Chika Knows Exactly Who She Is

After blazing her own trail into the heart of the hip-hop scene, the much-beloved rapper Chika is here to stay.

Photo: Alissa Ashley

Twenty-three-year-old rapper Jane "Chika" Oranika took a chance on herself before anyone else did. A mere three years ago, when she was a freshman at the University of Alabama, she made the decision to drop out to chase her dreams of becoming a performer. As a first-generation American born to Nigerian parents, she had some explaining to do before they gave her free rein. "I told them, 'Hey, college is applied time toward your career, so if I apply my time outside of college toward the career I want, it might work out,' " she says. Her Twitter feed, where she frequently posts comedic bits and freestyle verses, soon became a hot spot for viral videos that caught the attention of music-world luminaries like Diddy, Beyoncé, and Erykah Badu.

Since then Chika has released three EPs; her latest, Industry Games, dropped in March and was decreed by Billboard to be an album that "cements her spot as the name to know in hip-hop." Having earned her stripes on the Internet, Chika, who identifies as queer, has gained a following for her charm, her transparency, and a gap tooth that the ladies love. She's open about identity politics and managing her mental health. Plus, she's got ambition, rhythm, and style. Last year Calvin Klein's global head of creative credited Chika's authenticity as the reason for casting her in the #MyCalvins underwear campaign. As someone who prides herself on living and acting with intent, Chika feels that beauty comes from within. "If you have a rotten soul, I can tell you're not gonna be as hot as you would be if you were a good person," she says with a laugh.

You've spoken up about the pitfalls of social media, and yet that is how you got your start. How would you describe your relationship with the Internet?

I was raised by it. Being able to break into my career this way has been such a surreal and humbling experience. But it also taught me to seek validation based on engagement. That can cause your mental health to decline when your engagement does. Now I create the Internet I want. If I don't want to wear makeup, I won't. If I don't want to give a verse, I'm not going to force myself to.

Have you always been so outspoken about mental-health issues?

Yes. I think it is important. We are on this earth to make sure that whatever mark we leave when we are gone is one that is lasting. I think a lot of the reason we suffer in silence is because we don't see an example of someone being able to be transparent and open with who they are and what they are going through. So, [clears throat] enter me. [laughs] It's simply in my nature to be this person. Has it been nurtured over time? Yes.

How has your relationship with your family evolved since coming out and dropping out of school? And now being... famous!

I had a very rocky relationship with my parents growing up. I was a different child, and they didn't know what the hell to do with me. I came home one time and ended up talking to my mom about wanting to be a musician and how it was a fire that was burning inside of me. I also talked to her about my sexuality. It was a three-hour conversation. We just started talking and never stopped. And that is not something that a lot of African kids, first-gen kids throughout the diaspora, typically get. We don't get that luxury of openness. And so now the transition that I've experienced into adulthood is that my parents are getting it. And it's a very beautiful place to be. At first, I didn't know if they were just tolerating me or if they were able to be proud of me as a person. But the other day my dad texted me a screenshot of "U Should," a song I wrote about a woman and self-pleasure. And now they both are able to say congratulations and listen to my songs in the house.

You have also been vocal about supporting Black Lives Matter, queer folks, and women. That is important but takes a lot of energy. What do you do to rest?

The best thing I have learned to do now is to take a step back and also just exist. I think that Black people are never allowed to just be. White privilege is the privilege to be, period. If we wanted to sum it up in one way, it is the privilege to exist.

That reminds me of a question that activist EbonyJanice likes to pose: "What would Black women look like if they created their lives from dreaming and not from suffering or resistance?"

I think that focusing on the problems that we didn't create is still being enslaved. But freedom to me is simply being able to exist in your own form. You can do that while fighting for it as well. Black women, Black men, Black nonbinary people—we take on the trauma, the robes, the battle scars of our ancestors and also the people we lost last week or 30 minutes ago. We take that on without fully being able to explore ourselves.

Is it daunting that every major celebrity claims you as their "kid"? [Welsh singer] Duffy was a big supporter, Snoop Dogg was crashing your Instagram Live, and you recently thanked Lena Waithe for helping you work through some big stuff.

I attract kindred spirits. I may not get everything right, but I always have the best intentions. There was no reason for Duffy to even know who I was. First of all, she paid for my first studio session ever. She paid for my first single. But that's a smaller thing in comparison to what she did for me spiritually and mentally. She's the one who introduced me to numerology and signs and things like that. Lena literally hooked me up with a psychiatrist and was like, "Hey, we're going to make sure you're OK. Whatever you need to get taken care of is what we're going to give you." I've been fighting impostor syndrome since being invited to [Jay-Z's pre-Grammys] Roc Nation brunch [in 2019]. I know what it's like to feel like none of your reality is what it is. But I think that when you get these heavy moments where someone is given the opportunity to show you who they are as a person, it takes away that shroud of inaccessibility.

What are you learning to love about yourself right now?

I've accepted parts of me that I've been told not to, parts of me that society called "wrong" or "ugly" or "bad" in some way. I've taught myself to be like, "I don't give a fuck." And I don't. That's not an act. Maybe at first it was a "fake it till you make it" mentality, but it's not now. I don't care how you feel about me, especially externally. I like myself, because if I didn't, my experiences would be different. My view on a lot of things would be different. I like my body. I don't get no complaints. [laughs]

For more stories like this, pick up the October issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download 9/18.

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