“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #4
Happy Birthday CHIKA’s “Industry Games” & Also… the Pandemic?
by Kellie M. Beck
The Friday after the University shut down classes for the remainder of the Winter 2020 semester, recently acclaimed rapper CHIKA released her debut album. My roommate and I listen to this album relentlessly– no one skips CHIKA in my house.
Her Industry Games EP is a pure, ultra-concentrated dose of her finest work yet. “Intro”, the minute-long prologue to the piece, introduces soaring piano and string sections, and tells listeners “I hope this music makes you think,” only after a tight and dense verse with near-Grecian level drama. But the sentimentality is quickly tossed aside for the EP’s titular track to take center stage.
CHIKA reveals to her audience over the course of the EP her struggle with her recent flux of fame. In “Industry Games”, CHIKA identifies herself as the literal “antithesis” of the rap industry, claiming that other top rappers aren’t invested in their work the way she is.The song segways neatly into “Songs About You”, a four-minute legacy track– arguably her finest song on the EP. “Songs About You” turns to criticizing haters, and both says and shows that CHIKA is hitting her prime, and on the way to becoming a household name. Even though CHIKA does her fair share of bragging about her (rather evident) skills, an underlying current of dissatisfaction runs through her lyrics– it begs the question, “if I’m already miles ahead of everyone else, what’s next?”
Over an angelic chorus of her backup singers singing “talk”, CHIKA rips the Band-Aid off in her track, “Balencies”. What’s the point of all this success, if the money and fame don’t bring me anything other than more problems? A church organ drops at the end of the second verse, the overwhelming pressure of the audio weighing down on the listener, only for it to drop into the sugary sweet intro of “Designer”. What’s the point of all this success, if she has to enjoy it alone? “On My Own” attempts to address the balance between love, and a relationship, with her fame with soft, velvety vocals, and her repeated promise: “I’m on my way.”
It’s CHIKA’s finale track, “Crown”, that contextualizes the album for me. CHIKA opens her story up to her audience, and asks them to connect with her story and her strife– “chasing the impossible takes some courage”, she tells listeners. Gospel vocals and rich layers of harmonizing vocals sing in pure joy– CHIKA chooses to celebrate strife as something that defines us. To survive, is to thrive.
The pandemic is almost a year old. But on the horizon, is a promise of its end, while the sun begins to shine and the earth begins to thaw in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Listening to CHIKA’s Industry Games, I think we might owe ourselves a celebration of epic proportions someday soon.