Hip-Hop Phenoms

03.06.12

Chiddy Bang: From College Basement Gigs to Rap Stardom

In just a few years, the rap duo Chiddy Bang has gone from performing in dingy college basements to selling out shows and smoking weed with Keith Richards. The rappers open up to Marlow Stern about their journey to stardom. Plus, watch an exclusive video profile by producer Alex Berg.

If you’re into sports at all, you’ve probably already heard of the gifted rap duo Chiddy Bang. Twenty-one-year-old Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege and Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin’s tunes served as the musical score to countless slam-dunks and slap shots on ESPN’s SportsCenter during February, building up hype for the release of their debut album, Breakfast, which landed in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 album chart following its Feb. 28 release.

Because the duo met while enrolled as freshmen at Drexel University and built up a huge following through college radio, they’ve been (unfairly) folded into the “frat rap” movement, an oft-derided subgenre of rap music about college l-i-v-i-n that graduated from bizarre trend to legitimate phenomenon when 20-year-old prep-schooler cum rapper Mac Miller’s album, Blue Slide Park, made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart in November. The progenitor of this subgenre was Asher Roth, whose 2008 ode to beer pong and sorority girls, “I Love College,” got him snapped up by music manager Scooter Braun—best known for shepherding Justin Bieber to pop superstardom—and became an anthem of sorts for privileged frat boys.

“Frats wouldn’t even let us play shows. They’d be like, ‘No, fuck you,’” said Xaphoon, who is white, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “And I’d put black friends of mine on the guest list and they wouldn’t even let them in. It’s kind of crazy now that they’re trying to put us under the umbrella of ‘frat rap’ when it was really the indie hipster kids who embraced us.”

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Chiddy Bang formed at Drexel in 2008, when Xaphoon, a DJ/producer from Philly, overheard Chiddy, an MC of Nigerian descent from North Jersey, battle-rapping with a fellow student at a house party. Despite coming from different backgrounds, they shared a longstanding appreciation for hip-hop music.

“When I was 15 years old, they closed the local Tower Records and turned off all the metal detectors, so my friends and me stole every CD in the rap section,” said Xaphoon. “I remember putting the Roots’ The Tipping Point on my Walkman and listening to the opening tracks. I had grown up on punk, and when I heard that it was mind-blowing.”

Chiddy added, “When I was 16 years old, I got a scholarship to boarding school and there was a rap battle for an iPod Shuffle. I was a freshman at the time battling this senior who was captain of the football team and 6 foot 3, 350. I was like 5 foot 6, 130. Everyone was like, ‘This dude M.J. is going to kill you!’ And we battled in front of the whole school and I won.”

After releasing a handful of tunes online, Chiddy Bang soon gained a huge following among tastemaking college blogs. In April 2009, they performed their first “official” gig: a sold-out show in a 400-person basement venue at Swarthmore College.

Chiddy Bang’s first mix tape, The Swelly Express, released in November 2009, became an underground hit. As word spread, their unique mash-up style, with Chiddy rapping over samples from Sufjan Stevens to Passion Pit, caught the attention of label executives and even Kanye West, who posted Chiddy Bang’s music video to their MGMT-sampling single “Opposite of Adults” to his blog. It’s since gotten more than 17 million hits on YouTube. The major labels, however, didn’t immediately take a shine to the up-and-coming duo.

“It’s kind of crazy now that they’re trying to put us under the umbrella of ‘frat rap’ when it was really the indie hipster kids who embraced us.”

“It was a learning experience,” said Chiddy. “During our freshman year, a certain label said they were going to sign us and the president of the label was on the phone saying, ‘The lawyer is about to send a contract through.’ We were naïve and thought, ‘This is it!’” He paused. “It never happened.”

In order to keep their momentum going, Chiddy’s manager convinced him to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for longest freestyle rap at the first-ever MTV O Music Awards in 2009. The record was held by a rapper named M-Eighty, who had freestyled for nine hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds. Before a huge online audience, Chiddy broke the record by freestyle-rapping for nine hours and 18 minutes. The video of the recordbreaking feat went viral, and the record label Parlophone, a subsidiary of EMI, signed Chiddy Bang in March 2010.

The group’s debut album, Breakfast, was supposed to be released sometime in 2011 but was pushed back to 2012. The extra tweaking time seemed to do the trick, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “the most exciting debut of 2012 so far.”

During the recording of the album’s track “Out 2 Space,” the two were holed up in a studio in downtown New York City when they smelled a strange odor seeping in from the hallway.

“The whole hallway smelled like crazy bud,” said Chiddy. “[Keith Richards] opened the door and mumbled something, and I interpreted that as ‘I’m trying to get down,’” added Xaphoon. “We just kind of smoked a joint and talked with him for a little bit. If you listen closely to the song, you might catch a glimpse of that meeting.”

In the future, the two hope to collaborate with Gucci Mane and Yo-Yo Ma, and one of the songs off their debut, “Baby Roulette,” even features the radio-friendly pop-rock outfit Train.

“Nobody in rap puts Train on a track,” said Xaphoon, with a grin. “That’s just some weird shit that only we would do.” Chiddy laughed, adding, “We’re part of that iPod generation, so we feel what everyone’s doing.”