“I’m about to change the world/ … I hope this music makes you think,” begins Jane Chika Oranika, better known as CHIKA, on “Intro,” the first track from her debut EP, Industry Games, out today. It’s a provocative mission statement, to be sure — and the six songs that follow genuinely bear it out.
Chika’s sonic and lyrical mainstream peers are J. Cole and Chance The Rapper, and to a lesser degree Rapsody and Kendrick Lamar. Like them, Chika toes the line between “conscious” and “corny,” (more successfully than Cole or Chance, in my opinion), attempting to inspire over bombastic, maximalist beats, chopped-and-screwed gospel and oldies, and pleasantly arranged strings and bells. She has the typical boasts — title track “Industry Games,” for example — but it makes sense to me that, in my opinion, it’s the weakest track on the EP. Not coincidentally, it’s also the trappiest. I don’t feel like that’s Chika’s lane.
Her first viral fame came from a hard-as-fuck freestyle takedown of Kanye West. He’s clearly a major influence, especially on songs like “Crown,” which could have easily fit on The College Dropout (and it’s about … dropping out of college but still having self-respect and chasing success). The biting, incisive commentary of that freestyle — her rapid-fire, chameleonic flow, and her thoughtful, critical, uplifting lyricism — are where she shines and stands out. And that’s not just among the women in the field. Much of mainstream rap right now seems to be mumblers riding the trap wave and/or rhymes written exclusively in couplets and punchlines, and that’s not Chika’s style (though she does have excellent ones: “They doin’ shit I ain’t fonda/ It’s like my name isn’t Jane“. I gasped audibly at that one.)
She’s at her best when she’s rapping about real-ass shit. “Songs About You” and “Balenciagas In The Bathroom” both temper boasting about her success — which is fair — with an honest takedown of her struggles with handling that success and fame. On “Balenciagas”:
“The whole world is conversating ‘bout your waistline/ And mental health days make you guilty ‘cuz you waste time/ I’m fighting everybody demons but can’t face mine/ Baseline use all that pain and anger and just make rhymes/ How I’m uplifting your whole life but still I hate mine?/ How I get rich but still get pissed about the money?/ Now everybody wanting me to wear a fake smile/ How I’m supposed to fake a laugh when ain’t shit funny?”
Chika’s other lane? Lovely songs about women. Chika’s lesbianism is, refreshingly, both simultaneously front and center and incidental. I put her “Can’t Explain It” on my Best Lesbian Love Songs of 2019 list. But I didn’t know about “Want Me:”
Neither of those delightful love songs is on Industry Games but “On My Way,” a heart-filling piano and soft drumbeat ballad, is:
“I wanna thank you for being my person/ You say that you need me/ and that feeling is mutual/ I’m so glad that you see me as beautiful/ I think you one of a kind/ I promise all day you done been on my mind/ … I love your energy/ you and I we got synergy/ And it’s like we the same/ They don’t fuck with you?/ Then they just made two enemies.”
There are no pronoun games here, but Chika doesn’t make being gay a big deal. There aren’t any songs about homophobia or lesbianism to be found here. There are many schools of thought on this; some people want queer artists to be super out and to explicitly discuss sexuality in their music, while others feel like normalization is the key. I think Chika rides the latter wave, and that’s her right.
And while Chika’s songs can be sexy — see “Want Me”— she’s never objectifying or disrespectful. There’s a time and place for lesbian fuckboidom (well, Young M.A’s got that lane pretty occupied) but that’s not Chika’s speed.
Overall this EP is excellent. Taken along with her singles — “High Rises” and “Can’t Explain It” especially — this is an incredibly auspicious start. Chika has announced herself with a major bang; with luminaries like Erykah Badu, Cardi B, and Missy Elliott counting themselves as fans, she is about to blow up big time.
And I can’t wait. We’re in a golden age of women in rap right now, and Chika adds a much-needed conscious, thoughtful, craftsperson-ly lyricism and return to blustering, pre-trap positivity that the industry needs. I hope she leans even further into what she does best, and that the industry doesn’t play any games with her.
Industry Games dropped today, stream it now.