Photo Credit: Andres Reynaga
It used to be so simple. Music was tribal - you had the indie kids with their plaid shirts and Converse, the urban kids with their bling, and the emo kids in the corner looking glum with their optional backpack and skateboard. Like every good American high school teen flick, never would those groups mix. It just wasn’t done.
That’s not to say a few didn’t cross the lines - we’re talking more Beastie Boys than Aerosmith and Run DMC here - but in 2012, things have definitely changed. Any self respecting music fan is more than likely to have as much Jay Z as Jamie xx in their iTunes library. It’s a scene that seems perfectly ready for Chiddy Bang.
Chances are you’ll have heard their sampling of MGMT’s ‘Kids’ on 2010’s breakthrough track ‘Opposite Of Adults’. They’ve drawn on everything from Passion Pit to Radiohead, but there’s more to Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege and Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin than other people’s hooks. With debut record ‘Breakfast’ finally ready, Chiddy Bang are ready to step out by themselves.
What first got you interested in making music, rather than just consuming it?
Noah: When I was a little kid, my parents would take me to see Brazilian bands in Philly and I couldn’t just sit and watch. I’d run up and sit on the side of the stage and play a little bongo drum. It wasn’t about performing for me, it was just about getting to make music.
Chiddy: Me, I grew up freestyling. I remember being in fifth or sixth grade and forming a rap crew with some of my closest friends. We would call each other every day and freestyle on the phone. That was what made me able to freestyle how I do today; I had early practice doing it. We were always like, “We gotta be prepared.” Like if we were to ever run into somebody who could help us get into the game and they wanted us to rap on the spot, you’ve got to be ready to go.
N: We learned later that that’s not really how it works. I was interning for Diplo and I gave him our first couple of songs and it just didn’t pop off.
What’s it like trying to work towards a music career in Philadelphia?
N: Philadelphia is tricky because it’s so diverse. There’s so much going on, but at the same time it’s its own bubble in that you can sell thousands of tickets inside of Philadelphia, but in places like New York no one’s heard of you. We almost blew up on the internet before we were known in Philadelphia as a result of that.
Do you think Philly’s diversity influenced you?
N: Hugely. I went to the most diverse high school, JR, where Will Smith went. It’s a public school but also they take a bunch of kids from the neighbourhood so I had hood friends who all wanted to listen to Beanie Sigel and Young Jeezy, and then I was hanging with friends who only wanted to listen to Pavement and The Flaming Lips, friends who wanted to DJ, friends that would only play percussion for Brazilian ensembles, and then I had friends that would be in to jazz… It just made me not afraid of tipping my hat to whatever I wanted to as a producer. When it came down to making stuff with Chiddy, sampling MGMT felt like a no brainer. And now with the album, we’re trying to move away from that. It’s very easy to make a big song if you sample a big song. There’s really no challenge. For us, that’s really just been the foot in the door.
So do you split writing duties?
N: At the end of the day, he’s the Chiddy. It’s his name that’s all over everything. It’s a weird back and forth. I can push for what I really believe in but I don’t always get it. In fact I only really get it 20 or 30% of the time. The rest of the time either Chiddy feels a certain way and I disagree, or our manager and the label feel a certain way. When me and Chiddy polarise on issues, they become like the tie vote. A big part of this for me has been being able to step back, because I’m very very very picky.
You weren’t always a duo?
N: Originally we were a group. Me and Chiddy did a lot of writing, and it didn’t look like we were going to get a record deal, it looked like we were going to get a publishing deal, which is based on the writing. The other kids in the band were like, “F**k this if I’m not getting paid.” So they dipped, and I did too, and Chiddy went on tour with De La Soul without me. This was the summer of ‘09, he went on tour with De La Soul and I went and got a job as a cook at a summer camp for children. The lawyer we had been talking to, who’s now our current music lawyer, called me up and said, “You’re a very talented kid. If you ever want to do this professionally, this is where it starts for you.” And at the time he was Kanye West’s lawyer, and MGMT’s lawyer, and I trusted his musical opinion. As a 19 year old it’s hard to say no to travelling the world, and performing on stages. My heart was always in the studio; I always breathe a big sigh of relief when I walk in.
‘Opposite Of Adults’ seemed to propel you into the limelight. What was the thought process behind leaving it off the album? Do you think fans would expect to see it there?
N: No, we got into a fight with that between the label and the management. We finally get signed and we get down to making the album and they’re like, “Right so we got ‘Opposite Of Adults’, you know, the big MGMT song, we got the big Passion Pit song, now we just gotta fill in a couple of tracks and put out the album.” And I was like, “Hell no.” When I think of the great hip-hop albums, I think of ‘College Dropout’ and the Kanye West stuff. An album needs to be a complete thought; you can’t just take the hit songs and throw in filler. We definitely delve into the poppier side of ourselves, but we were both ready to take it further and more textural.
When did you start working on the album, and where did you record?
N: The first song we made last Fall, a year ago. We didn’t in our minds think, “Oh we’re starting to work on the album;” that was just when the first track was made. I did all the beats on my laptop, so that could have been in train stations and aeroplanes and stuff, but we did 1/4 of it in Wendyhouse Studios in Shepherd’s Bush, then we did the second 1/4 in Los Angeles in a beautiful studio called Moonwine which was like part of an old Spanish church. It was amazing. Then we did the last half in New York, in Philadelphia. So in that sense it’s got, not a rushed feel, but a travelled feel. You can tell, because it features only our friends. I was surprised, I thought Chiddy was going to going to try to stack it full of other rappers, but he’s the only rapper on the entire album.
Would it have come out differently if you hadn’t written it whilst travelling?
N: I think it’d be more complete, but I also think it’d be more boring because we’d have met less people, tried less weirder things. For a hip-hop record that’s supposed to sound complex and worldly, it was really important that we did a lot of travelling. Would I have liked to spend three months in one studio just working on one thing? Yes, but I’m a nerd, and I love nothing more than to just sit in the studio doing the artist side of things.
Do you have any ideas for your next album?
C: We’ve got some ideas for music in general. This album, I’m very very proud of it, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I’m most excited about things to come, what’s next. I always try to push it. I think what I’m trying to do with the next one.. we have instruments on this album, a lot of instrumentation, but I’m trying to really use instrumentation on the next one. You know how bands make music? Like that. Some guitars, freaky drums… I’m trying to experiment. Do some s**t like that.
How does the process of making an album differ to that of making a mixtape?
N: The mixtapes were just little bursts of joy. You make this thing and you think, “This is sick, this is sick! I’m putting it out next week!” and you get a bunch of tapes and put it out whenever you want wherever you want. It’s rawer but the mixes aren’t as good because you don’t have time to sit on it. I’ve sat on tracks for six months, then been like “Oh s**t, I want to mix it differently.” I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but the mix process was a constant battle between our manager and the label. It was like, “Ellie Goulding is on this song, bring the mix up! She’s got to be a huge feature!” But for me, the whole thing was that she’s meant to be woven into the background. In the end we compromised, and that’s been the biggest theme of this whole experience: learning how to compromise.
Are you big on using the internet to promote yourselves?
C: It’s something I’m very keen to do, but it’s difficult being on a record label; you lose a bit of the freedom that you have. I heard people say that all the time, but I never really understood it until now.
Are you hoping for more creative freedom in the future?
N: I don’t think any artist is like, “This album is exactly how I want it! It’s perfect,” you know? I don’t think any artist is ever fully satisfied. But, I’m satisfied not when I hear the particular beats or lyrics - I’m satisfied when I hear the the moments in between. The little tiny bits where I’m like, “Oh that was so cool, that bit right there. That little millisecond where everything just felt right.” But I think it’s good, I think people will see this is what Chiddy sounds like when they’re supporting a whole bunch of people, and this is what Chiddy sounds like when it’s just Chiddy and Noah with a laptop and stuff.
Your music is quite difficult to pigeonhole. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
N: If we’d done other people’s lanes, we wouldn’t have succeeded because we wouldn’t have been the best. We took a page out of the book of Lil’ B; he created his own scene and crowned himself the king of that. We don’t do the same thing, but we definitely try to make a sound that doesn’t sound like anyone else.
C: Try to collab with people that other people wouldn’t collab with.
N: We have songs with other rappers like other rappers do, but then we have songs with the lead singer of Train; nobody in hip-hop is trying to do that. Nobody’s making an 8-bit hip-hop beat and then have the singer from Train sing on it.
C: It’s kinda crazy.
N: No one in hip hop is gonna be like, “Yeah, got the homie from Train on the album,” but we will!
So did you have a definite idea of how you wanted to sound?
N: Yeah, there were lots of kids making rap but we were like, we’re going to be the kids that rap on MGMT. And in 2008, that was fresh.
C: I didn’t know who MGMT were. I asked Noah about the beats he was working on, and it was an MGMT sample and Notorious B.I.G ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’. I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on. This s**t sounds crazy.”
Were you always keen to use samples?
N: At the time, I didn’t have anything else. I had a laptop and that was it. I could use the custom sounds that everyone had, or I could draw from the fact that I was constantly gobbling up new music and trying to flip it. I grew up with an amazing hip-hop producer called Theodore Grant who was carrying the whole North West, uptown Philly hip-hop movement on his back without any credit. His whole idea that he ingrained in me was anyway you can do it, just flip it as crazy as you can. At the time, I was recording lots of rock bands and I was in a lot of rock bands, and this just happened to pop off first and I was like ok, cool, let’s keep going.
There’s been a rise of collaborations making their way into the Top Ten. Do you think it’s a trend that will continue?
N: Absolutely. Look at ‘Look At Me Now’ with Chris Brown, it would not be a smash without Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. People don’t try to sell albums anymore, they try to sell singles, and for singles, you just pack in as much star power as you can.
C: It’s definitely about combinations, you know? Finding the right combinations.
N: We don’t have any crazy, crazy collabs.
C: But we’re trying!
N: We’re trying. But when you’re at the Rihanna level, it’s like, “Ok we take you, Rihanna, and we take you, Calvin Harris, and we take you, Busta Rhymes and it’s like whoops, smash, who cares?” There’s a carelessness to pop nowadays.
So how does it work, do they come to you or do you initiate contact with them?
N: Sometimes you get lucky. We got to work with Pharrell, we got to work with Q-Tip because he heard our music and he liked it. Sometimes it’s a favour for a favour, depending on who your manager is or what your label is.
Collaborations have been a massive part of hip-hop culture. What do you think it is that makes them so integral?
N: Hip-hop by definition is a collaborative art, with MCs and producers coming together. It gets people excited because they want to hear new combinations.
C: We get like, “Oh, you’re in the studio with so and so, I love that!” That’s one of the questions that people always ask, and that’s what we use Twitter for, to suggest people we should work with. “You should do a song with @soandso.”
N: I think a lot of bigger artists get it with us, and they’re like, “Who the f**k are they?” “Jay-Z, you should do a song with @realChiddy” And he’s like “What the f**k?”
Do you ever worry about how your collaborations are going to be received by your fans?
C: No, not really. We did work with Pharrell on our last EP, and we’ve got a song with Q-Tip, but as far as collabs go those are the only major big big name people that we work with. We’re just working with people that want to work with us on the strength of good friendships. We don’t really worry about pressure from the fans, because it’s not like we’re making the music from a dishonest place, where we’re just trying to get in the studio with whoever and put something out and try to make a big tune.
Does your sound change depending on the collaboration?
C: Yeah, I think our sound definitely is very spread out in the sense that we try to make no two songs sound the same. That’s a conscious grow. We don’t want people to be able to put us in one category. It’s wonderful; we feel as though we’re in a position to go out on the road with anyone.
Like a venn diagram?
C: Yeah, we’re like the middle of it - the connector.
What circles do you think you’re in?
C: You’ve got your dance stuff over here, like MGMT and Passion Pit. We’re in there because we sampled them. Then you’ve got your hip-hop. I don’t want to say old school hip-hop, but like that feeling because it’s like the return of producer / MC combination, as a tip of the hat to GangStarr and Guru, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Then you’ve got the whole electronic DJ thing, people like Jack Beats from out here in the UK. What else? We fit a bit of the whole rock thing, the indie rock approach to making music. The fact that early on we were using a computer and a microphone, making s**t in our basement. Putting it out there. It’s punk s**t, making stuff on our computers and then releasing it out there to the people.
Chiddy Bang’s debut album ‘Breakfast’ will be released on 5th March via Parlophone.
Taken from the March 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.