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Whether trying to score with a stiletto-wearing chick at a bar or landing the career of his dreams, conventional wisdom holds that wit-infused confidence—and sometimes a hint of arrogance—is the secret to a man’s success.
Witness the recent ascension of Philadelphia hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang, and even a word like meteoric falls short of describing what these 19-year-olds have achieved in the past year.
Recently signed by Parlophone Records, the pair are currently on tour in Europe. They’ve recorded an album set to drop in August and were deemed a “buzz-worthy obsession” by MTV.com. Did we mention they’ve only been at it for about a year?
And though they’ve yet to prove their mettle, they make no bones about owning hip-hop. Take some of their lyrics, spat with clever ferocity by Newark native and MC Chiddy (née Chidera Anaege): “Straight out the dungeons/Peeling off like an onion/Trying to chop trees like Paul Bunyan/This is the psyche of a man without a dollar/I’m Puffy without a collar/This rock rap shit is ours.”
Balancing the equation, is DJ/producer Xaphoon Jones (a.k.a. Noah Beresin), a baby-faced mix maestro whose strategy is to pick at the bloated carcass of indie music, then, after some pitch-switching and remixing, deliver the resulting hip-hop slurry on a plate with Chiddy’s boastful rapping.
The best example of this is the recent single “The Opposite of Adults,” which features a sample of the MGMT über-hit “Kids.” The video, which was recently posted on Kanye West’s blog, shows the two neophytes, with big heads superimposed on little bodies, skateboarding in the streets and eating cereal with disaffected aplomb. Meanwhile, Chiddy raps, “I once was a kid/All I had was a dream/More money, more problems/When I get it, imma pile it up.”
Other chopped-up Chiddy ditties have included samples of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago” and Tom Waits’ “Ice Cream Man.” Take a rapper who busts rhymes over sensitive, introspective rock, and you’ve got a wicked subversion of ironic indie-rock clichés.
“Noah approached me about just [remixing] a whole bunch of indie rock songs,” says Chiddy. “And that was the goal.”
The two met as freshmen at Drexel University. Jones was studying music and Chiddy, business. According to the MC, whose parents emigrated from Nigeria in the ’80s, a neighbor—also a music major—introduced him to Jones. A native of Philadelphia, Jones interned at the city’s Rittenhouse Soundworks, where, he says, he was exposed to established jazz artists. There, he honed his craft as a musician and producer.
He casually explains his job responsibilities as “making coffee, working on monitor mixes, hanging out with artists, rolling joints. You know, normal stuff.” But during off-hours, he seized the opportunity to learn the subtleties of musical craft.
“The artists wouldn’t show up till 3 p.m., and we would set everything up at 10 a.m. I’d get to mess around on the piano and drums,” says Jones, who also plays guitar and has his sights set on learning the ukulele and accordion. Jones was able to take the knowledge he acquired behind the mixing board and use it at home, where he would record his friends.
Chiddy and Jones’ collaboration began with basement gigs at Philadelphia colleges, but they soon found themselves crossing state lines.
“College kids would call us up and be, like, ‘Hey, my friends go to college in Maine. Will you play our basement for a hundred bucks, plus gas?’” recalls Jones.
“Everything started stretching out to Maine and New Hampshire. That’s when we started thinking we had something,” adds Chiddy.
In 2009, they recorded a mixtape called the Swelly Express, which garnered major-label attention. One song featured an appearance by hip-hop icon and Roots’ rapper Black Thought. By March of this year, they were signed by Parlophone.
“People just want to hear something different,” says Jones. “Everyone has the tools in front of them to create recordings and distribute it all over the Internet. We just live in a flooded market. The weirder you sound, the more likely you are to get noticed.”
No doubt, musical pundits will argue it was just a matter of time before enterprising sound chemists started synthesizing jams from such disparate elements as indie and rap. Others might say the idea has already been toyed with. (Remember Kid Cudi’s 2008 track “The Prayer,” which sampled a melody from Band of Horses’ song “The Funeral”?) In any case, the strategy has proved fruitful for Chiddy Bang.
But wasn’t the decision to use a massive hit such as MGMT’s “Kids” too simple or obvious? Absolutely, Jones replies. “But we had to get our foot in the door. To anyone who’s on the fence about us, I say, ‘Listen to the record. It’ll have 12 new songs that reflect who we are right now.’”
Adds Chiddy, “We didn’t think ‘Oh, people are going to say, “Why’d you sample an MGMT song? Why’d you sample this? Why’d you sample that?”’ We just said, ‘Fuck it.’”
Fuck it, indeed. Speaking by cell phone outside London venue Scala, where Chiddy Bang are set to play a gig, the MC apologetically says he’s distracted.
“I’m literally outside the venue, and the line is getting longer and longer. I’m in the van, but they don’t know I’m in the van—[the windows are], like, tinted. It’s gonna be a quick pandemonium, so I’m watching how loud I talk. There’s a vent right above us.”
In conversation, Chiddy presents a humble persona that belies his lyrics’ swagger, even though both musicians come across as savvy beyond their years. Sure, the road to musical success is littered with the carcasses of those who have attempted novel approaches, but at the moment, the road is wide open for Chiddy Bang.
Spouting off lines such as “I’m well-endowed like Harvard and Yale,” it’s obvious Chiddy is driving full-throttle. The future will be a substantial test for a 19-year-old ego exposed to sudden success. So how likely is it that Chiddy will end up on the cover of Rolling Stone years from now, in the likeness of Jesus Christ á la Kanye West?
“That’s a no. I’m not far-gone. I’m sure Kanye can explain what the reason behind that was, but I’m just going to make my music. I’ll be on Rolling Stone—chilling in the studio.”
Chiddy Bang perform with the Pack, 2AM Club and XV at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Wed., 7 p.m. $10-$12. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Chiddy Bang Talk the Talk: Teenage duo bring the hip-hop swagger, now they have to live up to it."