSL Records were indicted for racketeering and RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges in their hometown. Both events were heartbreaking turns for figures who became role models for people still trapping on Cleveland Avenue, the place both Thug and Keed had grown up in.
Due to his own hard work and determination to get off the streets and make a better life for himself, Lil Keed helped to install a hustler’s mentality in a bunch of kids who want to be just as successful as him. Some may have written him off for his rudimentary lyricism and constant gun talk, but here was a rapper who inspired a generation to go get whatever they want by any means necessary, and that is the legacy he’s left behind in his short career. With a catalogue of free-spirited trap tracks, he’ll fill the world with confidence for as long as it keeps spinning, as his music will live on in the hearts of his fans.