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Chika’s journey from viral Instagram rapper to Warner Music Group artist is nothing short of inspiring. What started as a secret hobby evolved into a full-fledged career — and she’s only getting started.

But like the rest of the world, the Alabama native is in a temporary holding pattern as the coronavirus pandemic continues to do what it does. Chika, however, is embracing this rare chance to slow down for a minute and do some self-reflection.

“As a musician and as someone who uses most of the days — if we’re not quarantining — to be around and make sure I’m on top of things, spending the last four years writing verses and things like that, I think this has been the greatest gift,” Chika tells RealStreetRadio in a recent phone interview. “Not to say it and be insensitive, but it’s such a gift to be able to rest and just to be — to just sit and wake up and be a normal person and walk your dog and like come home.

“On top of that, I just dropped my project. So it’s not that I don’t want to get music out and I don’t want to get right back into what I do — and I’ve already started EP two, I don’t know if I can say that — and it’s not that I don’t want to work, but I’ve been using the quarantine time as a time to spiritually restore because I know when everything goes back to normal, I’m not going to ever be granted this opportunity ever again.”

As Chika noted, the release of her debut EP Industry Games was slightly ill-timed. Of course, it wasn’t any fault of her own or that of her record label’s — COVID-19 simply has a mind of its own. But anyone who pressed play on the seven-track project was met with Chika’s polished bars, tricky wordplay and singing — lots of singing! After all, that’s where it all began.

“I started singing first and kind of with gospel, that’s all my parents played — like Nigerian music, gospel, reggae — that was what we heard in the house,” she explains. “As kids, that’s the way you learn is to sing. I think the same way someone in kindergarten could be drawing and realize they like it a lot, that’s kind of what happened to me with singing.”

Chika continues, “I like to sing. When you like something from that infant age, you begin to start honing it and trying to practice at it. You listen to other people who sing well and you’re like, ‘I wish I sounded like that’ and you do it. When I started doing music, which was literally at age two, it’s because I liked to sing. I’ve actually had far more years of experience with singing than I have with rapping. Not to say that my rapping isn’t better, because I feel like it’s kind of fire [laughs].”

If there was any doubt in her lyrical skills, Chika has received co-signs from Erykah Badu, Ice-T, Jada Pinkett Smith and Funkmaster Flex, to name a few. And as she explains on “Songs About You,” her encounter with JAY-Z and Diddy was one she’ll never forget.

“I met Hov last week, that shit was hella cool/Diddy introduced me as best of the new school,” she raps on the song — another compliment to add to her ever-evolving list.

Believer or not, Chika once felt uncomfortable calling herself a “rapper.” It took years for her to finally embrace who she was truly meant to be.

“I didn’t grow up on Hip Hop necessarily — I had known about it through the South of course, but I started writing poetry,” she explains. “I’ve been writing songs since I was like eight or nine because I taught myself guitar. I was very into basketball and church music, things like that. Around 2009, I started writing poetry and I wanted to be able to incorporate my poems into my songs. Eventually I was like, ‘Do it.’ But I wouldn’t call it rap. Instead, I’d say, ‘No, there’s a poem in the song.’ I was very nervous to be like, ‘I’m a rapper’ because it’s so aggressive.

“I’m like 13 and 12, and I’m like, ‘Yo, I’m not a rapper.’ Of course, things have changed but back in the day you had to be able to compete to be a rapper and I was like, ‘I don’t want no smoke, so I’m just a poet.’ I was doing that for a minute and eventually I was like, ‘Yeah, no. These are raps, but I won’t call myself a rapper.’ Eventually, there was one challenge in maybe 2016. I did a rap and it was fire. So that’s when I was like, ‘OK.’”

With Chika’s self-described “party trick” beginning to crawl out from under the surface, she was eventually able to own her talent as an MC.

“I feel like pretty early I noticed I was good at it but over the few years I’ve been doing this, I kind of have realized it more, day-by-day, especially by doing verses all the time,” she says. “I was writing stuff and be like, ‘Yo, that one’s fire. Is it just me? Am I corny? Are these dad jokes or are these bars? I can’t tell. I can’t really distinguish the two right now.’

“But with the reception I got and just validation from myself and from people who received what I did well, I was like, ‘OK, I think I’m good at this.’ And the more confident I got in myself, the more I pushed myself to do better. And it just became a thing where I’m like, “Oh, I actually am good at this. I’m really good at this.”

That’s not to say it didn’t take a lot of inside work. On the song “Crown,” she talks about grappling with self-doubt, a theme that has repeated itself in her music for a long time. But it was ultimately something she was able to overcome — but she needed her parents’ blessing to drop out of college first.

“I’d always had a love for music and I’ve always known what I wanted to do — it was already ingrained in me,” she says. “Like being a rapper is just being a musician and I’d always wanted to be a musician, you know? So it never was as scary for me. The scariest part was having to tell my parents that I was dropping out of school. I wrote ‘Crown’ when I was 19 because I had just dropped out of school. That’s why it sounds like that. This song was literally one of the favorites, which was wild because I wrote everything else at 22, 23.

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“But I get it. It’s the encouraging factor to it. It wasn’t hard to really push past it because I’d always known what I wanted to do. It was just a harder decision having to not acquiesce to everything else everyone wanted me to do. That’s the harder part.”

She continues, “And when you’re such a brat and you grew up in the spoiled generation where you’re like, “I’m going to do what the fuck I want,’ then you end up just doing it because it’s not really as much of a question as it may seem to be. I didn’t have to overcome as much self-doubt because I’d already done that in the beginning.”

Chika’s parents were supportive but had stipulations.

“I basically sat them down and told them that I wanted to leave school and I was like, ‘College is applied time’ and I felt out of place because everyone there was applying their time towards something they wanted to do, the career paths they had chosen,” she recalls. “And the career path that I wanted to do is music. And I’m like, there’s no college course that will make me be who I want to be. I can get some skills, I can learn some things, but I’m not going to blow up because I went to college. That’s not what’s happening, I need to apply my time elsewhere.

“They’re like, ‘You know what? Cool. We’ll give you a year and after a year, if you haven’t made some kind of quantifiable progress, then you have to go back to school.’ And I said, ‘Bet.’ That was in June and my page blew up in November, so it was a very good little, quick turnaround.”

With her eyes set on her promising future, Chika is plotting her next EP and waiting for the day when touring is safe again. Until then, listen to Industry Games below, read RealStreetRadio’s review here and check back for Part II of the interview next week.

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