If you wanted to know how the past year has been for breakout rapper Chika, just listen to the track “Songs About You” from her debut EP, Industry Games.
“I wanted that song to be a genuine journey into my mind and where I thought I was and who I’ve been,” she says. “Every month [from February to December] I came back to it to add something else. So you really got like a full process of my year.”
What a year it’s been.
The 23-year-old Alabama native, née Jane Chika Oranika, had been uploading covers and freestyling over familiar beats since 2016. But it wasn’t until she stormed Twitter in 2018 with a poetic admonishment of Kanye West supporting Donald Trump that people truly sat up and listened. Praise poured in from celebrities and fellow rappers, including Ice T, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Leslie Jones, and more.
A letter to Kanye Omari West. Over his own beat. ???? pic.twitter.com/5xdxKJ7d4l
— CHIKA (@oranicuhh) April 26, 2018
That wave took Chika into 2019, when she released her first official single, “No Squares,” in April. She made headlines a month later performing her politically charged track “Richey v. Alabama” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, flaming her home state for leading the charge with the influx of anti-abortion “heartbeat” bills. That same month, she also appeared in Calvin Klein’s #MyCalvins campaign. In June, she signed with Warner Records and announced later that year that she’d soon release her first full body of work, which is now her seven-track EP Industry Games.
On “Songs About You,” Chika opens with being invited to Jay Z’s Roc Nation pre-Grammys brunch in February 2019 and proceeds to chart her ascension in the game, tackling body image and the pressure to live up to the hype along the way.
“It’s a real ass song, and it’s the embodiment of what I wanted the EP to be, which was a snapshot of me and my life and where I’ve been,” Chika says. “It’s a coming-of-age project basically.”
And Chika is coming of age during a particular time for hip-hop, especially for women.
Not since the ’90s have there been so many women with diverse styles and looks being recognized across the board, which, in essence, can be traced back to Cardi B’s come-up during Nicki Minaj’s singular reign. The fact that two women rappers could coexist and chart equally seemed to shake the long-held mentality for some that there could be only one at a time.
Since then, rappers such as Young MA, Doja Cat, Lizzo, Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, Dreezy, and more have migrated their talents from the corners of SoundCloud to the mainstream. It’s a diverse playing field that, hopefully, is erasing the line between “male” and “female” rappers. It also presents a more promising landscape for an artist such as Chika to establish her lane.
In an ever-crowded playing field, what she feels she’s bringing to hip-hop is vulnerability.
“Not to shit on the past and be like, ‘No one’s ever done this,’ but the vulnerability, that’s what’s missing,” she says. “We parade and masquerade and talk about all the shit we have. I pride more than my flex. I would much rather talk about my feelings and get them out and help people process theirs.”
Even her track “Balencies,” which at the start seems like she’s bragging about being able to afford a luxury brand such as Balenciaga, seamlessly transitions to her grappling with the pressures and expectations of fame.
“At the end of the day, the whole song is me talking about my mental health,” Chika says. “We kind of lost that sense of self in hip-hop, and we’ve created characters that people subscribe to. And I don’t want to be that person.”
It’s without a trace of hype to say that Chika is poised to become one of the greatest rappers of her generation. There’s a heartfelt truth to her lyrical content and a timelessness to her flow that has made her a standout in the hip-hop scene. Her skills were evident back in her Twitter and Instagram freestyling days. However, Industry Games proves she’s more than her viral clips. She’s in it for the long haul, and she isn’t holding back.
“There’s stories and lessons on this project, like I talked about losing a friend because of greed and not being appreciated and things like that,” Chika says. “Me as a person, I’m too nice sometimes. I’m like, I shouldn’t put that in a song. But with this project I was like, fuck it. I deserve to tell my story and talk about what I go through.”
“Nothing was held back,” she goes on to say. “Nothing was sugar-coated. I made sure that if I was going to say once and I was going to put out this project, I was going to make sure everyone felt exactly where I was coming from.”