Exclusives 3 February 2021

GRM Exclusive: Chip reflects on his 15-year long career, genre-blending, retirement & more

3 February 2021

Chip, aka the Grime Scene Saviour emerged on to the scene during his adolescent years.

Before many of us had taken our GCSE exams or attended prom, Chip was a celebrity and an evidenced lyrical beast that had the ability to spin peers twice his age and size.

Wise beyond his age in both his professionalism and his musicality, Chip has spent half of his life tantalising our ears with his musical talents.

Chip was just 16 years old when he dropped his infamous bars at that Tim Westwood freestyle where he joined Ice Kid and Wiley.

In 2009, the year he turned 18, Chip gave the world “Chip Diddy Chip” – one of his biggest hits to date.

With half of his life devoted to music, the artist born Jahmaal Fyffe is well aware of his age but has never seen it as a barrier or a slight.

“Maybe the older people that I was with and around always saw my potential more than my age. Music kind of felt like an ageless thing unless they had to go somewhere where I wasn’t old enough to come. I just adapted.”

“Maturity doesn’t really have an age” says Chip, “whether you’re immature or very mature, you can be any age. It’s not how many years, it’s what you do with the years.”

With his 15 years in the game, Chip has managed to produce four solo studio albums and over a dozen mixtapes and EPs.

Keeping his team small and himself inspired, Chip continues to offer his fans steady streams of new music – whether it be a single, freestyle or a project.

“My process for the past five years has been very much the same. I’ve got a very small team. I’ve got one engineer and someone else that jumps in too. Shout out Prince, big up JC and my manager. I get my beats and I spit my bars. It’s pretty robotic still. It sounds alright when you hear it back but, it’s straight robotic.”

His moniker, “Mr Can’t Run Out of Bars”, stems from his inability to fail to deliver quality lyricism.

Whether in a clash or on a feature verse, Chip never shies away from evidencing his literacy and because of his talents, he easily fronts the UK’s offering of musical talent.

I ask Chip if he’s naturally competitive, he denies this.

“I wouldn’t say I’m naturally competitive actually. I’d just say I only try to do things that I know I’m good at.”

With time spent signed to a major label, time spent signed to an artist and an independent run too, Chip has been through it all.

Chip speaks with pride and purpose about his decision to remain independent.

“it’s important to me to empower the people around me and keep us all in positions of leadership rather than feeling like I’m the big man but at the company that I technically work for, there’s a bigger bigger bigger man. It’s important to me to keep that feeling of freedom and uplifting man’s people into these positions. Why not let us build our own?”

Speaking passionately, the “Killer MC” adds: “I don’t mind people that have got the ‘Robin Hood’ mentality, that was me once, running up in the building, take the gems, buss out, help your people. But I feel like enough has happened in the game over the past say 15 years to get to a point where as MCs, we know we don’t need no big chairman behind us. We didn’t do all of this work to still be doing that.”

“I don’t tell the kids don’t sign deals, do what you gotta do but some of us, we’ve been here long enough to know, we can do this ting.”

Snakes and Ladders lands after a year of tragedy due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the untimely death of Chip’s close friend and collaborator, Black the Ripper.

A Sagittarius, which explains his strong will and devotion to his individual path, Chip celebrated reaching his third decade at the end of November.

“I can’t really explain how it feels.” Chip says.

“It’s like your nephew but uncle at the same time, it’s mad. Whereas I was the young one that was talented enough to do it with the older ones. Now all of the ones that are roughly my age are here as well and then even younger ones too. I appreciate that I still get love because the lifespan of an artist is meant to be short. It makes me feel like something is working.”

On turning 30, he said, “So far, so good. A lot of work actually. The pre-order for the tape went up on my birthday so since then, it’s just been bare work.”

Like many of us, Chip has spent most of lockdown working. Insomnia the Album, which housed 12 offerings from Skepta, Young Adz and Chip, dropped during the UK’s first national lockdown and unfortunately, things have little changed since then in terms of the lifting of restrictions.

“Insomnia the Album came out at the start of lockdown. When lockdown first happened, we was the first people working through the changes in the business. Now (Snakes and Ladders) is coming out and we’re in tier what number?”

“We was locked in a room for a week and that was the result. There wasn’t no sending each other vocals and that. I was the link on that one.”

“Obviously I know Skep, obviously I know A but they didn’t know each other. It was kind of random how it happened but it happened and it was fun, it was sick. I think the artists that are in groups or crews, they’re around more friendly competition on the day-to-day because if your bredrin merks, you’ve got to merk init? I’m not really in that kind of set-up, it’s just me on the mic.”

Chip is spot on here. Many of the artist’s fronting the UK scene originated from one of the many big crews we see in grime like Boy Better Know, More Fire Crew or Meridian.

Chip has always been a “one man army on the microphone” which makes his come-up a little different to what we were previously used to.

Chip loves to collaborate and his feature portfolio boasts some of his most memorable verses and biggest hits.

His favourite artist to work with? “Mavado, every time. Every single time. Something about our musical chemistry, it just doesn’t really go wrong. I think it’s all of them years of house parties to his songs and trying to download his beats off of Limewire and try a ting. I’d deffo do a joint project with Mavado. 100 per cent.”

In every artist’s biography is a plethora of inspiration and creative formations.

Chip’s earliest musical memory is “MCing in the park” and his first bars written at 14 are worlds away from his offerings now: “I’m broke, I ain’t got a flash car” are the lyrics that he’s able to instantly recall.

“On that set I spit a 16-bar and I won’t embarrass myself any further but that’s how I started.”

As a child, Chip “grew up listening to reggae” and “a lot of soul.”

“Vinyl era so you know like, Earth, Wind & Fire, Isley Brothers, all that kind of stuff. Bob Marley, MJ, the era of vinyls. My Dad used to love his music so he used to always be playing vinyls in the house.”

With tracks like his early “On the Rock” freestyle, of course “Every Gyal” or even his choice of collaborators which includes Kranium, Red Rat, Alkaline and Mavado, Chip’s Jamaicaness is as bold as any Yardie’s.

First travelling to his homeland at the age of three, Chip’s love of the country clearly runs deep as he lights up as he talks about his love of Jamaican food and culture.

“It means a lot you know” beams the Tottenham-hailing MC, “I just feel like it’s such an influential culture.”

“Even the soundclash element of music, whether you’re talking hip-hop or grime, it definitely stems from Jamaica. If you trace back to hip-hop and New York, they’ll tell you that a Jamaican DJ, they were the first ones to start like hosting.”

“Grime, the way like you have to change your tone and stuff when the DJs mixing and you’re live spitting, the only place you’d see something like that is somewhere like Sting when someone’s clashing and the band’s got to change levels, change when the artist is changing tone and all that.”

Perhaps one of the UK’s most successful clashers thanks to his ruthless delivery and his timeliness, I ask Chip his thoughts about who can be crowned the world leader in clashes – Jamaica, the UK or the US.

“My favourite soundclashes to watch have been Jamaican ones. For me, I don’t want to sound like the old head but I love the original source. I’ll always say dancehall clashes are the best to me.”

With such an emphasis on lyricism and never running out of bars, Chip is often juxtaposed with peers who are successful for reasons outside of their pen game.

I ask him if this frustrates him at all and he remained poised and calm with his response.

“Nah it’s not frustrating for me. As much as I hear that I’ve got bars, in real life as a human, I’m a vibe. I always try to merge the two – bars and vibe. That’s always on my mind, making sure I can bring both. Someone needs to hear me and say “yeah he’s hard” or just see me in a lit setting, bussin up mic and be able to catch a vibe, do you get what I’m saying?”

“I think if everyone was super lyrical, then I don’t think it would be as fun. I like to find stuff that I like about everyone rather than stuff that I dislike unless you force me to.”

On further reflection, he adds, “no one says you have to have the most intricate skillset to be a rapper. As I got older, I identified more with rappers that I related to.”

“It might not have necessarily been about how good they were. Now when I look back, I realise I always liked the good rappers.”

“Someone who might not be as technically gifted as I am, I would never put their song down or dislike it because of that. If what you’re saying is true, your flows are still tight, your beats are still bumpin, I love that music. I love all of it. Even mumble rap in inverted commas, I love it. If you listen close enough, some of them actually say some sick shit.”

With so much experience in the game and being a student of hip-hop, Chip offers his own personal reflections on what he thinks makes a great MC.

“You know what’s mad yeah, I don’t think I’m some rare sick guy where these lot need to know what I’m going to think makes you a good MC. It’s like bruv, just be yourself – that’s the first thing, however you’re going to take that.”

“In order, it’ll be flow for me first then your quotables so like similes, metaphors, just the lines. Sometimes it might not be a simile or a metaphor, it just might be something you’ve said that someone else just can’t say and then lastly, your cadence. Your cadence is very important.”

14-year-old Chipmunk and present-day Chip have slightly varied thoughts on their top five artists. Present day Chip has had to make room for one of the world’s most prolific rappers on his list.

“Drake’s in there now. I had years of knowing rap before knowing Drake or his music. I remember when I first got given a Drake CD, I definitely said “yeah, my man is different. He’s hard still.”

“Jay-Z, Andre 3000, Lil Wayne…that’s alive rappers for me.”

Chip also adds in Compton-based rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Like Drake, Chip is able to shine on tracks from several different genres.

No two Chip projects are the same and even within them, we’re able to pick out varied influences and “vibes” – a word Chip uses several times during our chat.

On Snakes and Ladders, we have dancehall influences on tracks like “Party Ah Keep”, hip-hop on “Hot 97 (Outro)” and grime on “Ignite”.

Chip chooses “Hot 97 (Outro)” as his personal favourite from Snakes & Ladders with the caveat that this may change within 24 hours or dependent on his mood.

“I think I rapped really well on that song and technically I’m not a rapper init, I’m a Grime MC! I’m just being silly but yeah, rap is something that I feel like I tried to perfect later on in my career, I feel like that blast of hip-hop bars was hard.”

Such fluidity makes Chip unique but it has always remained one of the scenes most prominent talking points.

“I’ve always been comfortable with it, it’s just whether people want to let you be.”

“I don’t mind taking the stones for something cos I just know, man’s a bit of a futurist. A lot of the people that you lot don’t even see, when I see these guys, you don’t see them bruv. I keep my eyes on the future so if I do something before everyone and everyone looks at me like I’m strange for it, I just know that if I stick to my guns, eventually you’re going to accept me for that so I’m going to work hard, I’m going to get better, I’m going to keep being myself.”

Chip adds, “I think I’ve just been myself for long enough in front of everyone for them to just kind of look at me now like, ‘yeah he’s that everything kind of vibe. You can see that from him. He likes all these vibes’”

“Whereas before, when I’m coming out the gate, you just know me for what you just know me for, so if I try something else, you look at it like I’m doing something out of the box but the more I put out, over time you get to see that it was all me.”

“It wasn’t like I was changing or trying to be someone, I’m just a force with rhyming words across sounds, that’s my ting.”

All of the rappers Chip chooses for his top five have something in common – intelligent raps and occasional social commentary.

A scholar in his teens who battled to balance music and his books, Chip studied Sociology at A Level many moons ago.

A social science which shines a microscope on social constructions, cultures and patterns of behaviour, any Chip fan can list tracks like “16 Years” and “In the Army” as reflective of the Sociologist’s mindset of critical analysis of their surroundings.

On “16 Years”, a young Chipmunk introspectively considers the impact of the environment on young men and their subsequent decisions.

Detailing witnessing violence, deprivation and failed social structures, “16 Years” is just one example from Chip’s catalogue that can be seen as a culturally relevant depiction of society

Chip raps: “you see my eyes? They’ve seen a lot of stuff so when you hear me talk greazy, it’s not a bluff. I’m just trying to live life but I’m stuck in the hype because the roads that I roll on are really rough.”

I ask Chip if he’s aware of his occasional tendency to offer social commentary from this perspective.

“I get why you would say that but I wouldn’t say that it’s something I try to do. I more just try to be myself and however that sounds, someone might categorise but that’s not something I was conscious of. Only when you said it, I was like ‘yeah that’s kind of true’ but I haven’t tried to do that.”

“A song that probably fits what you’re saying that I still feel is probably one of my best songs is “Good Morning Britain”, a song on Ten10. That’s some of my best bars that I’ve ever written but they won’t tell you that. I think I was saying too much woke stuff.”

Bars like “we’ve been oppressed with council estate morals where between pride and violence, man dead over a squabble” fit Chip’s point perfectly.

Tweeting “I will retire from rap completely by 35” and teasing it in his lyrics, Chip isn’t shying away from his plans to step away from the mic at some point.

“You should be happy for me” he says as he teasingly laughs at my disappointment.

He won’t step away from music completely though he says.

“Not 100 per cent, I feel like it’s in my blood now. Me, personally, myself, on the scene, putting out music and all of that, I can see the day that that stops happening. I don’t sound like it when I’m spitting, I know that much. Man’s going to hang these boots up on a high. Trust me. 100 percent.”

“Bare people will be like, “nah, you’re meant to rap forever, you’re meant to MC forever” and I’m just like, ‘that’s what you think. ’But I’m still here right now.”

Envisioning a retired Chip is hard because despite his lengthy career, he has only just turned 30.

15 years though is a long time in any industry but music offers different pressures of its own.

“I’ve lived through testing times and changes in the business.  I remember when they first introduced a thing called day-and-date. See like now, everyone does it and it’s normal. The video comes out, the song’s available all at the same time. Before that, it weren’t like that.”

“You would promote your song for like 6-8 weeks, radio and everyone would bang it, it’s not available, you make it available and then they’d be that big rush in that week and then when that changed, it was like, crazy. It was like the whole way of releasing music was completely different.”

Further reflecting on the present day, he adds, “social media has become more of a thing. Things are going to keep changing because technology is going to keep on improving but that just makes me want to keep improving until I decide to stop.”

Things are much easier now Chip says, things are more accessible – “you don’t have to come through the music business to do music, everyone’s got the internet. You can just do your thing.”

On his legacy, Chip is clear with his wishes: “When it’s all said and done, just say he didn’t run out of bars. He kept coming and coming and coming and coming and coming until he said, “You know what? I’ve had enough mate.”

Then, perhaps he might retire back home in Jamaica? “Sum ting suh. Yuh nah mean” he says as he switches between patois and his Tottenham influenced twang

“Somewhere hot, some nice coconut water that just encourages you to exercise because it’s so lit.”

“I’m due a break man, this is the longest I’ve been in England in my life. The tape’s hard though so all of the work was worth it.”

On the tape, Chip adds, “I tried to come in like ‘yeah I’m not playing’ but give some vibes man. Everyone just had to be in this gloomy flippin coronavirus, I thought I’d just give them some vibes to vibe with until we can vibe outside.”

Snakes and Ladders is out now.