Che Lingo is one of the rappers who is proving that UK hip-hop has the ability to go toe-to-toe with the United States.
From South West London, Che really is wise beyond his years. Whilst there’s no doubt that Che’s an impeccable lyricist - evident from songs such as ‘Black Girl Magic’ and ‘Better Versions’ - what is even more apparent about him is his articulate nature, his hunger and emotional intelligence, all three of which effortlessly feed through his sound.
Having pursued his career in music with great diligence so far, Che is parachuting his way into the UK music scene and beyond. He started off soaking in the skills that he was taught in youth clubs and since then has manifested his own sound producing impressive bodies of work with the likes of his recent EP ‘Charisma’ and his debut project, ‘Better Versions’.
Clash caught up with the rapper to find out a little bit more about who Che Lingo really is.
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When for did music become something you wanted to pursue a career?
When I was 16, people were asking me already from working hard, being in the studio. My mum obviously wanted me to finish secondary school and go to college first, I did that. When I was 20 I was doing random open mic nights and then I found a manager... actually he found me during the open mic! We had a really long conversation on Christmas Eve and I ended up starting work with him on my 21st birthday in 2013 and we just never looked back.
The youth club has been a big part of harnessing your talent, did it give you opportunities to try things out?
The youth club helped me cultivate not just a sense of understanding of music, but allowed me the space and freedom to create without being judged or steered in anyway, other than what I wanted to be influenced by. It created the space for me to respect, understand different types of music and people as well and how they created music. Those were the some of the first instances of being in a studio in my life.
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I did my best to soak up all the relevant knowledge I was experiencing...
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I've been attending different studios for a long time so I know how to conduct myself, I know how to respect the engineer. I learnt how to engineer by watching other people engineer music. Some of the first instances of that were in youth clubs. From back then I knew I was going to have my own studio in my house. I always want to know what you're doing or how you’re mixing my song. I just want to be in tune with how people are mixing my tunes.
I don’t know if a lot of people had that or if a lot of people took that opportunity the way I did. I appreciated it so much, I did my best to soak up all the relevant knowledge I was experiencing and the wisdom from the engineers that I was working with. The numerous youth clubs played a massive part, when I was younger, when it was just a hobby.
Who are some of the musicians that you look up to and draw inspiration from?
I think Kendrick is an amazing, amazing individual. I think the way he curates his sets and his music is super inspirational to see. To see that he has is own style, in a way that allows him to navigate as a black man, allows him to tell the story of a lot of different things. I appreciate that so much, especially because he was born just before the millennial age and we’re still soaking it up and being at the end of it that allows us to understand it in it’s entirety and not just through my emotions. That really resonates with me.
I would say J. Cole is similar. I just appreciate people that are on their own curve. You can tell that they’re navigating which such a level of integrity. Even if they’ve had some more ‘pop-ish’ songs, it’s all-confident and at peace with themselves. It’s about love, and it’s about being able to navigate with integrity, and I think that’s so important. JME does that really well as well, he navigates with good integrity.
I could name loads, Little Simz as well. These are people I don’t necessarily look up to, but inspire me. I never feel like I’m the best at anything but I never feel like someone is more capable than me.
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Congrats on your new EP ‘Charisma’. There are so many themes covered in your from industry fakes, to mental health, to race. How did you decide how to approach making ‘Charisma’ as a body of work?
I didn’t necessarily make the decision to do that. It’s kind of more of a feeling. I’m a very sensitive person. I’m very much full of feeling especially being in London. In 2018, as a black British man, it’s definitely something that can get buried in the hype and the social tension, trends, the internet. There are a lot of things that can bury or start sway doing what you want, especially with growing up in certain areas.
It’s very difficult to even not get pulled into the atmosphere of, ‘It’s not ‘g’ to cry’. It’s very easy to get caught into that, and some of my friends still practice those fragile masculinities now. I’d still respect them the same way if they didn’t. I can see, I can identify why you are that way.
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Some of my friends still practice those fragile masculinities now...
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I feel like emotional intelligence is what has gotten me so far. I think people look at that as much as they look at the music. Emotional intelligence was in the EP. There are songs that sound like they could be on the wavy end but they also sound sick. In this industry there’s only one successful curve for a rapper. You need to seem him with millions of views or streams, and likes in their first year. Unless you have a breakout single with somebody famous, a DJ or producer.
There’s only one curve for that, that I’ve seen chart. It’s either afropop/afroswing kind of way or it’s drill, road rap thing. Especially the road rap, that’s speaking reality and God has allowed you to monetize off of that but that’s not my truth. The way that I’m telling my story is a little bit more sensitive to me and how I grew up, and I tell the story of seeing those things second hand and being friends with people who did it first time.
I think songs like ‘Letters To A Dealer’ are important in understanding not just showing the people who are from the culture and do understand every single colloquial term that you’re using in songs like that, It’s not just about that, it’s about helping people outside of our social group and outside of our culture to understand emotionally that it’s really important that you understand and not judge these people because you’re lives are not the same.
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As a strong lyricist, do you think that UK rap is currently showing its full potential in lyricism?
I wouldn’t say it’s not showing its full potential in lyricism, what I would say is that there isn’t room for an appreciation for that lyricism. So there are rappers out there that are just not popular like that, and I know that they exist because either I’m friends with them or I’ve been to their shows.
They’re just not the ones that play in the media, they aren’t the ones that DJs necessarily want to spin in the club because their songs might not be to that preference or that environment. But they’re so sick, and amazing. Like myself, they’re super lyrical, pay attention to all of the words. They try and link up everything when they’re talking about certain things. The potential is there, I just don’t think there’s as much room as there should be for different types of rap to flourish.
It’s apparent that you are very much into your fashion, is this an avenue that you are exploring in your career?
I am, y’know. More and more every month. People tend to call me to do stuff with fashion. We did the Mennace campaign last year and I was the face of that campaign… and now I’m a very integral part of the brand. That really set the bar for me in terms of growing. I’ve been put on ads next to Kanye, David Beckham for simple compositions of clothes that I put together. It’s sick to know that people are really messing with my fashion choices because I had a big problem with my image when I was a kid.
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You can expect some more things that are going to resonate with you in your heart...
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What has been your career highlight to date?
Yesterday, last night, this headline show. That is the amalgamation and the cultivation of five years of work. Me going into 2013 and starting the journey at that point, then really trying to cultivate and understand myself as a person as well as an artist. Every single individual that began to follow me or became my friend and supported me over that time. All the fans... Everyone talks about how much I’ve grown and how much “star quality” I have.
What can we expect from you in 2018?
You can expect more music. You can expect a better level of navigation now that I’ve done and experienced this of having the headline show under my belt. You can expect some more things that are going to resonate with you in your heart, if you’re like-minded. Even if you are not, there are a lot of different avenues and trajectories you can come in from. And a little bit more about my life, when I choose to let it out and more shows.
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'Charisma' EP is out now.
Words: Nikita Rathod
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