Photo: Leeor Wild
Chika Confronts Music 'Industry Games' With Candor & Confidence On Her Major-Label Debut
Chika has always been aware of the power of her words, and she continues to hone in on that gift to make a difference. The 23-year-old Alabama-bred rapper (born Jane Chika Oranika) got her start in the game writing and performing slam poetry since she was young. After dropping out of the University of Southern Alabama to focus on her music career, she’s steadily carved out a lane of her own as a "professional truth-teller" with "a pen that's tactical."
After inspiring Internet freestyle crazes like 2017’s #EgoChallenge promoting body positivity and self-acceptance, Chika was catapulted into public consciousness in 2018, when she self-uploaded a freestyle aimed at Kanye West after his doting and incessant tweets about Donald Trump. Over the Chicagoan's iconic "Jesus Walks" beat, Chika says what we were all thinking, with lines such as "It don't matter how much money you got or you lack, when that check clear, don’t forget your children are still Black, and your music has been wack, and your views are movin' back…" She's also covered relevant topics ranging from Pride (she remixed Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You") to strict abortion laws ("Richey Vs. Alabama").
Throughout the years, her abilities have won high-profile fans such as Erykah Badu, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ice-T and Diddy, and as jam-packed as her rise has been, she’s just getting started. In 2019, she was featured on JoJo's track "Sabotage," and was featured as a musical guest during Lena Waithe's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" hosting stint. She dropped her vulnerable, retrospective track “High Rises,” as well as the Charlie Wilson-assisted song "Can’t Explain It,” which finds her fantasizing about a magnetic woman who she can’t stop thinking about, all while seamlessly interpolating Tamia’s classic “So Into You."
Chika's upcoming, major-label debut project Industry Games (dropping March 13) aims to tell her story as a queer, Gen-Z woman in rap who is growing and learning more about herself each day. It's designed to be intentional, poignant and honest in its content, all attributes encapsulating the approach she took when creating her first EP, 2017's Full Bloom// A Poetry.
"The time that went into 'Industry Games,' was a year of my life, last year specifically," she tells The Recording Academy. "I think that I fleshed out a lot more about myself with this project. You get more of my thought process, and the way my brain actually works––I get to share how crazy and hectic it gets in my brain sometimes. [Laughs.] You hear me versus my ego on it, and what that sounds like for me to be this soft-spoken person, but having a bigger ego, and having to defend certain words."
The EP's title track showcases Chika's ability to spit rapid-fire verses about potential roadblocks on her journey ("I can hear the snakes, they hissing, trying to break my mission/'Cause I know who I'm about to be"), while "Songs About You" finds her reflecting on her endearing persistence despite the naysayers who tried to keep her down ("I know ain't got no hourglass figure, but I can get smaller, while my pockets get bigger"). Whether she's musing about the state of the world or the state of her personal life, Chika is all about telling relatable stories, and people are listening.
"I have those songs [on the EP] where I get to talk how I've been affected by being in the industry, how you lose friends, seeing how it changes the people around you, and how it changes you," she continues. "And even the very beginnings of my story, the first rap songs that I wrote. [The song] ‘Crown’ shows the very beginnings and the decision of me choosing to do rap as my career, but every song is about how I've had to adjust in different ways."
While some rap fans may look for bumpin' beats in lieu of thought-provoking lyrics, Chika makes sure to provide both. She notes that she was raised in a Nigerian (Igbo) household, so the way she approaches songs and production directly correlates to her upbringing, with heavy reliance on "syncopation, percussion and rhythm." The song "Designer" off of Industry Games is about a "very sad situation" regarding lost love and friendship, but the thumping production, mixed-in melodies and pitch changes help make those hard-to-swallow conceptual pills a bit easier to digest ("Even in those moments that aren't fun in life, you have to take the good with the bad," she explains of her musical methods).
What are the "industry games" Chika thinks are the most prevalent today? She believes that the way the media spins stories is "messy for no reason" and hopes that one day, truth will prevail over what she sees as trivial content.
"We still haven't gotten to a point where [artists are] as comfortable with publications as we should be, people have their own mentality and their own thoughts surrounding you," she explains. "Having to undo that and rewrite that... it's a task. Even in talking about my body, and that being such a non-issue, and the media being like, 'Ooh, how do we feel?!' As soon as you provide the floor for conversations like that, whatever gets the clicks, [that’s] ultimately an issue I've been having to deal with."
While she can’t always control the powers that be, Chika ultimately hopes that artists can work to be more honest in the presentation of their work to the masses, in order to spread positive images for fans and consumers.
"Kids are listening," she notes. "We can actually provide ways for them to cope with the things that we're talking about, and stop romanticizing all the negative things… Let's feed the soul instead of just destroying it and finding company for this misery, you know what I mean? That's what I think we can do as a unit, just uplift people. If there are bad things, try to find ways to speak about it in the right way."
Since her career began picking up steam, Chika does note that she’s become a bit more "skeptical" and "cynical." However, she’s aimed to take control of her artistry and personal life, while still enjoying her accomplishments. She took a break from social media for a time in 2019, writing how she needed to focus on life outside of algorithms and negativity.
"I was too interested in [my social media engagement], and I needed to focus on the life I created for myself," she explains. "I was able to untangle those things in my brain that may have led me to having a lot of depression and anxiety, providing context that, honestly, no one's forcing me to make anyway. That's myself holding me to a standard, and I'm glad that I took that time."
In coming to terms with her life’s changes since her rap rise began, she also has to thank her day-ones, who have helped her with experiencing the growing pains that come with major transitions. She met her friend and "big brother," rapper Wale, when she was a teenager, and she applauds him for “[being] there every step of the way.” She also shouts out English musician Duffy, who reached out to her as a fan of her work in 2017, and has encouraged her ever since. Amidst a heartbreaking revelation from the musician after years of silence, Chika says they’ve been close and supportive of each other no matter what.
"[Duffy] really encouraged me when I needed encouragement, which was beautiful," she says of the "Mercy" songbird. "I made a statement about how she had told me her story around the time when she discovered me [in 2017]. It was incredible seeing her come out [with her experience] the way she wanted to, and in the timing that she wanted to. She's an angel of a woman, she's very sweet, she's a fighter… I can't even find the words."
While she continues to learn more about herself and the music industry she was thrust into, Chika is making sure to take her experiences and her impact in stride. On Industry Games' poetic "Balenciagas In The Bathroom," she mentions how she never dreamed that one day she could be someone's idol. However, with a catalog that aims to preach the truth and open up the world to necessary conversations, it’s apparent she’s already on her way.
"I've had to adapt and process what my life looks like now, and where it will go," she concludes. "I'm more grateful for a lot of things that I have, because of the ways that it took to get them. I've definitely grown up a bit."