Chipmunk: Back To Take The Title
Having just recently turned 20, young North London rapper Chipmunk this month drops his highly-anticipated sophomore album ‘Transition’ - the follow-up to his 2009 Platinum-selling debut set ‘I Am Chipmunk’, which spawned three UK Top 10 singles including the catchy Number One ‘Oopsy Daisy’.
Interestingly, as evidence of Chipmunk’s increasing international profile, ‘Transition’ is prestigiously already being pioneered by two collaborations with high-profile, globally-successful US R&B artists - Grammy-winning Atlanta songstress Keri Hilson on the melodically-powerful, rock-guitar-edged new single ‘In The Air’; plus controversial, internationally-chart-topping singer/rapper Chris Brown on the forcefully-anthemic recent UK Top Three smash ‘Champion’. Meanwhile, other international album guests impressively include Jamaican dancehall king Mavado; soulful American songstress Kelenna Harper (of the currently-charting Diddy - Dirty Money) ; US male R&B singer-cum-sex-symbol Trey Songz; plus long-time Chipmunk cohort - and fellow Tottenham rhymesmith - Wretch 32.
Born Jahmaal Noel Fyffe in November 1990, Chipmunk grew up on North London’s infamous St. Anne’s estate. Where, at the age of 13, he was first inspired to rap after listening to the capital’s grime MCs Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Kano and Stryder on local pirate stations like Rinse and Deja Vu - shortly after which he recorded and burnt his first mix-tape ‘Whatever The Weather: Volume 1’. However, it was not until the age of 17 (after having by then captured the attention of the aforementioned Wiley plus MC Frisco) that he we would release what would unquestionably become his definitive mix-tape - ‘A League Of My Own’, which groundbreakingly spawned his breakthrough Top 25 single ‘Chip Diddy Chip’.
All of which in turn quickly led to Chipmunk’s current record-deal with Sony Music’s Jive label. Which - thanks to his unique mixture of confidence, sharp sense of humour and an astute analytical edge - has since seen the tirelessly ambitious, six-foot rapper juggle his studies with music (picking up nine GCSEs and three A-levels along the way!) and publicly transform from unknown underground street MC to award-winning, critically-acclaimed and chart-topping pop icon.
… Cue an ever-driven and highly-professional Mr. Chipmunk meeting up for the first time with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at Sony Music’s buzzing Kensington HQ, to discuss in-depth his aforementioned, appropriately-titled new LP ‘Transition’. Which - representing a return lyrically and sonically to his underground roots, with production coming courtesy of H-Money and Dready - is already being described as “harder, darker and full of intricate lyrical complexities - an album that demonstrates huge personal and lyrical growth.”
Working with Grammy-nominated US R&B songstress Keri Hilson on his new single ‘In The Air’
“Well, I’ve had a love for Keri Hilson since her first album (1999’s ‘In A Perfect World…’). I feel she is an amazing artist, and an amazing songwriter - plus her swag is on Level Infinity! And, though she was originally meant to be on a different track, when she came to the studio and heard ‘In The Air’ she straightaway said that was the one she wanted to be a part of!... So we made it HAPPEN! And to me the song represents like the perfect balance of me keeping it credible but at the same time commercial.”
Teaming up with chart-topping American R&B superstar Chris Brown for his recent UK Top Three single ‘Champion’, and the controversy surrounding it
“That was definitely a big learning experience for me - not just in terms of being an artist, but in terms of LIFE! Because, with Chris being on it, people were saying that they didn’t wanna support the track before they’d even HEARD it! Which meant I really had to engage myself and find the inner strength to say ‘Yo, I’m gonna go with this track REGARDLESS! Because I know what this song means to ME, I know what it means to CHRIS - and if it’s from the heart then it can’t go WRONG!’!... And so me doing the whole promo-run for the track did turn out to be an interesting EXPERIENCE! Because everyone was expressing opinions, and - like the track itself says - ‘The hardest thing to remember as an artist is that opinions ain’t FACTS!’… Plus, regardless of what people may think of Chris as a person, no-one could deny the fact that ‘Champion’ is an amazing SONG! You know, no matter who you are or what type of music you’re into, everyone has something they can appreciate and indentify with in that TRACK!”
“So after me explaining why I wanted to work with Chris and just being diplomatic about the whole situation - and trying to get them to understand that, just like me, Chris is a young person living his life in the public eye and that that can be hard - by the end every single DJ and every single TV presenter I met were basically saying ‘Yeah, we can’t wait for him to come back OUT! Because the kid is talented, he’s had his fair share of hard times - so let’s give him the support he DESERVES!’!... You know, they were simply acknowledging the fact that Chris is an AMAZING ARTIST!... And for me that was BIG! Because it made me realise that, when what I’m doing is from the heart, it’s not gonna go WRONG!”
What Chipmunk wanted to achieve musically with ‘Transition’
“Musically I’d say what I most wanted to achieve was to raise the level of production to make ‘Transition’ into a proper, bona fide ALBUM. Rather than just having a hit single and then some wishy-washy tracks, I wanted it to be a strong, conceptual body of work. I basically wanted anyone who listens to it from start to finish to appreciate it as good music from a 20-year-old artist that’s just totally putting his heart on his sleeve through his MUSIC. Which is why I definitely wanted to deal with life experiences and opinions, as well as getting to grips with what people actually want from me as a WHOLE. And - while it may sound harsh - that didn’t just include my FANS! Because, while I do spend a lot of time trying to understand exactly why my fans love everything I do, I am also aware there are OTHER people out there too who WANT to love me, but just need me to give them something that they can IDENTIFY with.”
“Which is why I basically just decided to take myself back to the drawing board, go back to where I grew up, and to remember why I started doing music and what got me noticed in the FIRST place. And for me, what it was all about back then was me spitting bars from start to finish; the lyrics were hard; the delivery was on-point with punchlines, metaphors, good subject-matter... So I basically just tried to execute that side of me - and the first time I tested it out was on ‘Champion’, which became my biggest-selling hit to DATE! Which to me shows that that process of me studying exactly what I feel people want from me really did WORK!”
How Chipmunk now looks back on his upbringing on the notorious St. Anne’s estate in Tottenham, North London
“I’m definitely not the type of person that runs around saying ‘Ooh, I had it HARD! I grew up on the BLOCK! BANG-BANG!’!.. Because I actually feel that council estates are a beautiful thing, and I feel you do get certain life skills from a council estate that you can’t get from anywhere ELSE! Like how to conduct yourself in public and how to handle certain situations that certain people may not ever come across because they just never grew up in that ENVIRONMENT! And while I know things like learning how to conduct yourself when you just might be about to get robbed do sound awful to a lot of people - and I certainly don’t want glamorise the badness - I genuinely didn’t ever SEE it like that! Because to me growing up there was BEAUTIFUL, man! Because the things we got up to on our estate are what made me what I am TODAY! I got my NAME from that estate; I made FRIENDS on that estate; I learnt how to MC on that estate - which was certainly something I’d have never learnt in SCHOOL!... So yeah I wouldn’t change a THING!”
“I mean, while there was that whole thing on ‘X Factor’ last year of Cheryl Cole getting offended because Wagner said she was from a council estate, I actually feel that all of us who’ve come from that place and made it to a beautiful lifestyle should be the ones who can now tell those that are still ON council estates ‘You know what? There is gonna be that moment in life where you really will appreciate the way you grew UP! Because there are certain life skills that you get from there that you couldn’t get from any OTHER type of area!’!”
Finally, his ideas on being young and famous in the music industry
“The only disadvantage of doing it so young is you actually grow up in the public eye at a time when you make most of the MISTAKES in your life! You know, the transition from being a teenager to a young adult is not the kinda time you wanna share with the PUBLIC! Because that’s when you do most of the wildest things you’re ever gonna DO! I mean, I reckon most people make their biggest mistakes between the ages of 17 and 25 - which is the exact time that I’M sharing with the public! So, if I do something crazy, the whole WORLD is gonna know about it!... But, you know - it’s a gift and a curse, isn’t it?! So - you just gotta LIVE with it!”
Chipmunk’s ‘Transition’ album launch party happens at Proud2, London on April 22
(pre-order album from bit.ly/ChipmunkTransition)
The singles ‘In The Air Featuring Keri Hilson’ and ‘Champion Featuring Chris Brown’ are both out now. The album ‘Transition’ is released April 18, all through Jive
Words PETE LEWIS