Where Is My Mind?: Chiddy Bang
- by Annamarya Scaccia
You can say that Philly’s alt-hip hop MC/producer duo Chiddy Bang is an overnight success. After releasing their first commercial single, “Opposite of Adults” - the electro-hop track (which samples MGMT’s breakout, “Kids”) - off of their 2009 18-song mixtape, The Swelly Express, they went from the local stage to international forum, signing to UK’s Parlophone Records (with backing in the states from Virgin/EMI), sharing the stage with Kid Cudi and Three 6 Mafia, and playing major festivals like this year’s Glastonbury. But after listening to a Chiddy Bang mixtape, this isn’t a surprise - producer Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Bersein and rapper Chidera “Chiddy” Anagmege blend angular synths, dancefloor pop, indie rock samples, hip hop and afro-beat with on-point spits in such flawless fashion, their eclectic sound just can’t help but be catchy. And, on October 12, they’ll digitally release their first major label record, The Preview, which will feature three old songs and five new ones (their actual, full-length major label debut has been pushed back and is now scheduled for release in 2011). Currently touring stateside and overseas for their “The Swelly Life Tour”, with a stop at the TLA tonight, The Deli had a chance to speak with the dynamic duo Chiddy and Xaphoon about their success, sound, influences, and the idea of ever returning back to school as well as much, much more.
The Deli: You guys met through a mutual friend at Drexel University. What happened during the first interaction that made you realize you wanted to make music together?
Chidera "Chiddy" Anamege: Well, it was really just sort of the chemistry that we had earlier on. I remember when he approached me about doing music after we were introduced by a mutual friend. He approached me about doing a remix project of all these dope indie bands and indie songs and stuff. I had never really been exposed to that whole indie music and it was just something that was different to me. That sort of like motivated me to be into.
Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin: It wasn’t really one moment. It was more just like we were just hanging out with kids that hung out sometimes. I would DJ random parties and shit, and he would get into rap battles with kids at random parties. So it was more like gradual, you know, you see a person doing their thing, and it’s like, “Oh, that dude’s talented.” After a while, we were like, “Alright, let’s try something.” I don’t really think there was one moment. It was just kind of the culture of Philly. Everyone wants to freestyle. Everyone wants to DJ. It’s the culture.
TD: In the past year, Chiddy Bang went from an unknown alt-hip hop duo to, at just 19- and 20-years-old, respectively, playing with Kid Cudi and Three 6 Mafia, signing to a major label, and touring extensively. Did you guys think that would have happened so quickly?
Xaphoon: No, I don’t think so. This is something we talked about a lot. We were just having fun with it, trying to do what we do. The opportunity came along to do this for a living, and that is both something that we really want to do, so we jumped at it. We made a bunch of hard decisions and we lost some stuff too, but we get to do what we love for a living. We just kind of kept following the path, and we’re still on that path. We’re trying to figure out where the next move is and stuff like that.
Chiddy: No, not at all. Honestly, it felt like just yesterday that we were in the dorms, just making beats and sneaking into the school studio. It feels like it was just yesterday. I don’t know where all the time has gone, but we’ve just been doing what we love and doing us and we’ve just been so focused in that, that it really gets blurry as to how fast you’re moving.
TD: But it’s something you’re enjoying.
Xaphoon: Oh, yea. Definitely. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely fun. It’s a mix of everything, but we get to see new countries. We’re about to go to Australia for the first time, where we just went platinum. We’re seeing all kinds of new stuff happen, so it’s been a lot of fun.
Chiddy: Yea, yea. For sure. It’s a happy thing for us to be able to make music for a living…That’s dope and we love that shit, but it is the swelly life, though. There is two sides to every coin and I think that’s what [our October 2009 mixtape, The Swelly Express] talks about. It talks about how we’re living our dreams. We’re doing our thing right now. Everything is cool, but on the other side, we’re always on the road, you know what I mean? We gotta wake up early as hell to do radio promos and stuff like that, being away from our family and the people that we love. It’s like a double-edge sword, but for the most part, I think that we’re definitely happy and feel extremely privileged to be doing what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We just look forward to making the music and putting it out there.
TD: So what influences Chiddy Bang’s music? How do you decide what to write about?
Chiddy: It’s really off of vibes, like sometimes Noah’ll come through with a beat, whatever he’ll have an idea for it or like a vision for it, and he’ll pinpoint that, which is what a great producer should do, and I’ll just trace within it or come up with something that sort of fits it. But then, you know, [there’s] a lot of times when it’s just like the music talks for itself. If it’s a soft beat, you’re not supposed to come at it hard. You gotta know within yourself where to go with it. I think we’ve been pretty successful matching the tone of the lyrics with the tone of the instrumentals in a short period.
Xaphoon: I don’t write the lyrics but Chiddy basically draws on whatever’s going on around him, like if we’re around in the city everyday or if we’re rapping about what we do in the morning. He’s the lyricist, but he bases so much of the material on just kind of what happens…Ours is very kind of “every man”, just kind of like the normal shit and the less normal shit that we get to do.
TD: Your first major label release, The Preview, is dropping on October 11 but it’s just going to be a foretaste to your major label debut, which you plan to release next year. How is working on that debut going? What should fans and critics alike expect?
Chiddy: I would assume there are some expectations for that project, and it’s like the major label debut is The Swelly Life. We’re still writing that, like, everyday, up until we can’t write no more. It’s been tough to record because we’ve been on the road nonstop ever since we got signed, practically. We’re finally able to get some time off to get studio [time] and put time into writing shit and actually do what we do because we made The Swelly Express when it was at our own leisure. We would go to the studio every day, catch our breath for Philly type shit, got to the studio, smoke blunts and just create. That was all we had to worry about. But then coming into the industry, it’s been very, very busy, very hectic. We got to do so many things at once, and it’s sort of taken a backseat. But now, we’re back at it and we’re gonna be writing for a solid three months, so we got a classic that we’re cooking up. It’s definitely taking it to another level because, musically, we’ve been traveling. We’ve been around the world now. We’re getting to see different scenes, and I’m sure there’s definitely influences that influenced Noah and the stuff he does and influenced me to see how the people deliver on the microphone. It’s gonna be exciting.
Xaphoon: [The Preview] is gonna be a lot of music people are familiar with, more of the sample thing we did back in the day. We’re experimenting with new genres and new tempos. It’s just kind of setting the stage for the real album, which is going to be the real thing to anticipate. It’s going to be way crazier...We written this first album while being on the road and, for the real album, we’ll have proper time to write and crazy lists of collabs that we’re slowly making our way down.
TD: As Chiddy Bang, you guys are bringing back the old MC/producer combo, which you’ve said showed “more of a love for the game”, and just having fun making music. Was it a natural decision to perform in that way?
Chiddy: We started back in 2008 and at the time, we had all crazy kinds of shit. We had a live band and all types of stuff going on,but, even then, at its core, [it] was me and Xaphoon bouncing off of each other, him making a beat and then sending it to me, and me coming back and writing the song. That was the chemistry and because we were the ones that got it and saw eye-to-eye on a creative level. We just made the decision to make that move, make that transition as a producer/rapper…While that wasn’t our intention, it hadn’t been that way for like the past 10 years in hip-hop, you know what I’m saying? It just happened to line up with our views on the situation.
Xaphoon: We don’t know if it’s more loyal to game. It’s just something that hasn’t been around since the early to mid ‘90s, so it’s a different part of the game. It’s a different era. I think that it’s important to kind of acknowledge that. If it’s better, you know, I can’t say which is better or stuff like that. You know, I don’t wanna get no beef.
TD: No, I said “more of a love for the game”, not “loyal”.
Xaphoon: Oh, OK. Cool. Yea, yea, yea. It definitely more shows a kind of confidence in yourself. You don’t have to be really wealthy or really say anything gangster. It kind of just [shows] you and kind of put that in music. If people like it, then they like it. If not, then not. But it definitely just allows us to kind of concentrate on the physical music, you know what I mean?
TD: In your music, you guys show enormous respect for old school hip-hop and R&B, but also blend in newer indie rock and pop. What attracts you guys to those genres?
Chiddy: Because Chiddy Bang is me and Noah, it opens us up to a whole lot of different types of music and shit. Noah grew up in Philly, where it’s a very eclectic music scene and he grew up on jazz and indie and all types of other shit, and I grew up in Jersey on hip-hip, with crazy variations of different types of hip-hop and rappers jamming on the corner, just battling with each other. So really, the combination…of music that we sample or draw inspiration from, it comes from us. I think it’s dope because I grew up on R&B. I grew up on rap. I grew up on indie stuff and, if you listen to the mixtape, there’s different tracks that reflect that. Like The Swelly Express, [if] you listen to “Slow Down”, I grew up on that type of shit, you know what I mean? Or on The Swelly Express, if you listen to “Decline”…Noah grew up on that type of shit. It’s all a mesh when we create, put the work together.
Xaphoon: I grew up, for the most part, in Mt. Airy in Germantown and there was just a lot of world music, a lot of jazz, and I was lucky enough to get to enjoy that. I was [working at a] recording studio 14- /15-years-old and just to be around those musicians and to understand the art of recording and producing, and to take that and mix it with all the new music that your friends are giving you and all the music you’re discovering, going to concerts in Clark Park and recording all kinds of indie bands and just experimenting with as much new music as we can get our hands on. That’s kind of how I grew up.
TD: Since there is such a blend of different sounds, do you think that’s why Chiddy Bang reaches such a wide audience?
Chiddy: That is just definitely why because our music is just friendly…to everyone because that mix happens to be what we have. You know, Xaphoon can talk to you for days about obscure indie bands, obscure reggae artists, like different types of music and…me coming from a straight hip-hop background, I’m coming like, “Yo, what do you know that’s the most random shit that I could rap on that’s dope, you know, that nobody else is doing?” It just all works together for the better.
Xaphoon: Yea, definitely. I think we get a lot of hip-hop kids that are like, “Oh, I don’t listen to any electronic stuff but I love you,” and then we get a lot of indie kids that are like, “Oh, we don’t listen to any rap or hip-hop but we love you.” I think there’s just kind of like an honest quality in our music that we’re not really trying too hard to do any one genre or any one style. There’s a lot of things going on. There’s afro-beat, pop, rap, hip-hip, club music, all kinds of stuff going on in the music so it’s relatable.
TD: Is that why you chose to sample MGMT’s “Kids” for The Swelly Express’ breakout “Opposite of Adults”?
Chiddy: Nah. That was just some random, real random shit, I’m not gonna lie. He had a DJ set that was Notorious B.I.G’s “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”, and the MGMT “Kids” breakbeat that you hear me rap on. I heard that song and I was like, “Wow, wow, wow, wow. What is that over? You gotta take Biggie out [and] put me on it,” and I just hopped on it and like an hour and half later, we had the song recorded right there at Drexel. That’s how that came up. It was completely spontaneous but I knew it was special when we did it.
TD: So how are the majors treating you?
Chiddy: They’re treating us dope. We get to be out and record, do shows, do all sorts of festivals and it’s a great experience. At the same time, every American staff that holds us down, the Virgin offices in New York, the Capitol in LA. Everybody is pretty much holding us down, and we’re just grateful for both sides, working together to help us.
Xaphoon: It’s still really early to know. At the time, I was against the idea to begin with, but I think it’s really important that it happened because it allows for people, like me and Chiddy who don’t know anybody in the music industry, to meet other artists or other producers or other bookies or other managers or just trying to understand the game as a whole. It’s really important to kind of survive in a very, very, very competitive industry. You get to meet a lot of people, and as a producer, I want to work with other artists some day. It’s just really, really good for us to be kind of in the system of the label, even though they’re in their last days…But I think it’s very important to kind of work with the people and learn people and experience new things.
TD: Why were you against it at first?
Xaphoon: At first, they wanted to change us. The early label offers, some of them were kind of weird and I didn’t know enough about a contract to go ahead and sign something for a lot of money or anything like that. I just didn’t know enough about it. I was convinced that we could keep building loyalty based off the free mixtapes. That’s why we didn’t sign in the winter or the spring or the summer when labels were talking to us. We waited until the fall, we worked on the mixtape and then signed the following spring to really take the time and make sure we do it right.
TD: Neither of you are currently enrolled in school, leaving Drexel months before you released The Swelly Express and things took off. Are there plans to go back in the future?
Chiddy: Possibly. Right now, this is what I’m doing. This is what I love to do. If I was to go back to school, that would be something that is far, far along down the line. If I just want to go back and take a cooking class or something, you know, something random. But, right now, I’m just enjoying myself and doing what I’m capable of doing. If I’m still capable of doing this, I’m a keep doing this.
Xaphoon: What I want to do, more than anything in the world, is be a producer, and if I can do that without going to college and doing a lot of stuff that I did in high school, like writing papers and doing homework, if I can accomplish that without doing that, then I would really like to. If I find out that I want to do something else, like be a high school English teacher or learn about something else, then later I’ll go back, but it’s not looking like that right now.
TD: After you release The Preview, what’s next for Chiddy Bang?
Chiddy: Just going on the road, seeing more places, just keeping it moving, flowing, you know what I’m saying? Just doing more tours, hopefully, and writing, putting out more music. It’s not going to stop me putting out more mixtapes every year, all the time, putting out free music twice a month. We’re gonna keep putting out free stuff so, if all else fails, you could know that we’re going to keep the river of music to y’all for free.
TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?
Chiddy: My favorite thing to get at the deli is a turkey sandwich.
Xaphoon: Pickles and Kool-Aid.