Fort Worth will play host to a rare event Friday, as Houston-bred rapper and entrepreneur Chamillionaire, best known for his Grammy-winning hit, Ridin’, performs at the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge.
The 35-year-old artist born Hakeem Seriki has remained quite busy over the last decade, despite not having released a full-length studio album in over eight years. (Chamillionaire has released a series of EPs and singles in the interim.)
He’ll be joined Friday by a constellation of local rap stars, including Da Deputy, Lou Charles, Judgemental and Kaos Caine. The tireless Smoothvega, who is promoting the event, says ticket sales have spanned the country: “I personally have always looked up to Chamillionaire, so to bring this show to Fort Worth means a lot to me,” he says.
Ahead of Friday’s show, Chamillionaire answered some questions via email.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our exchange.
You haven’t released new music in more than a year, and, from all I could find, your third album, Poison, is still a work in progress. What’s the status of the album, and are you concerned about the long gap between records, with Ultimate Victory having come out eight years ago?
Chamillionaire: Yes, my album is still a work in progress and I honestly didn’t even realize it was eight years ago until you mentioned it. I have released a few EPs and mixtapes after that, but I understand those aren’t studio albums. I just feel like you have to go through the ups and downs of life in order to have a quality story to tell. The Sound of Revenge was a culmination of all of my thoughts over a long period of time. That album was mostly centered around the climb that eventually leads to success, and was the kind of album an artist waits a lifetime to make. Ultimate Victory represented my thoughts after success, and my thoughts about the climate at the moment.
The climb from the bottom is normally a lot more appealing than the struggles of the successful individual, so it’s all about trying to come with a compelling and interesting approach. It’s about having great timing also, so once the stars align for me, then I will have a lot more to say. I’m not really thinking about any time gap — I would have released a long time ago if that was the case.
Expanding on that question, do you think albums are still a viable way for an artist to package his or her material in 2015? You’ve released singles and EPs, and I was curious whether that approach held more appeal, or if you were someone who liked to present a complete vision in the form of a full album.
I just believe there should always be different approaches for different audiences. There are some artists we would consider introspective who have fans that want to hear their deepest thoughts, and it might make more sense for that artist to feed fans with a full body of work. An artist that isn’t touching on anything introspective or deep would probably be better suited at the art of creating album soundbites or radio records. You only have to keep an audience’s attention for one song and with a full album you have to try to keep a listeners attention for a longer period of time. I just simply like to switch it up and be spontaneous.
I definitely have a higher appreciation for someone that can create a full body of quality work and I only really listen to artists that I want to hear a full body of work from. I’m not really a soundbite guy; I’m more of a full conversation guy.
You reportedly joined up with an L.A. venture capital firm earlier this year. What about the opportunity appealed to you and what do you hope to accomplish in your role there?
I have seen a lot of riches in the music industry, but there aren't many rappers that are wealthy. When you get the houses, the cars, and the jewelry — then what? You eventually start to look at all of the things you thought were impressive differently, and you start to have bigger goals and search for greater accomplishments. In the hip-hop world, I believe a lot of the talented people get outsmarted by the people who are simply just smart. A lot of the talented people never really realize they are getting outsmarted in the beginning.
I like the tech world because it’s a place where the thinkers win, and I would like to believe that I’m just as smart, ambitious, and savvy as the next person. If not, then at least I can still use everything I learned to become the person that I want to be. I’m learning a lot about investing in start-ups, negotiating, building companies, and meeting some very smart and creative people. They say the key to success is that you are never supposed to be the smartest person in the room, and I’m definitely surrounded by a lot of brilliant people on a daily basis.
I think the biggest misconception about the venture capital thing is that I have a nine-to-five job. It’s definitely not a job for me — I just have a place where I can get the resources I need to become the business man that I want to become.
What's your perspective on how hip-hop has grown over the last decade in Texas? Do you put in any stock in competition between Houston and Dallas, or do you think success for a rapper from one city benefits everyone?
Hip-hop has definitely grown in Texas, but unfortunately, a majority of the distribution platforms that a lot of artists used to gain success have died or evolved into something less profitable for the newer generation. Now, artists have to pay a lot more attention to the digital side of things, and that can result in a more global way of thinking. I still know people who think the world revolves around the four-block radius around their house.
There are a lot of different views and cultures out there and I think understanding them should be part of the plan if you want to reach global success. You also have to understand that there is a lot of noise in the hip-hop world, and you should be trying to be unique so you can cut through all of it. Everyone is a rapper so what makes you different? If you don’t have a clearly defined vision for that, then you will have a hard time trying to get noticed in my opinion.
Competition can be healthy sometimes because seeing someone else progress can light a much-needed fire under you. As long as that fire isn’t rooted in jealousy or hate, then it can be a good thing. I can’t really speak on any competition between Houston and Dallas, because that isn’t something I would ever co-sign. If we were talking about sports teams, then it would be different. When we were coming up, we worked with everyone from Texas and I have always felt like gaining someone else’s fans is a lot better than alienating yourself from them.
Nationally, hip-hop is also reaching new levels of acceptance and mainstream prominence — Straight Outta Compton being number one at the box office, the Broadway musical Hamilton using rap to reinvent musical theater and even hip-hop oldies stations are becoming more common. From your perspective, do you feel hip-hop is making more of an impact now, and if so, do you feel that increases a performer's responsibility with regards to having a message?
Responsibility works well in the hands of the responsible and a message can only be good if it’s coming from the right messenger. I’m not one of those people that thinks that everyone should have a meaningful message, I just believe that there should be a good level of balance. For every Hit Em Up there should be a Keep Your Head Up.
Hip-hop is definitely making more of an impact across the world — I would just hope that we are appreciating both sides of the music because both are needed. I like Rae Sremmurd and J. Cole — they both have two different approaches, but are great at what they do. At least in my opinion ...
Given your varied interests and pursuits, is there anything you haven't yet undertaken that you would like to? Any field you'd like to explore, other than the ones you already have?
I would like to be the founder of a successful tech company at some point in the future, so I have just been doing what I can to achieve that result. I’m working hard but I’m also just going with the flow, because life tends to lead you in directions that you never could have predicted. If you would have asked me 10 years ago, I definitely wouldn't have thought I would be investing in tech companies and dealing with venture capital firms.
There was actually a time in my life when I thought I would never wear a suit, because anything that involved wearing a suit always seemed like a boring or uppity thing to me. I also thought that I would venture into acting at one point but it really didn’t go that way for me. I realized that you just have to put in the hard work to be successful in whatever direction life leads you, but nobody at the top can tell you the exact steps to guaranteed success, and nobody in jail will tell you they knew they would end up there.
What do you hope people take away from your live performance, particularly since you aren’t touring widely at the moment?
These are the kind of fans that have been supporting me for a long time so I occasionally try to appear to do something to show that I appreciate all their support over the years. I'm not really in the business of chasing shows but I do like to see the people who have been supporting me face to face. When someone tells you how much the words you said meant to them, that's all the motivation you need to keep going.