Interview by Brandon Payano
Introduction by Sam Butler
Images by Pat Martin
Fashion by Savannah White
Hair & Makeup by Alana Wright
Production by The Quadri Group
“With a lot of the decisions I make, I'm constantly thinking ‘Will this derail me? Will this be the decision that takes away everything I've worked for?’ I want to get to a place where I don't have that fear,” Chika told us back in March, a few days before the release of her second EP, Once Upon a Time. “I think the only way to do that is to recognize that my future is already written out for me. I believe that, because I am a storybook little girl, and I'm already here, so clearly someone wrote it already. If it's already written out, there's nothing I do that will take away this success, as long as I'm doing it with pure heart.”
In the month that followed, Chika’s faith in that path was shaken. “I’m retiring,” she announced on April 11th, explaining that she had been “pushed to a point of no return” by a period of struggle with her mental health, exacerbated by receiving sustained online abuse from accounts encouraging her to end her life.
With her wellbeing being our main concern, we considered not publishing this feature at all. As I write this updated introduction to the piece, it’s Monday, April 18th. Twelve hours ago, Chika posted an update to her Twitter: “Even I had needed the reminder: You can’t kill a bad bitch,” accompanied by a triumphant minute-long freestyle. “I said ‘I wanna retire’ / but why would I do that when my shit is fire? / I got to aspire for higher,” she raps, and we’re all reminded of what we could have been missing.
This was shortly followed by a note to “clarify some things.” Her statement a week earlier wasn’t about quitting music, it was about ending her life. “Social media did not cause what happened, but it was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back that evening,” she explained. “This break I’m taking has less to do stans, harassment, and online shit. It’s a chance for me to process all of this and protect the joy I have left.”
She signed off by saying “I’m just bout to go be human for a little bit.” We hope that the following conversation illuminates your appreciation of Chika as an artist, but also provides a glimpse of Chika as a human.
I'd love to hear a little bit more about your upbringing. How were you connecting the dots creatively at a young age, whether that was in music, or in different interests?
Chika: I've always liked to make things and be some kind of storyteller, be that via music or literally writing stories on a computer, or putting on shows with my sisters, things like that. I started singing around the time I was two, because I saw someone on TV doing it. And I was like, "Yo, I could do that, but better, because I’m cuter." And I was right on both cards, so I did. Then probably around 11, I started writing poetry because I was super angsty and Michael Jackson had just died. I was like, "I'm going to get these emotions out because I need to." I ended up wanting to be able to put poetry into the songs I was writing on my guitar, and somehow stumbled across this rapper path. But my parents are Nigerian, so they weren’t convinced about that.
Did your parents have an effect or influence on you wanting to be creative as a career? Did they have any objections?
Chika: They had quite a few objections. But I learned to just do what I want, which sounds very rebellious - and it is, so I'm not going to make any excuse for it. But I already felt like a black sheep in my family and in the world, in general. I grew up in Alabama. You have to form a sense of self and individuality, or else you'll be swallowed whole. So, in their own way, they were successful at raising an autonomous kid, but also unsuccessful raising a kid that would do what they wanted. So, a double-edged sword there, but they definitely had objections. They wanted me to be a lawyer, an attorney or a doctor.
Was there a moment that it clicked for you, where you knew "OK, I can rap. I can spit, I can write poetry.” Was there a particular moment that really convinced you to lean into this rap side of yourself creatively, full time?
Chika: You know what? No. I don't really have a defining moment where my rap character was fully dressed and ready to go out there and get her GTA on. It never happened like that. Sorry for the visual, but I never had that. I was obsessed with Walé in high school. And I do remember when I was 17 he randomly tweeted me and was like, "I found your SoundCloud and I found a poem of yours. Holy shit. You're dope,” and I was like, "Ah! My favorite rapper likes my poetry." That was a cool moment. But I never really had a moment that was like, "Yo, let's pursue rap." It was kind of just, "OK, I'm going to see where this goes." So even being here now, being a rapper, I just say that I’m an artist, because there was no transitional period for me to even really make that defining statement of "You know what? I'm a rapper."
Because you weren't stemming from music; it was from a writing and more general creative standpoint, is that why you feel more comfortable to identify as an artist? Because you sing, rap, act, create and produce a bunch of other stuff…
Chika: Yeah, I do too much really. And you said it very politely and kindly with such decorum, but it's OK to call me extra. I do way too much. I think it's because my attention span is trash. I'm a theater kid, so I think a lot of my physicality, a lot of my expression and the perception of me in the public is kind of eccentric, not in a weird way, but in a like, "Wow, she really has no filter. And she does what she feels like doing" way. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that my background is in theater and a lot of what I did wasn't just solely based on rapping or writing music, it was based on storytelling and based on being able to form narratives and falling in love with literature and things like that.
What were some of your favorite books that made you fall in love with the art of storytelling?
Chika: It was mainly plays. I really liked reading, sitting and doing table reads in high school. I love Anatomy of Gray, that was good one. I remember really liking Edgar Allen Poe, which sounds so generic. But even now, in adulthood, learning more about his life and ultimately his death I appreciate a lot more of the stories like The Raven. I was that kid who always was begging my mom to go to Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. That was our reward, me and my sisters; we would get to pull up and pick out a book. I had this series called Charlie Bone, which is hilarious because it's definitely a rip-off of Harry Potter. I didn't know that at the time, I had no idea. My mom wouldn't let me read Harry Potter because she didn't let me reading about witches and wizards, but she didn't know that Charlie Bone was the exact same thing, but it was a big book and she just loved the fact that I was reading large novels. So she's like "Yeah, let her take that." But now, I'm looking at my table and I have the autobiography of Malcolm X and there's Assata Shakur and Angela Davis' autobiographies. And I've read so many books on sociology topics and attachment theory. I like to understand things. And, even if it's a fictional narrative, you get so much added context of how people work and how we think based on reading something from someone else's perspective, and that reflects in my music. That's literally how I write my music – it’s talking about my perspective, but also trying to tap into everybody else's mind, being like, “Do you feel this way? Are you sad some days? Do you cry in the shower? I do too. Let's talk about it.”