22-year-old Alabama rapper Jane Oranika — professionally known as Chika — has only been signed to a major label for about a week, but she is already well on the way to national stardom in that time thanks in large part to a combination of forces that includes Kanye West, Lena Waithe, Jermaine Dupri, and Cardi B. Although she’s only been pursuing rap as a career for around two years, she has since gone viral on social media multiple times thanks to her stunning freestyle skill (garnering celebrity co-signs from the likes of Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, and Jada Pinkett Smith along the way), performed a stirring political ode on national television, and received a huge co-sign from one of rap music’s biggest female stars. It’s time to get familiar with Chika because she is about to blow up in a big way.
Ironically, Chika only recently released her second single, “High Rises,” in celebration of her newly-signed deal with Warner Records. She posted the song’s inspirational video shortly after the announcement, then went right back to doing the thing that got her this far: Sharing in the moment with her jubilant fans, many of whom have followed her since her very first viral freestyle. Then, when Jermaine Dupri fixed his lips to demean female rappers, saying they all rap about the same thing, Cardi B checked him by name-checking Chika among the likes of Rapsody and Tierra Whack.
Uproxx had the opportunity to talk with Chika by phone just before last Thursday’s female rapper shenanigans, covering her viral freestyles, her moving appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, her new record deal, and what the future holds. Suddenly, it looks very much as if the past two years of grinding have paid off — Chika has arrived.
In doing the research on you, I kind of realized that a lot of people seem to try to define you through their own lens. I guess the first question I kind of want to ask you is: Who is Chika?
I think, to sum it up, I’m an artistic kid who didn’t really have a place until I found music, and I got lucky. And now, here I am. That’s the long and short of it really.
Why do you think that you found a home in rap of all the genres and of all the artistic outlooks you could have chosen?
I’ve always been a person who swears a lot when I’m telling stories and things, and of course you can do that through songwriting of other mediums and different genres, but there’s just something about rap that is the heart of me.
You have all these songs and freestyles that are big reactions to moments like “Richey Vs. Alabama.” I would love to know what inspires or what drives you to speak out on social issues or to react to cultural moments the way that you do.
I think it’s really just summed in the fact that when I see something bad happening, I always have to say something about it, even if it’s to my detriment. I feel like art is probably the best way to have a happy medium between being that person who’s always being a red flag waver at all times and also being able to call out things that you think are important. It doesn’t always seem like an inspiration or choice, it mostly feels like a stream of consciousness. This is what I’m thinking about.
You debuted that song, “Richey Vs. Alabama,” on a huge platform [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]. What inspired you to use that platform and that opportunity to drop a new song as opposed to playing something older? Did you feel any apprehensions about it?
I don’t have really apprehension or anything like that because I felt just in my cause. It would have been easier to do something that was old because leading up to it, I had a show and we were shooting a video. They hit me up for Kimmel and Lena and her team graciously allowed me to have that opportunity. And in the same week, we had the abortion bill that ended up being signed, and I thought it was almost cosmic. There’s no way that me being from Alabama, this was going to happen the same week that I’m supposed to be on Kimmel. I had to say something about it.
Speaking of Alabama, it seems like there isn’t much of a presence in hip-hop from there. You all have had some big, standout artists but it doesn’t feel like Alabama is really “on the map,” so to speak. Do you ever feel any pressure to live up to: “Hey, I might be the biggest thing out of Alabama?”
I don’t feel pressure, I feel honor. Let me be something that I could be a light, the state’s really proud of. I already know where I’m meant to be. I already know that I’m on the right path and I’m getting there in my own time.
There’s talented people in Alabama. There’s so much heart there. You can’t not have heart there, especially after the history that Alabama has. People overlook us all the time. So, I’m completely happy and even honored to be able to be doing the things I’m doing. It’s a blessing really.
It’s funny that you mention what you’d normally be doing because we said earlier how you feel like you are reacting to these situations, you don’t necessarily want to be writing about certain things you end up writing about. So in an ideal world, let’s say there’s a different guy in the White House, let’s say all of our hero rappers are not running around wearing symbols of racism; what do you rap about? What are the things that inspire you? What do you want to make music about?
I always say that I just want to change the way people process emotion. I’m a 22-year-old female out here rapping, I want to be having fun with it. I don’t want the obligation to always have to do like the political one, let’s say. I want to have fun and talk about my experiences and growing up and learning things, stories that I would be talking about this experience, you know. The journey I’ve been taken on.
So the video for the song “High Rises” was very inspiring. I’m really fascinated by how you got that to come together even without a label’s support and then putting out with the label’s support, how does that feel?
The process of doing songs like this is crazy and long and stressful, but dope, because it taught me a lot about the industry I was entering into. I just left school when I got the beat given to me and I wrote to it, then the whole thing with being released before I got to put out my track to it, so it kinda felt like it was no longer my song. But I could see the way that people were responding to it because I would open my shows with it and it’s always been a fan favorite because I started my shows with that.
And so, for us to have that… this song that’s almost three years old, finally come out right around the time I signed my deal… it’s been crazy, it’s been really crazy. The label support is great because I never had that. Honestly, the learning process has been the big highlight.
I wanted to ask you, what’s next? Are you working on an album? Are you doing an EP? A mixtape? When do you expect to have that out? Who are you working with? Do you have any surprises in store for the people?
I’m working on an EP right now. It should be out probably by August. It’s going to be summer, yeah.
Something very, very soon.
Chika is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.