For a UK rapper to stay as relevant as CHIP through so many changing eras, is to achieve the impossible. He has beaten all odds and carved a career for himself at every stage, reaching a pinnacle of artistry with his latest body of work ‘League Of My Own II’. He signed a major record deal in 2009 and his first wave of mainstream attention produced a number-one single and number-two album in the official UK charts. He went on to release a second album, led by the Chris Brown assisted single, ‘Champion’. Soon after that, CHIP singed a deal with T.I.’s Grand Hustle label in America. Again this was uncharted territory for a UK rapper and CHIP found himself flying the flag for the UK and breaking down more doors. Fast-forward to more recent times and CHIP flooded the underground with war dubs and freestyles in phase that brought an energy to the grime scene that hadn’t been witnessed in many years. Catch up to today and he’s back in the mainstream spotlight yet again.
Through all of the alternating times and transitions, I first wanted to know which era was CHIP’s favourite. “My favourite era of music was probably from the age of about 14 to 17, because it was when I was the most oblivious, to like, the industry, and the agents. Yeah, the industry, the agents, and the bullshit.” I imagined how many experiences he must be alluding to with such an extensive career. Before we delved any further though, I wanted to start back at the beginning and know what CHIP felt it was that made him stand out to the point of reaching his early accomplishments. “Probably my versatility, I feel like even at a young age I got a lot of love and support for my ability to produce lyrics rapidly, and execute them rapidly on grime, but anyone that’s checked my tapes out the whole time, I’ve always had a bit of everything to my source.” From his first mixtapes to his first commercial single ‘Oopsy Daisy’, it was prevalent that CHIP had more strings to his bow than many artists of the time. The title of his original ‘League Of My Own’ mixtape was an appropriate testimony to CHIP’s ahead-of-his time-versatility. I was further intrigued about how he thinks he has managed to stay relevant for so long. “I think staying relevant, the key to it is understanding when you’re not a new artist anymore… I feel like a lot of artists get their knickers in a twist when they’re not new anymore, and I feel that even artists that are new come in and kind of, not throw shots, but look at people that have been here like, you’ve had your turn. It’s like, ‘No, I decide when it’s over’.”
Channel U (now Channel AKA) launched in 2003 as a revolutionary TV platform. For the first time it gave young grime and hip-hop artists an opportunity to be seen visually like we had never witnessed before on a mainstream platform. The YouTube era was yet to surface and this channel was the first time fans could tune in and see an array of music videos from UK street artists of emerging new genres and scenes. CHIP was at the forefront of this opportunity at the perfect time. “I think Channel U was very important to the scene… You see these days you get fed the artist and the visual at the same time. I remember when there was a process where all you had was listening to artists before you saw them. So you fell in love with artists for the right reasons, like solely about the music, and then by the time you saw them, just after the DVD era, where you might hear like a D Double and think, ‘Nah, I wonder what he looks like’, and then you’ll see the DVD and put the face to the name. Just after that Channel U was like the first place where you could really put a face to a name, to an artist, and I was happy like, to be on there when it was still Channel U as well.”
Fast-forward to 2012, and CHIP signed a spearheading record deal in America and released the mixtape, ‘London Boy’. The project featured US stars T.I., Iggy Azalea, B.o.B, Meek Mill, Young Jeezy and Trae Tha Truth. This was a really unheard of occurrence and an unexpected era for a UK rapper to reach. I wondered if America was ready for that move to happen back then. “I can’t speak for America, I’m not American, but I know that anyone that I worked with thought I was cold at spitting, and that’s what matters to me. Like, I’m not here to be the spokesman for a country, or to be the spokesman for other rappers, but I know at the time when I wanted to work on my hip-hop angle of my artistry, so that things that you’re seeing now could happen, a set of solidified rappers checked for me for what they should check me for, bars. Which is kind of like why, not like I’m never gonna disappear but, people that know my ability, know my ability and that’s the strength of what my relationships are built on. So like, everyone that was on the ‘London Boy’ project, from, T.I., Meek Mill, Young Jeezy, you know what I mean? Skepta… Respect me for my bars.” CHIP went on to expand on how technology has influenced a changing dynamic that isn’t limited by borders and oceans. “I think the iPhone has definitely made the world a bit smaller now, and since then you can’t deny the influence that Britain has on, like hip-hop culture to the world even… including grime.”
From here I had planned to bring my questioning up to current times, but Chip had stopped me in my tracks with his last point. Grime and hip-hop and their parallels have been a subject of interest to me for some time. I have often asked the question “Is grime hip-hop?” With CHIP’s inclusion of grime in his statement about Britain’s worldwide influence on hip-hop culture, I had to explore the topic with him in more detail. “I think you should ask one of the producers.
“What makes you ask is it hip-hop? I would say it’s a sub-culture of beats and bars. Like, there’s been other countries in the world that was doing the beats-and-bars thing, even before hip-hop for instance. But in terms of hip-hop, one thing I will say is that, beats and bars from when it was beat boxing and bars, like there weren’t beats like that, the first one to really pop off in America, was an English guy. Like a lot of people don’t know Slick Rick’s actually English. That ‘La Di Da Di’, like that classic, is from an English bruddah. So we’ve always had an influence. So I’m never really gonna say, like, grime is hip-hop or grime isn’t hip-hop, I’ll more just say it’s another sub-culture of beats and bars. But I would say the sonics and sounds, that are in grime, are definitely the first of that… Grime is definitely its own entity, and the debate will never end on what it’s a sub-culture from.” CHIP’s perspective made sense to me, though he stressed that his first point was that we should ask a grime producer who came before him. I was interested to explore whether the lines have become more blurred now. “I think the lines are blurring between genres because a lot of sounds in the world are culturalised to, and I feel that the more people are coming together, African, Caribbean, British, do you know what I mean? Reggaeton, the Hispanic version of the reggae music. The more people come together culture-wise, the lines are being blurred because sounds and accents are merging, and I’m very old school so I always take it back to, ‘What is the original source of that?’ So I still call reggae, reggae. Bashment, bashment. Dancehall, dancehall. Afrobeats, afrobeats. Grime, grime. Hip-hop, hip-hop. Classical, classical. Do you know what I mean? But I’m from that era of music where you couldn’t get on this station if you fitted in, this genre. So the lines are definitely blurring but I think it’s a positive thing.”
In bringing things up to speed I first wanted to know CHIP’s label situation. He’s had major label deals at times where they weren’t available, but in this day and age grime artists and rappers are celebrating independence and reaching the top of the charts. Off the mark he tells me. “Cash Motto, Me, I’m in charge now, me and Ashley.” I wondered if he felt that artists still needed labels in this climate. “Just depends who you are and what stage of your career you’re at, like I’m not here to shoot anyone down for signing a deal, I’m not here to say I need one, you know what I mean? Different strokes, different folks, many ways to skin a cat. Get it how you get it.” To round up his impressive journey before I asked about the new album, I asked CHIP to name his greatest achievement. “Still being alive, like that’s just such a blessing in itself, like yo, where I grew up, like where I’m from, so much shit be happening. Tomorrow’s not promised to no one. The greatest thing I’ve done so far is to stay alive.”
At the time of the interview CHIP’s new album, ‘League Of My Own II’ was not out yet, and I was yet to hear it in full. I wanted to know why now was the right time for a sequel to what was originally such a breakthrough project early in his career. “Because it’s ten years of League Of My Own 1, and that is the project that definitely helped propel me to a point like, nationally in England. And definitely a project released in the era of music, of when you [asked], ‘[my] happiest time?’ I actually feel really good again. I feel like [at] 26, 27, like how I felt when I was 16, 17.”
It has been an amazing year for albums by grime artists and UK rappers. Offerings from Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, J Hus and Stormzy have all received critical acclaim, and now that CHIP’s ‘League Of My Own II’ has been released, it is a definite highlight amongst them. A versatile contribution of creative artistry, the album covers a wide spectrum of musical influences. It also achieved commercially, reaching the number-12 spot on the official UK chart. After surviving through an extensive list of eras, CHIP has broken through yet another.
‘League Of My Own II’ is out now via Cash Motto Limited.
Photographer: Eva Pentel
Creative director: Creative PM
Stylist: Kirubel Belay
Assistant stylist: Chris James & Joaquim Reis
Makeup artist: Asuka Fukuda
Writer: Novar FLIP