Kelechief… Hip Hop Star Soars From Atlanta To Lagos
Kelechi Emeonye is not your average American-born Nigerian maverick spewing witty bars for public appeal. At the core of the young rapper, professionally known as Kelechief, is a resilient maestro using his music as a bridge to connect Africans from the homeland to the diaspora. With his just-released album dubbed, ATLagos, the award-winning musician stretches this movement, serving his most profound creative exploit so far.
From the moment Kelechief dropped out of Georgia State University to pursue his rap career from his basement in Atlanta, it was glaring to him that he was one to watch. By 2015, the young star had gone viral in the American music circle with the release of his breakout song, Want, as well as other exploits like performing alongside Wale, and Chance The Rapper.
Fortune refused to frown on him, as the very next year, he won a $50,000 Mountain Dew-sponsored music contest. And his subsequent albums including Before The Quarter (2016), Quarter Life Crisis (2017), Woke Up To Winter (2018), and Going Home (2021), respectively, earned him significant recognition both in America and across the Nigerian music community.
With a very DIY-centered approach to career development, especially with his wide variety of skills such as music production, video making, songwriting, among others, as well as his obvious flair for the Igbo culture, Kelechief poses a very interesting character within Nigeria’s music scene. He has opened shows for Davido, Fireboy, Wizkid, and many other homegrown stars.
He catches up with Guardian Music to share his experiences as a multi-talented individual, his Igbo origins, as well as his relentless drive to make good music.
Let’s talk about your album ATLagos. Why exactly do you have that concept?
Atlanta and Lagos are two really, like culturally vibrant cities. I think in the African diaspora, but then it’s in the cultural diaspora period. So, Hip-hop is one of the biggest music genres in the world and a lot of the biggest hip-hop in the state is coming from Atlanta.
And then, right now, with what Afrobeats and with what Afro-pop is doing, you know, you can’t talk about it without talking about Lagos. So, for me, when people ask me what kind of music I make, I’m like I’m experimenting with global black music. So, whether it’s hip hop, Afro-beat, Jazz, if it’s Fuji, whatever Black people are doing around the world, I just want to take part in it, I just want to participate and have my own contribution.
Like you’re bridging the sounds?
Yeah. I mean, the label is, unless people know what they are going to listen to, but like really, I’ll rap on some highlife. I’ll sing rap over you know, Alte R&B vibes. It’s just whatever the good vibes are; I just make it.
You have a very Do-It-Yourself nature; you sing, produce, record and even shoot your own viral videos. How did you learn all of these?
I mean, if you don’t do it for yourself, who will do it for you? You know, like that’s been my philosophy since forever. Even when I started producing, I started producing out of necessity, because I couldn’t hire anyone. If I can’t pay someone to engineer for me, I have to learn how to engineer. If I can’t pay someone to produce for me, I have to learn how to produce. I couldn’t pay someone to make my cover art; I couldn’t pay someone to edit my videos. So, I had to learn how to do all these things on my own.
And it’s like sometimes, of course, when we have the resources and budget to be able to, like we’ve worked with people before, but like in the building stage, you have to be DIY, because in the bundling stage, unless you have money, you have to do it yourself.
You are also very indigenous in a lot of things you do? How did you get your name Kelechief?
The name kind of found me, to be honest. It really just was my Instagram handle; I changed my name. I had a rap name before. So, when I changed my name, I had to just come up with a new instagram name. When I came up with the “Kelechi,” I think it was either me or my mum or my brother, just one of us. We were just trying to figure out what it would be and then we just said “Kelechief” and it stuck like that.
People didn’t even call me Kelechi, my music name was still my name, Kelechi. But then, people would call me Kelechief, so I just took it, like this is my name. That’s what the street calls me.
So, you’ve been collaborating and opening for some homegrown stars, how’s the experience?
It’s been humbling, how receptive I’ve been. From new guys, from legends, from OGs, like new guys killing it. Shout out to Ladipoe, who embraced me really early; Reminisce- recently we linked up. He showed a lot of love and lots of respect. Like I said, it’s humbling because no one has to; they don’t have to.
No one has to embrace you, no one has to support you, but I think that the quality of work that we put in, and the intentionality behind how the release and how we put out the music, I think that’s the thing that is making people proud to put their arm around me. Like this guy, this is one of the next guys.
Last year you were always making cover freestyles. How does your creative process work?
I mean, the freestyles are or I’ll say the challenge is picking which song to do. You know, because it’s like I want to pick something that is in the moment and some of the people I am listening to at the time, so that it helps me stay locked into what’s up and it lets people know that I know what’s up. So, I think that’s a big part of it.
But now, I sit down at my desk and I say I’m not going to leave until there’s some bars here. So, like it’s not too hard, it’s just like you know, I’ll do this, I’ll do this.
So, why rap though?
I think for me, I am someone who likes to articulate what’s going on in my head, so there’s no miscommunication. So, I think that music allows me to get my ideas across to people quickly, in a way that you can make people think without knowing what they are thinking, because music is fun, music is vibes, you play it when you are out, having a good night, you play it in the morning.
So, if there’s something that I think is important, that I think people should be thinking of, I can put it in the music so they can be thinking of it subconsciously.
Apart from music, was there any parallel ambition, maybe like a college degree or something?
If you were to ask me, let’s say I’m 18, 19, 20, if you would have asked me, I would have been like, ‘oh, I’m going to blow up before I graduate. So, there’s no need for me to be in college. Like I was in school, but I wasn’t focused, because I thought that.
I never graduated, I was just doing music and when I really dropped out, that’s when my mum cried. When I dropped out, that’s when I really started focusing and things started picking up for me.
Looking at the future, what kind of music are we going to be expecting from you?
I don’t want to say. I’ve said names of people I intend collaborating with before and then things kind of went south. So, I don’t want to talk too much about the surface of the work. But definitely, producers and guys who have Headies and Grammys and everything.
What about some people you would still love to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate with SARZ, I would like to collaborate with Ladipoe; I think that’s on the way. We just want to make sure the time is right. I would love to collaborate with Arya Starr, Rema, and everyone. There’s just so much great music.