As a prominent voice from Yorkshire, Chiedu Oraka is a conscious grime artist who moves with purpose. Growing up in the city of Hull whilst under a Nigerian household, Chiedu has a unique story to tell and he unveils it all to Deeds magazine. Furthermore, Chiedu offered us insight into his fifth release ‘Helly Hansen 5’ set for the 16th of February, a freestyle series that began 5 years ago and took on a life of its own. We sat down with the self-proclaimed black Yorkshireman to discuss his upbringing, grime influences, and Nigerian heritage.
How are you today?
I’m alright, you know. It’s been a bit of a hectic week because I’ve been learning a script for a play that I am doing. I’ve never done anything like this before and so, I don’t know if my learning techniques are correct but, it’s been interesting! It’s not like memorising rap lyrics. I think I’ve probably over prepared...
That sounds very exciting! Maybe this is something we can look forward to in the near future.
I always believed that as an artist and creative, you need to put yourself out of your comfort zone. When this opportunity arrived, I said; “You know what? Let me just test myself.”
Keep us updated. It sounds very interesting.
I actually wanted to start with a necessary yet generic question; for those who aren’t familiar with your work, who is Chiedu Oraka?
Chiedu Oraka, aka the Black Yorkshire man, is firstly an artist from Hull, East Yorkshire. I would say that I make UK rap music but, I wouldn’t really place myself in a box. I am a poet, mentor and some would even call me a social activist. All in all, I’m just a working class person from Hull that is trying to navigate his way in this wild thing we call the music industry.
Yeah, sounds about right. You’ve already mentioned Hull, which is the city you’ve been raised in. Tell us a little about your background and how you landed there.
I am definitely a Yorkshire native but, of Nigerian descent. My mom came to England in the late 70s, she had my sister and then, did her masters. I was then born a couple of years later. The reason why I have found myself in Yorkshire is because my mom’s university in Nigeria had a partnership with Hull university. My mom did her masters here and ended up liking the city and basically stayed here ever since. That’s how Chiedu Oraka was born in a random place, but it’s home, you know. I lived in London for a little bit, went to university in Lincoln for 3 years but predominantly spent my time in Hull city.
I’m curious, growing up in Hull, Yorkshire, what music were you exposed to as a child?
You’re getting me at a good time, you know - This play that I’ve written is basically a playlist of my life. I grew up in a house where my mom used to organise a lot of parties. Therefore, I was exposed to Fela Kuti and a lot of reggae music. That was my earliest music memory and then, my sister and big cousin used to listen to a lot of RnB like Aaliyah, TLC, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston as well.
I used to go to London quite a lot as a child at carnivals. The city introduced me to UK garage and the early days of grime - That is how I discovered my love for this entire scene. As I got older, I’d listen to Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2pac, DMX, Nas, Giggs, and the list goes on... I think I was always destined to be in music, you know.
That’s very informative because I was thinking, where does rap music fall into your storyline? Grime as a genre that originated in London, what relation does this particular sound have with where you’re from?
There’s a lot of grime artists from Yorkshire! Grime definitely transcended to the city. I can only talk about my influence; Grime has played a massive role in my career. My favourite artist is Skepta who is one of the biggest grime artists ever. I remember watching all of the old school DVDs like Lord of the Mic. Especially where I’m from, nobody really knew about Grime. I was a proper fan and heavily hooked. That probably happened because I was around London at a young age.
I just love the energy and the attitude because Grime is more than a music genre - it’s a way of carrying yourself. It’s like DIY mentality, protest music, modern day punk and anti-establishment. I sort of resonate with that being a black kid myself and I just wanted to make my own version.
Throughout the last decade, Grime has pretty much evolved and became internationally known. You see a number of artists participating across the UK.
Perhaps we could go deeper into your roots. Listening to your music, it is apparent that you wear your heritage on your sleeve. Being of Nigerian descent, I heard a lot of ‘Naija this, Naija that’. Is that pride something you got from your household or something you’ve grown into?
Oh yeah, it was definitely in my household! My mom reminded me every single day that I was Nigerian and I was very much different from my white counterparts. I’ll admit it, when I was a lot younger, I didn’t always embrace my Nigerian side and I used to always say; “I’m English! I’m English!” Now, if somebody asks me where I’m from, I’d say I’m from Nigeria. I was born in the UK but I think I’m a proper Naija man just by the way I carry myself. I am proud to be Nigerian - we are the upper centre of Africa.
Concerning activism, which is also one of the main themes in your music. How did you get into this space?
I don’t know, man! It’s been a title that people have given me because I sort of speak for the unheard. For me, Yorkshire always felt like the forgotten county. The county estate that I come from is officially the coldest place in Britain because we’re going to be affected the most by the cost of heating. It hit home and it was something I needed to speak about.
There was a big rally in the town centre by an organisation called Enough is Enough and I gave a speech which everyone seemed to love. It was just me speaking from the heart - I have a position of influence and so, it is my duty to speak up. I also did a documentary which is available on YouTube called ‘Black Kings Upon Hull’ where we’re talking about racism, prejudice, and many more. When you have a talent, I feel like there needs to be a positive message behind it.
It makes sense. I believe that this rap bubble is definitely in need of conscious artists and you’re leading by example. On a lighter note, I do want to talk about your up-coming single which is ‘Helly Hansen 5’ - Your first Helly Hansen freestyle was released 5 years ago! What does this sport brand mean to you?
Where I come from in Hull, I reckon it is like this in other Northern England cities, we’re influenced by the chav culture. Windbreaker jackets, salmon jackets, everyone in Hull wore them similarly. Like your jacket held an importance.
Would it be in alignment with the roadmen aesthetic that is prominent in London?
Yeah, you could probably say that but, I think this is a proper northern thing. I don’t think Londonders necessarily resonate with outerwear which you have when going on walks, mountain climbing and such. These were the brands that we would rep. If you had a sick jacket, you kind of felt like superman. It was always different colours and different brands.
The first time I saw someone wearing Helly Hansen, it was a kid in high school. It was a reversible jacket and the first time I had heard about the brand but, the jacket was such a sick item. I feel like I just wanted to do a freestyle series that embodied my youth.
I had a Helly Hansen jacket on and I wanted to spread some bars. The cameraman was like; “what do you want to call this?” and I thought; “I will just call it Helly Hansen.” When I put on this jacket and look at the camera to share some bars, just know that I mean business and I’m taking anyone’s head off.
That’s interesting. I don't think that is something Londoners would be familiar with and just in general, people outside of the Northern region. Just to go back to your single, your fifth freestyle at your fifth anniversary; why do you think this is the right time?
I don’t think I did a Helly Hansen last year and so, I feel like giving two freestyles this year. It is always a good way to start the year off. The reason that I’m starting with this is because I am not slowing down. The Helly Hansen mentality is the energy I will have all through the year. I’m setting a foundation with this one and the quality is not going to drop and I want people to understand this; I am not messing around and I’m coming for everything this year.
Very strong message here. In a few words, what is something they should expect with the Helly Hansen 5?
Bars, bars and more bars.
Those are a few words, actually. [laugh]
Like literally, punchlines, metaphors, etc… I feel like it is my best one yet! People are going to be shocked because of the Ebay I am rapping on. They may not expect this from me.
Perfect! I’m sure your supporters will be very keen on hearing that. You dropped an EP ‘Council Estate Confidence.’ Are there any plans of releasing a studio album anytime soon?
The album won’t be coming anytime soon, I will be real with you but, I am working on a longer project that will drop this year. I'm at the studio at the moment working on this. I don’t feel as though it is time yet for an album and so, it might come out next year or the year after. To be honest, I don’t really feel like people want an album from me and I'm not a fan of this fast food music. There’s no way I would place my blood, sweat and tears into a project and it would be forgotten in a week or two. IN other words, it’s just not the right time.
Hopefully your fans will appreciate your honest answer. I read somewhere that you have worked with a particular Nigerian collective, are there any producers that you wish to work with in the near future?
I always said that if I did work on an album, I would love it to be produced by James Blake. I have big aspirations and I feel like he would get the best out of me. I want to be worked out of my comfort zone and feel like James Blake would produce a sensational album with me.
Expect your up-coming single ‘Helly Hansen 5’ that is dropping on the 16th of February. Are there anything else you would like to share with your supporters?
Yes, there’s a headline in Leeds on the 23rd of February. I performed in Leeds a few times but, this is my first headline show and so, I am excited about this! I didn’t perform much last year and I really want to do so this year around, especially outside of my city.
If I’m not mistaken, you recently formed a podcast?
Yes, I have a podcast called ‘Council Estate Confidence.’ It is my mantra and what I live by. It is also what my EP was called last year. The idea of interviewing individuals is that I wanted to share stories of people who grew up on a council estate. I think it breeds the best people and the most naturally talented people. We need to be proud that we came from humble beginnings and we actually survived. I wanted to do a podcast that celebrated people who actually came from Council estates and made something out of themselves.
What is a guest you plan on having in the future?
I want some amazing guests because I believe this podcast has potential. I would really like to talk to Mel B, especially as a black girl growing in Leeds, she must definitely have dealt with racism.
You can find Chiedu’s entire discography here.