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Chika Confronts Music 'Industry Games' With Candor & Confidence On Her Major-Label Debut

Chika

 
 
 

Photo: Leeor Wild

 

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Chika Confronts Music 'Industry Games' With Candor & Confidence On Her Major-Label Debut

The rising 23-year-old Alabama rapper aims to tell her story as a queer, Gen-Z woman in rap who is growing and learning more about herself each day

GRAMMYs/Mar 11, 2020 - 10:25 pm

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."

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Ice-T In 1993

Photo by David Corio/Redferns

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Led by iconic rapper Ice-T, the L.A.-based seven-piece keep their socially conscious themes consistent and the music louder than ever on their seventh studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2020 - 10:06 pm

In early 1992 Ernie Cunnigan visited the Burbank office of Howie Klein. The guitarist (who goes by Ernie C.) and the then-president of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records were listening to the upcoming self-titled debut from Cunnigan’s band, Body Count, fronted by his Crenshaw High School buddy Tracy Marrow, already famous as rapper Ice-T. Ice, with the savvy creative connectivity that guides his multi-hyphenate media career to this day, introduced his forthcoming metal band in 1991 via tracks on O.G. Original Gangster, his fourth album.

It's not unusual for high school pals to form a band. What was unusual, though, was that Body Count was a hardcore thrash metal band comprised of all-black musicians, with point-blank lyrics that were both insightful and incite-ful concerning racial and social inequities and the climate of America. Listening to the 18-track debut, Klein praised it, while voicing concern about the lyrics of "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," a song about the matricide and dismemberment of a racist parent. Turns out it was the last track, a ditty called "Cop Killer," that should have given the executive pause. 

While Klein was and remains stridently opposed to censorship and is a dedicated free speech advocate, Body Count, per the era, was released with a parental advisory sticker (as was Original Gangster). Less than two months after Body Count dropped, Los Angeles exploded in fiery violence in reaction to the acquittal of four policemen in the beating of Rodney King, as well as the shooting death of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. (The grocer was given only probation.) It was the worst possible climate for "Cop Killer," with lyrics including "Fk the police, yeah!" and shout-outs to then L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates, Ice's "dead homies" and King. The blowback went all the way up to then-President George Bush, and though Time Warner supported Ice-T in his fight against the song's opponents, he eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Currently, streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music offer the version sans the group's most (in)famous song, replacing "Cop Killer" with "Freedom Of Speech" from Ice's 1989 solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say, edited to add samples of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" and the voice of political punker Jello Biafra. On YouTube, "Cop Killer" has more than 1.5 million views, with most of the comments thoughtful and positive, understanding the intentionally incendiary messages Body Count was delivering. Ultimately, if Body Count isn’t a classic record in the way that critics consider Nirvana’s Nevermind or Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to be, it’s an important and groundbreaking one. As Ice-T has said, Body Count is: "a protest record,” not the norm in the metal world, but still the way BC's songs operate today.

Indeed, 28 years later, things haven’t changed. Biafra is also on Body Count's powerful new album, Carnivore. Police actions like "stop and frisk" (the NYC law enforcement program that was proven to disproportionally target black and Latino men) wasn’t legally discredited until 2014. Body Count’s one-time bassist, Lloyd "Mooseman" Roberts III, was murdered in South Central Los Angeles in 2001 in an accidental drive-by; in the last 12 months, 126 black men were killed by guns in L.A. County, as opposed to 23 white men. And Ice-T and Body Count are still raging against the machine.

Ice-T enjoys pushing buttons lyrically, and if they’ve sometimes been heavy-handed or misguided ("KKK Bitch" or "Bitch In The Pit"), Ice-T is a politically eloquent, passionate and personal songwriter, which can be too easily overlooked given Body Count's volume-heavy metal chops and Ice's delivery, a speedy vocal style that’s been traditionally more aggro-rapping than melodic singing.  

That said, Carnivore is Body Count’s best album to date; it’s the most fully realized musically, and there’s a cohesion to the vocals and music that led Body Count bassist Vincent Price to lay out the band’s growth in a Metallica timeline: "Manslaughter [2014] was basically Kill ‘Em All; Bloodlust [2017] was our Ride The Lightningand Carnivore’s our Master Of Puppets."

He's not wrong, and though Ice-T’s more than 20-year stint as detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has precluded lengthy Body Count tours, the buzz is loud for this seventh album.

Ice-T may be the original gangster, yet he’s patient, articulate and fervent in explaining songs and motivations to audiences and the press alike. "When I'm Gone," featuring Amy Lee of Evanescence, was inspired by the killing of Nipsey Hussle. It’s a reminder, as he says in the tune, to "tell the people that you love, that you love them now. … Don't wait; tomorrow may be too fking late."

His prolific musical social criticism and seemingly left-leaning views are thoughtful and targeted, despite the vitriol of so many Body Count songs. In the nearly 30 years since founding his revolutionary band, Ice-T observes, "I think you’ve got less racism; less people, but more avid racism. It’s unnerving to think that we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go." As he advised in a 2017 interview, "Don’t just be angry. Know what you’re talking about so you don’t alienate someone who should be an ally."