Being a qualified doctor and still managing to find the enthusiasm to regularly perform live sets and to meet a challenging recording schedule is, I think you’ll agree, a hugely commendable feat. In an interview with Kiss FM, full-time doctor, part-time hip-hop artist Chima Anya is told: “Not many people that are fully fledged doctors have time for this music thing.” to which he responds: “I’m not gonna lie, it is really difficult and overwhelming….but my passion for music just overrides all of that.”
One of the head honchos at Fat Gold Chain alongside the likes of Benny Diction and Solocypher, in addition to fronting a genre-bending 4-piece electronic/hip-hop outfit, the rapper of half-Nigerian, half-Romanian parentage is an unrequited music enthusiast. Inspired initially by early ’90s female pop-rap trio Salt-N-Pepa and their album ‘Very Necessary’, the Oxford representative with a faint Glaswegian lilt, privileges the art of rapping over other aspects of hip-hop subculture – penning substance-filled bars with a popular bent, and conflating lyrical earnestness with an earthy, soul swaggering intensity. Placing a broader artistic emphasis that isn’t forcibly crammed with punchlines, zany outbursts or feeble and unconvincing skits, he hones an uncomplicated yet cerebral style.
He’s not just “another rapper” either; he’s at the acme of independent hip-hop refinement – as attested by his previous releases and by his new mixtape, ‘Closure’. Despite containing a few compositional beats, his new tape is largely made up of carefully selected electronic dubs from the likes Aussie producer Dizz1, the freewheeling Chilean-born fLako and even James Blake’s futuristic remix of Untold’s ‘Stop What You’re Doing’. The squealing, convulsing synths and squelches are played off nicely against more danceable grooves in the mixtape which, despite its preponderance for dense, low-tempo electronic sounds, also delves into more standard underground hip-hop fare. The album’s opening track ‘And We Back’ for example, which enlists über-talented jazz-hop artist Soweto Kinch, loaded with heavy programmed drum patterns and choppy and tense chord progressions courtesy of Birmingham beatmaker Kelakovski, is a serious head-nodder and a real stand-out on the mixtape.
Chima momentarily veers into more old-school territory too in ‘SFM’, a track featuring one of DJ Premier’s timeless bass guitar loops. In the track he bemoans, among other things, the serious void in intelligence in the UK rap scene, the prevalence of played-out punchline lyricism and the scourge of copycat rhymers. Showing maturity beyond that of many emcees, Chima steers clear of obvious trappings as rote renderings of life as a struggling independent hip-hop artist. Instead he talks about finding the inner-strength to realize your aspirations, staving off cynicism and negativity: Nothing moving forward, yeah you keeping your patience / Try not become bitter – stay easy and gracious. He also brings heartfelt sincerity to his rhymes, especially evident in songs like ‘Type of Man’ where he affirms himself to be a proud monogamist as well as a truly success-driven workhorse: I work hard, play hard when it’s time to man / My success is deserved – it was tightly planned. Bolstered by echoey fading synths and elongated electronic sustains, it’s clear Chima prefers eschewing the rough-and-ready for the sleek and smooth; indeed you find yourself hanging on to every word of his distinctive vocal drawl which he rides effortlessly over the speed-addled basslines of the instrumentals.
Mixing drum ‘n’ bass intensity with calmer soul sensibilities in ‘It’s. Not. Right’, a joint featuring the ‘Steptoe’ instrumental courtesy of Belfast-based drum ‘n’ bass veteran Calibre, he tackles themes obliquely but with a distinct air self-assurance. Alluding to left-wing political sentiments without all the conspiracy undertones, he conveys concerted criticism of both the misguided attempts of ephemeral fame-chasers and the inequitable social system in which we live: Corruption’s tainting our lives / Fuck those who just say shit is fine. His bluntness of self-expression is similarly evident in ‘Drunken Rant’, a track featuring live jazz funk instrumentation from the James Taylor Quartet, where he launches an uninhibited, cathartic tirade from a work-fatigued, patient-weary perspective, brooding on his life choices with a stark sense of realism: Fuck you I’ve been waiting hours for treatment / My nose a bit runny, I think that I’m wheezing / That two-year-old boy is not breathing / Maybe I should just come to see you and just leave him.
To leaven the mood, he includes a heartening interlude featuring a recording from one of his upbeat live shows. Co-opting the mellifluous vocal talents of acclaimed female soul singer Joy Joseph, Chima performs a UK version of ‘A Star is Born’, a Jay-Z collaboration with J. Cole taken from The Blueprint 3. In a similar vein to the original, the performance acts as a scene dedication, this time to UK urban acts with various shout-outs to both mainstream and underground artists: Respect to Wiley, and N-Dubz working with Kylie / Ain’t my style, but respect for ’em for the grind G. The track also proves his stellar ability as a charismatic, audience-engaging live-performer.
Chima Anya really is the perfect antidote to the deep cultural malaise of the urban scene, created largely by chart acts neglecting the art-form and rapping over emotionally unengaged anodyne euro-pop drivel. Not just the music, but the entire package sets this mixtape apart: from the slick cover art, to the overall presentation, every aspect of this release all displays a certain staid professionalism that is often all too rare in a genre too often saturated with messy, skit-loaded mixtapes. Overall, Closure serves as an illustration of exactly the sort of hip-hop Chima plans to continue making: soulful, lyrically-driven, reverential to the old-school but still fiercely on-trend. Despite being an underground act for now, his endless charisma and polished sound potentially opens him up to the possibility of mainstream acceptance. But until then, music will always remain a labour of love and an unrequited passion of the good doctor’s.