In the past four years, rapper Chika’s fans fell in love with her confident delivery, scrunch up your face punchlines, and honest storytelling. The Montgomery, Ala. native started sharing her verses to popular beats on her Instagram page in 2016, a common digital rag-to-riches tale. Viral video after viral video brought her more acclaim, most notably her verses to J Cole’s “1985 (Intro To ‘The Fall Off’)” and Cardi B’s “Money,” which the New York rapper co-signed. To leverage her momentum, Chika moved to Los Angeles to go all the way with her artistry in January 2019.
“I didn’t come out here being able to afford a place in L.A.,” she reflects on the eve of the release of her debut EP Industry Games. “I never went home,” she continues. The stars aligned and in June 2019, Chika signed to Warner Records. By then, she had gained hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram from showcasing her witty bars. Ahead of her EP, Chika dropped two singles: “Can’t Explain It” featuring Charlie Wilson, which incorporates lyrics from Tamia’s “So Into You,” and the dreamy “High Rises.” But Chika wants more and isn’t stopping at being a social media phenomenon disrupting timelines. “I been existing in a world I made my own, but the internet is temporary, now I crave a home,” she raps on the “Intro” track, acknowledging her official transition to the recording artist title. The 23-year-old is intentional about building a career with quality music that doesn’t rely on constant virality.
“When I say now I crave a home, it’s like stability,” she explains. “Something that isn’t based on visibility and having to have my face at the forefront of everything and every moment and having to beg people to care about what I’m putting out. The home that I crave is the home that I built so far in the industry and it’s the one that I want to furnish at this point,” she continues.
The project is a reflection of the raw talent Chika showcased in her viral videos. Chika sprinkles her wisdom, flexes her singing vocals, pours out her heart, and knits together stories that define her internal growing pains in the past year. Norwegian producer Lido, who’s previously worked with Chance the Rapper, Jaden Smith, and Halsey, laced Chika’s soul and gospel-influenced hip-hop beats. When making the album Chika wanted each track to embody humility and her favorite hip-hop storytellers, such as J. Cole, Mac Miller, Wale, and the elusive Andre 3000, who she calls her “only dream collaboration.”
Chika did want to shy away from projections often placed on Black women in hip-hop. “I wanted to avoid making my career about just my body and not even in a way to be like a weirdo who’s like, ‘Oh no all the girls are just strippers,’” she explains over the phone. Jermaine Dupri recently made the sexist jab about today’s popular women in rap.
“I don’t feel that way at all,” she elaborates. “But I do mean in terms of having to be this body-positive rapper. I just want to take the central filters off of women’s bodies when it comes to what we do in music because I do work hard. I didn’t want to be thinking about being plus-size or being like queer or anything like that or having to water down my music or approach. I just wanted it to be very realistic and very me.”
Industry Games gives us a fuller scope of what Chika values as she gets over the indie creator to signed rapper learning curve. On the title track, she uses a speedy flow to call out rappers who are solely in the game for the windfall and who copy styles for their advantage. “Watch how these ni**as be so quick to bite it,” she raps. “I let them in but they never be quite it / Imitation is just inspiration, if you feel like takin’ just be sure that you cite it.”
She showcases her vocals over spacey warps and moody organs on “Songs About You,” gushing about meeting Jay-Z and Diddy and blocking out naysayers on her path to success. “I started singing before I started rapping actually,” she shares. “So I’m very comfortable with what makes me feel very at home. I’m from Alabama, so most of my sounds are very soulful and I like melody.”
On “Balencies,” Chika reflects on her success again through the lens of material possession. The track is dedicated to luxury Balenciagas footwear, which was once out of her reach. But now she doesn’t think twice about owning them, she says. “One pair is out, one in the closet ‘cause I left ‘em there / Remind me every single night spent writing raps ups in my closet/ I ain’t sleep much, but it paid off ‘cause it got me here,” she raps over the gospel choir loops.
With fortune comes seeing the true colors of those in your corner, something Chika knows well now. On “Designer,” Chika vents about losing a close friend after going to a new level. It’s about “having money now and being in a position where you can be taken advantage of by people you don’t expect to be taken advantage of,” she shares.
Chika is vulnerable about her romantic relationship needs at this time of her life on “On My Way.” When you hear her rap, “I wanna thank you for bein’ my person / You say you need me / And that feelin’ is mutual / I’m so glad that you see me, it’s beautiful,” it’s easy to presume, she is expressing gratitude to a love interest. But Chika said an emotionally unavailable person she was dating inspired the track. “I was writing it as a self-soothing track because the person that I was dating at the time was so like not present that I needed to hear all the words that I’m hearing or that you hear me say on ‘On My Way.’” Chika doesn’t find sharing her emotions on wax difficult because being open is part of her makeup. “I’m a Pisces, I cry every day,” she laughs. “I’ve always been the sharing type.” Chika ends her EP with the uplifting “Crown,” and it’s a full-circle moment as it was the first rap song she ever wrote when she was 19.
Chika dropped Industry Games at the start of a new decade when hip-hop is at the top of the Billboard charts and influencing everything from popular Tik Tok challenges to an anthem for the COVID-19 pandemic. She predicts hip-hop will continue to hugely shape popular culture in the 2020s.
“I think we’re going to hit a creative renaissance and there’s going to be a lot more people being honest with things they can offer…and being willing to play around,” she said. “I also think that for every up there is a down and there’s an equal and opposite reaction to everything. So I feel like we’re going to see a lot more bullshit too and the manufactured things that people eat up nowadays because it’s a business before anything in certain ways.” These are indeed industry games.