Rising Above The Industry Games: Why Chika Is On A Whole Other Level
– Rocking The Commencement
Chika performs during “Graduate Together: America Honors The High School Class Of 2020” on May 16, 2020. The show was seen by 7.35 million viewers across five television networks.
On May 16, at the age of 23, Jane Chika Oranika grabbed her mic and performed for more than 7 million viewers across five different television networks. Standing in front of a green screen flashing fluorescent patterns and a montage of a New Orleans mural reading “Nobody Gonna Take My Crown” being painted by BMike, Chika sang those lyrics and rapped with a proficiency that some emcees twice her age couldn’t match.
It was a big (pre-recorded) stage as she appeared on the “Graduate Together: America Honors The High School Class Of 2020” television special presented by LeBron James, with appearances from former President Barack Obama, The Jonas Brothers, H.E.R., Bad Bunny, and Pharrell Williams during the hour-long primetime slot, but Chika showed she was up to the task and so much more.
Some may have just met Chika on that special, but she has been building her career for more than four years and internet-natives may be familiar with her viral clips without realizing it. Now, as momentum continues to build, Chika is arriving in a major way with a persona, musical skills, and performing ability that has drawn recognition from the likes of Cardi B, Diddy and Erykah Badu.
“As an LGBTQ+ woman in the industry, Chika is a true artist that is able to rap, sing, write, and play instruments,” Caroline Yim and Olivia Mirabella, her agents at CAA, told Pollstar in a joint email. “Her wordplay and delivery are thought-provoking and complex, but also relatable enough to reach a broad group of people. She is passionate, self-made, and hungry. She’s also super funny, has her own fly style, and is one of the best dog moms in the game.”
While she has been in the public consciousness for years now, Chika told Pollstar she doesn’t feel like she has gone unnoticed over this time, but rather that “people may not have expected the consistency of my verses leading into a budding career. People meet you and forget; That song and dance continues until they remember seeing you or your work a million times, then you become not just a face but a name. I’m on a good path that had an unorthodox beginning, but it’s been easy to eliminate noise by remembering that nothing is overnight.”
Chika first got internet attention with a satire video after the 2016 presidential election, in which she was applying cream-colored makeup and saying things like “Barack Obama? Is that some kind of sauce?” Two years later she went viral again with “A letter to Kanye Omari West,” in which she fiercely raps to Yeezy over the beat of his own song “Jesus Walks,” criticizing his political views. She debuted a new song, “Richey v. Alabama,” on a Lena Waithe hosted episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” where she criticizes Alabama’s anti-abortion bill as unconstitutional and issues a warning to President Trump.
Chika, while young, is fiercely opinionated and self-assured, but her manager tells Pollstar that she isn’t earning followers just because of her fearless stances.
“Chika is very confident, capable and bold, but she also has a vulnerability to her that she shares via social media where she relays the challenges of stepping into being an artist and public figure,” manager Elena Awbrey of Tiger’s Eye says.
“Her ability to share that process has brought her fans closer to her and made them into true cheerleaders of her successes because they know what she went through to get there.”
Kristy Sparow / Getty Images – Chika
Chika performs at the #BoF500 gala during Paris Fashion Week Sept. 30, 2019.
Indeed a brief visit to Chika’s Instagram (1 million followers) and other social media platforms will give insight into her excitement about her “Graduate Together” performance, her ups and downs during the COVID-19 shutdown, her frustration with videos of African-Americans being killed circulating on social media, and her thoughts on an invasive lizard gaining foothold in Georgia.
She has lots of strong opinions and feelings, but the best place to get the depth of what she has to share is undoubtedly her music. Chika released her debut EP, Industry Games, on March 13 through Warner Records, just one week before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted President Trump to declare a national state of emergency. Now the first complete project from Chika is reaching new ears and hearts, and hopefully, as Chika expresses is her goal on “INTRO,” is making listeners think.
When asked whether the music is hitting the way she had hoped, she laughs and tells Pollstar, “I think it’s too early to say. I know the obvious responses to songs like ‘Crown’ and ‘Industry Games,’ but the others are still sinking in with people. Ask me in a year.”
The numbers do indicate people are taking notice, though. According to Warner Records, since the release of Industry Games EP her Instagram and Twitter received substantial boosts, and on Spotify her average daily followers has increased by 368%. The highest bump came just after release, with 4,100 followers in a day. Her strongest listenership is through her on-demand streams, with her release to date sales number currently at 7,600 with 5.1 million audio streams at press time.
That boost in listenership was meant to be supplemented with a tour, which was going to be announced the week after Industry Games was released. That tour, whenever it can happen, will provide a chance for Chika to connect to her audiences’ hearts from stages across the country. For now though, CAA’s Yim and Mirabella tell Pollstar they are working on keeping Chika’s touring prospects open.
“In the beginning, we had a plan for the summer but with all the continuous changes, we have had to pivot and be adaptable,” they said. “We’ve really had to take it day by day. Right now it’s about staying flexible and having multiple options in place. Ultimately, the safety of the artist and fans takes precedence. Regardless of the current climate, building an artist takes time and fortunately, Chika is in this for the long run, so she understands that patience is key. … [With that said] COVID-19 has definitely shaken the industry up as a whole, but we don’t think it’s necessarily hindered Chika’s progress.
“She’s an artist that has done an amazing job of building her core fan base online, and has continued to engage with them through quarantine, as well. Through livestreams and platforms like Twitter and Instagram, Chika is on the forefront of utilizing this time wisely to promote and push her story.”
The artist herself said she is enjoying isolation for the most part, joking she just might finally compose “2020: The Musical.”
A longtime fan of musicals and gifted lyricist, a full show wouldn’t be a stretch for Chika but, musical or not, Warner Records’ Chris Morris says she is working on new material even as the EP is still circulating.
“Chika is always writing and recording. She has a significant amount of music in the works,” Morris said. “In terms of how she is currently managing recording and writing, we immediately set up a home studio and copied the exact vocal chain and template from her favorite studio so Chika could work remotely. Of course, she’s highly collaborative, but she’s also extremely capable and independent and is always working on music on her own. We’ve been supplementing her with ideas and tracks and are diving into the creative process for her next project.”
Morris added that while Chika has shouted out many influences, from Broadway musicals to rappers like J. Cole, Wale and singers like H.E.R., she and her producer Lido spent a lot of time creating their own sonic perspective, allowing her own gifts to shine.
“One of the most compelling things about Chika is that she has an extremely clear point of view and knows exactly what she wants in terms of her music,” Morris added. “Chika is a perfect example of an artist that has a true musical acuity.”
Chika told Pollstar creating the EP was not a difficult process for her and she felt that each song serves as a narrative, and she is very happy with the sound that has emerged.
Her songwriting and singing are notable, but her unique talent, particularly when it comes to rapping and lyricism, is undeniable. For example, a few stanzas from “Songs About You” read: “I set the precedent, at this point I’m your president / Now, how you sick as me but come and function as the medicine? / Say lightbulb, no Edison / I fought hard, they let us in / Competitive, I knock these b***** lights out like a sedative / Your fave got hella hits / But come in sixth for writers credited.”
In an era when young rappers are increasingly emphasizing style, delivery and aesthetic over lyrical substance and skill, Chika has crafted her initial EP her own way, without compromising her vision. The title track of Industry Games explores how rappers are succeeding without loving the craft, and she intends to beat them in the game her own way. In this same vein, when J. Cole critiqued rappers of her generation with his song “1985,” bringing up some similar points, she responded with a freestyle over the same beat in 2018.
Prince Williams/Getty Images – Pomp & Circumstance
Chika plays the 2019 A3C Festival & Conference / Fader Fort Women in Hip-Hop at Center Stage Theater in Atlanta Oct. 9.
Prior to Industry Games she also released a string of singles and collaborations with JoJo, Charlie Wilson and Rachel Crow. But one of the first songs she wrote was “Crown,” which came after purchasing a plane ticket to Los Angeles from her home state of Alabama to participate in a musical project, only to be stood up.
Appropriately, it was “Crown” that she performed in front of millions during “Graduate Together.”
Chika’s ability to blend raw lyrical ability with a courageous spirit and persona attracted Awbrey to her two years ago, and she has only continued to build on that strength in the time since.
“I was introduced to Chika’s music in the summer of 2018 when a friend forwarded me one of her Instagram rap verses,” Awbrey said. “She had a clear sense of identity as an artist and a fearlessness in her lyrics that I found refreshing and I knew I wanted to be a part of her journey. She’s a master lyricist and doesn’t use a single word without intention. Her music bridges generations. Her ability to mix melodic rap with smooth vocals appeals to a multifaceted audience. And she’s only getting started.”
Part of Chika’s story is her acceptance into Berklee College of Music after high school, and her (and her family’s) decision not to attend. Now, after performing on such a massive graduation stage, her message to young people everywhere is: “Don’t just do what you’ve been told is the norm. Play around, find your path.”