Chika makes it clear that she’s not getting sick for anyone. A strict follower of social isolation during the global pandemic, the 23-year-old rapper wears a mask and gloves when she leaves her house, not just for her safety, but for others. “Even the other day, I had to go get groceries and I felt bad because I know that people my age can carry the virus and have no symptoms,” she tells MTV News over the phone. “My driver was an older man, but I’m like, I’d be fucking sick if me being in this car for 10 minutes would put anyone else’s life in danger. I’m not with it.”
It’s been about two weeks since she released her debut EP, Industry Games, on March 12, in the midst of an unprecedented time in contemporary history (she couldn’t find toilet paper anywhere), and in talking about the project, she reveals just as much passion for what’s going around her as she does for her own introduction into the industry. Listening to Chika’s music, you get why this makes sense, given her political disposition and social awareness.
Born Jane Chika Oranika in Montgomery, Alabama, the rising rapper has made headlines for her myriad progressive, politically minded creative projects: everything from a 2016 makeup tutorial that commented on anti-blackness and the idea of white privilege in Trump’s America, to a 2017 #EgoChallenge about body positivity that inspired people across Instagram and Twitter to rap and sing Beyoncé’s hit song while exploring their imperfections. It wasn’t until she called out Kanye West, in a freestyle over his “Jesus Walks” beat, that she finally reached the threshold of sheer virality; the song has garnered over 6.6 million views since its upload in 2018.
Take “Safe,” a collaboration with Kesha and Sage, she preaches about decreasing gun violence. And after releasing her debut single, “No Squares,” in 2019, she shared “Richey v. Alabama,” a song about the controversial anti-abortion bill signed in her home state, on Jimmy Kimmel Live! with a special introduction by Lena Waithe. She’s kept that momentum going.
She’s earned due respect not just for her elite rap style, but also a unique perspective. As a queer Black woman who grew up with a close relationship to church, her unflinching resolve to craft her own world, separate from the one she grew up with, has won fans over. Industry Games is her way of defining who she is for those who’ve been following her since those viral-rap days. “I would like the listeners to learn that, apart from me having to be a social-media person, having the platform and online persona, that there’s a person behind that,” she says.
On the EP, Chika contextualizes her social awareness by explaining who she is, what she loves, why she’s the way that she is, and what she plans on pursuing in the future. As the first proper taste of who Chika is as an artist, her debut project has two functions. On one hand, it’s a gospel-inspired, deeply introspective look at the journey to get here and where it’s brought her now: from missing out on opportunities to perform on America’s Got Talent when she was 12 years old (“Balencies”) to attending the Roc Nation Brunch (“Songs About You”) and being introduced by Diddy as “best of the new school.”
Its other side is the necessary edge that explores her experiences in the music industry in detail. She’s learned a few things that she wants to share with listeners. “You’re never as bad as people say you are, and you’re never as good as people say you are,” she says. “So, obviously, as long as you’re proud of what you’re making of yourself and you don’t just give up on it because of a hard fight and it’s tedious work, you should be fine.”
She tells MTV News that there’s more to the story of the project’s titular games that she reveals on its actual songs. “I delve a lot into the way that the industry has affected every facet of my life,” she remarks. “That’s why it’s also a meaning of how the game has changed my entire life, on a personal level.” Her main takeaway? “To shut your ass up, because the things that you care about, most people do not.”
Industry Games took a year to make. She began recording the LP in February 2019 after she’d just relocated to Los Angeles from Alabama. “From the top of the year to the end of the year, it was literally me being in and out of studios, recording and cycling through music that I made,” she says. “I was listening to my own unreleased tracks in order to basically affirm and decide what I was going to do on my project.”
Although Chika raps like a possessed Kendrick Lamar disciple who’s studied rap endlessly for decades, Industry Games is built around the sounds of the Pentecostal church and so much more. “I grew up in Alabama and the sound of gospel was all around me,” she says. “I didn’t grow up on hip-hop — it was reggae music, African music, gospel, and things like that.” She separates choir voices, church organs, and more from their religious origins to make into her own sound. But, Chika’s Industry Games isn’t designed to overwhelm; instead, she aims to introduce herself.
“I’m hoping that with the transparency I’m able to let listeners know more about me as a person and why I handle things the way that I do because of this fast-ass journey affecting me,” she says. “Also, that I’m here for the journey, and it’s going to look wild and ratchet at times, but that’s what they signed up for, so no regrets.”