Chiddy Bang: From college freshmen to the new cool kids of hip-hop
After a recent opening slot for up-and-comer Mike Posner -- with a packed crowd that included hipsters, preppy college kids and even “Hills” star Audrina Patridge -- the two made themselves readily available to their fans, offering up autographs and thanking them for their support. It’s not like they could go hit the bars nearby as neither are of legal age to drink.A click of girls ignored the T-shirts and EPs emblazoned with the group’s moniker for the real thing: rapper Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege, who was waiting with a sly grin, and baby faced producer-DJ Xaphoon Jones (née Noah Beresin), who couldn’t hide his boyish charm if you asked him.
Just another night in a year that has been a blur for the 19-year-olds.It wasn’t long ago that an introduction from a neighbor brought together Anamege and Jones, both freshmen at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Jones was studying music and Anamege, business.
Anamege says with a laugh that from that first introduction, the two just “fell into a groove.”That “groove” being Jones’ eccentric choice of sampling -- he turns to indie rock just as much as electronic as a source of inspiration – paired with Anamege’s spitfire rhymes.
In typical college band tradition, they took their burgeoning act to different campus basement parties around the city. They soon unveiled their first mixtape.Released in 2009, “The Swelly Express” showcased their brand of hip-hop, electronic, pop and afrobeat musings. The mixtape took off thanks to the success of the single, “Opposite of Adults (Kids),” a slick mash-up of MGMT’s “Kids.” Originally released in Britain, the track debuted at No. 11 on British charts.
In its first month of release, the mixtape logged a staggering 100,000 downloads and was named one of the “Three Mixtapes You Must Own” by Blackbook Magazine, alongside Drake’s “So Far Gone” and Donnis’ “Diary of an Atlanta Brave,” transforming the genre-bending rookies into hip-hop’s next big thing – just like Drake and Posner before them.
A record deal with Virgin Records/EMI Music quickly followed, and the freshmen went from playing Philadelphia parties to touring Europe and scoring slots on high-profile gigs like Britain's Glastonbury and Lollapalooza. No surprise they didn't return for class.
Using an array of samples from the aforementioned MGMT cut to Passion Pit, La Roux, Tom Waits and even Mary Poppins, it’s understandable why the band has been labeled “alternative hip-hop.” But Jones points out they didn’t set out on creating a specific sound.“Our sound, sorta kinda like our name, is something we moved too fast to think about,” Jones said. “Philadelphia is one of the most musically diverse scenes. You have an amazing club scene, hip-hop scene, jazz scene. That’s what raised me. That plus Chiddy brings this fresh flavor. That’s why [our music] stands out. I just sample everything. That’s my mission: to make songs sound like something new.”
This renegade approach has gotten the boys described by some as a “hipster’s wet dream,” but neither of them care for labels – unless it’s “kings of the basement party jam,” which they'll gladly accept.“The whole hipster thing" -- Anamege begins to laugh. “We don’t get too caught up in [labels]. I don’t really know what a hipster is. I’m not cool enough. We’re two kids who just started making music. We don’t have time to worry about anything else.”
Jones chimes in, “I’m not skinny enough to be a hipster. I think that’s kinda the shortcut to slap [the music] out there.”
Both credit their different upbringings for their eclectic taste in music.
Before coming to Philly, Anamege grew up in Newark, N.J., raised by parents who emigrated from Nigeria in the ‘80s. He said his old-school approach to rhyming comes from listening to Lauryn Hill, Redman and Naughty By Nature as a kid. Because he’s so young, the first album he brought wasn’t standard selections like “The Chronic” or “Reasonable Doubt” but the Clipse’s “Lord Willin.’”
Jones gleaned his many tastes while running errands from Philly studios as an intern, picking up tips from the local jazz players and sneaking in sessions. He calls DJ Premier, J Dilla, Pete Rock and the Clash’s Joe Strummer his biggest inspirations.As the two prep for the release of their debut album, “Here We Go,” Aug. 24, they readily admit there is some pressure to deliver, especially after Drake’s impressive bow at No. 1 on his first time out the gate.
“There definitely is some pressure. I would be a lot more worried if there wasn’t that pressure,” Jones said. “For awhile there is that question. Can we deliver on the things we started? But the studio environment, that’s always the easiest for me and Chiddy. I would say our least issue is writing songs.”
Anamege offers a quick rebuttal.
“We never had a major cosign,” he said.
"This is the movement we started.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: (Top) Chiddy Bang members producer-DJ Xaphoon Jones, left, and rapper Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege. Photos courtesy of Virgin Records/EMI Music.