The Signal chats with Chiddy Bang

Signal Sports Editor Alex Wolfe recently sat down with Chiddy Bang prior to their performance in the Welcome Back Concert, and talked to them about life, putting their first album together, the story behind the name Xaphoon Jones and many other topics with the group.

Photo by Greg Costanzo

Alex Wolfe: So first off, I want to talk about your music. You guys have a really funky, kind of upbeat sound. I hear a little bit of Tribe Called Quest in it, but who do you guys draw your inspiration from?

Chiddy: Me, you know, I came up, I was born and raised in N.J., actually. I came up in a freestyle, Fugees, Lauren Hill, Wyclef type era. That’s what I was, like, listening to. And I get my inspiration from that. Growing up I would just listen to Hot 97 and I would listen to whatever was on the radio and there would be like all kinds of crazy Jay-Z records from like “The Blueprint,” like, “2001.” And that influenced me. From that, that just made me want to start rapping. And I just come from a straight hip-hop background, and what makes everything unique is the fact that he has came up in, what world did you come up in Xaphinator?

Xaphoon Jones: A crazy one. (laughs) No, I came up in Philly which is a very diverse, musically, city. You know, drawing from Baltimore club music, and electronic music and jazz, and soul and afrobeat, and all kinds of stuff. So that’s always why the production for Chid stands out from other production.

AW: Awesome. I read that you guys met at your freshman year at Drexel, right? But there’s no definitive story out there, so what’s the story behind that?

XJ: That is the definitive story.

AW: That’s just it? Met at Drexel?

XJ: That is it. There is no definitive story because that is the definitive story.

AW: So you guys have your album, “Breakfast,” still coming out Feb. 28, right? And you guys already have “Mind Your Manners” and “Ray Charles” out, which I love “Ray Charles” by the way. It’s a great song. So what should everyone expect from this new album?

XJ: Deeper textures…

C: Deeper textures. Crazy collabs that aren’t, like, pronounced.

XJ: Deeper meanings. Just layers of sound. It’s a very international album, it’s very futuristic. It’s kind of us with a budget, you know, before we just had a laptop and a mic, now we have a laptop, and a mic, and a piano, and a string section and crazy synth. We just have more tools at our availability. And we’re also older, so our mind works in different ways now and we’ve just been sitting on some of our best material for almost a year and a half, so.

AW: I’m actually going to jump to another question then because of something that you just said there. So like, hip-hop right now is really going through a youth movement, like there’s a lot of new people coming up and a lot of people that look like they have staying power. So where do you guys see hip-hop heading in the next five, 10 years?

XJ: Well, like who? Who do you see as someone who is very young but also has staying power?

AW: Uh, Wiz Khalifa. I like Wiz. There’s of course, J. Cole. I like J. Cole and he’s on the radio now, he’s pretty good, his album was good. Big Sean’s pretty good.

XJ: Number one album, he had the number one album.

C: Shout out to Cole, Cole World! Sean Don!

AW: Even, like Tinie Tempah, who I saw you guys toured with. He’s really good.

XJ: He is very young, he’s what, 23?

C: 23, yeah.

AW: So it’s kind of a new era and there’s new beats coming about and that kind of thing, so where do you guys see it going?

XJ: Um, where do we see it going? I mean, it’s just a natural progression, you know? Biggie was the young artist popping onto the scene at one point, Jay-Z was the young artist popping, so you know, it’s the natural progression of music. J. Cole will get older, you know, he will put out more albums, we will get older…

C: We will put out more albums…

XJ: And one day, we will all die. Nah, that’s morbid. I mean, people are making music younger ages these days because tools are available to them. So, as the tools become more available, as the barriers between individuals and music sharing around them fall, people are just going to be making more, crazier new genres are going to be popping off every minute, and it’s a beautiful time to be a part of it.

AW: I’m curious, too, because your album is coming out pretty soon, so is it hard to be getting an album together and be touring at the same time?

XJ: We kind of constantly are doing both. The reason this has taken us so long is because the label has kind of sat on this. We made, you know, first we had 20 songs in the folder, then 40, then we had 60, and every time the label was just waiting for the right time, the right combination of songs, just the right moment to go, and now they’re ready.

C: Now they’re ready. Y’know, it was crazy, because our earlier situation was we had no label, like, before we were the label. Like, we decided what we wanted to put out, when we wanted to put it out, y’know what I mean? We just made songs, thought they were cool and put them out on the Internet. And now it’s more like, alright we’ve got worry about sample clearances, worry about if we can get this out, worry about if they can approve it, because ultimately, once you sign the deal, you know, the label determines like what songs they ultimately want to fuck with, you know what I’m sayin’? So, it’s been a long process, but here we are, mid-January, and it’s like our album’s coming in a month. So it’s actually happening, it’s going down.

AW: I can’t wait.

XJ: Thanks, man.

AW: So you guys have done your two mixtapes, “Swelly Express” and “Air Swell” to this point…

XJ: Three mixtapes, and an EP.

AW: What was the third one?

XJ: The third mixtape is called “Air Swell” and then there’s also “Peanut Butter and Swelly”…

AW: Oh, I didn’t have “Peanut Butter and Swelly.” I’ve got to get that.

C: Yeah, you got to get that.

AW: Yeah, well thank you. But you guys, your single that really brought you onto the scene — at least from what I could see — was “Opposite of Adults.” That hit TV and everything, you had the spot on “Need for Speed,” on the commercial and everything like that, plus all of the social media and everything helping you guys out, too. So how does big spots like that, with something like “Need for Speed,” and then just the Internet landscape help you guys rise as a young band?

XJ: I think it’s all about momentum. Those are all pieces to the puzzle. Social media, radio…

C: Video games, placements….

XJ: That’s called synchs.

C: Synchronizations, yeah.

XJ: And if you time it all right, you can get a lot of fans in a really quick amount of time, and we found ourselves in that, in a great position.

C: I think we were fortunate, like, we just had a really, really, great relationship with EA Sports, and you know…

XJ: They’ve used four of our songs.

AW: Madden as well.

XJ: Madden, NBA, Fight Night. Video games.

C: Blessin’ us with the video games, so it’s a great look.

XJ: (to Chiddy) Oh shit, we should do that line about video games, but make it about how we have so many songs in video games. (laughs) That would be ill, alright I just got an idea, I’m writing it down. I’m writing that down. That’s such a good idea.

AW: Alright (laughs), your guy’s newest song is “Ray Charles”…

C: (whispering) I’m Ray Charles, I-I’m Ray Charles…

AW: I love that song (laughs). Do you guys draw any inspiration from classic artists like Ray Charles, and some of the older movements in music, like Motown, anything like that?

XJ: We definitely do, but the biggest inspiration behind Ray Charles is a rapper named Lil’ B, and his concept of just taking any person and just becoming them through his rap. “I’m Ellen DeGeneres, I’m J.K. Rowling.” Like he has whole songs where he chants, “I am J.K. Rowling.” And we were just like, well I guess you can tell the story.

C: Yeah, when I was in the studio, it was a late studio session, I look over at my brother and he got his shades on and his hat is all the way tilted back, and I’m like, “Yo, you look like Ray Charles right now.” So, I immediately had a piano, like I had to make a little beat up on the spot, and I basically just freestyled it, and it came out how it came out. And the label was so psyched and stoked, we were just like, dang, it’s dope, but this is literally like the last song we recorded for the project. We had made like 50 songs before that. And we’re like, “This is the dopest shit, this is the dopest shit!”

XJ: And they were like, “Nah, nah.”

C: “Nah man, ‘Ray Charles’ is the shit.” And we were just like, alright, Ray Charles it is. Here we are.

AW: Do you guys have any big collaborations or interesting samples coming out on “Breakfast?”

XJ: Yes.

AW: Any that you can divulge?

C: Sample Xaphoon a couple of times.

XJ: Yeah, I mean, we’re pushing a lot of boundaries. We’ve got our friend Levi, co-produced one of the tracks, our boy Yuri Beats co-produced one of the tracks, we work with a lot of friends. We’ve got our friend singing, Jordan Brown, on the track. And we’ve got a couple more high-profile samples, uh, not high-profile samples, high-profile features, but we wanted to definitely make a statement with album and not do any, like, huge samples. Like “Opposite of Adults” is a big song, but we also sampled a big song. And with this album, we wanted to definitely step away from that.

AW: Create your own sort of niche there. Alright, I gotta ask you too, what’s the story behind your name, Xaphoon Jones?

XJ: Oh man, so, if you use this beat making program called Reason, there’s this synth called Maelstrom, it’s bright green, and if you select all of the different presets, there’s one called xaphoon. If you click it, it’s a bamboo saxophone, and you press the keyboard and it just goes like “eeee-uhhh.” It’s like the worst sounding thing ever. So my friend, Pat, made it up. We were making embarrassing names for each other when we would play shows together, and we would try and embarrass each other. I would be like, “Yo, check out my man, he goes by the name of ‘the Forsaken Warrior’ and he’s going to read some poetry for you guys,” and he would be mad embarrassed so he just made that one up for me. And then he told everyone in our dorm freshman year that that was my name and instead of going around correcting people I was just like, “OK.”

AW: It’s a pretty cool name.

XJ: I never wanted to be like, “DJ Venom” or something like that.

AW: Yeah, well most people don’t know what a xaphoon is anyway, so who really cares, you know?

C: D.J. Veh-num.

Guy on the side: D.J. Veh-num.

XJ: Adam’s over there just dyin’. He could probably do this interview by now.

Adam: I did one on your Blackberry.

XJ: Oh yeah, you’re right, you did do one.

AW: And I’ve got just a couple more questions here.

XJ: No worries.

AW: You guys seem like you really have fun with your music, and I could tell in the Ray Charles video that you looked like you’re having a lot of fun. So, how important is it to you guys to have fun making your music and keep fun as a main component in doing things?

XJ: If you’re not having fun, like what are you doing? You’re probably in the wrong line of work.

C: Like, we generally just seek fun, or I guess fun seeks us. You know what I’m sayin’? Like, in a lot of situations. But when we go in the studio, we like to, you know, get the ambiance right, get the vibes right.

XJ: It’s all about vibes, it’s all about vibes. Lighting.

C: Lighting.

XJ: Candles.

C: Incense.

XJ: Sculptures.

C: You know what I’m sayin’?

XJ: Paintings.

C: We got a studio we like to go to in L.A., it’s called Moonwine. It’s literally, like, an old church. You go there and you record (and) it feels like you’re recording in a sanctuary. It’s like we go out there, and we just really vibe hard as hell, smoke a couple joints, smoke a couple blunts and just have fun.

XJ: We have fun.

AW: Sounds like fun, man. Alright, I’ll get a little bit off track here, but what’s your guys’ favorite song right now that’s not by Chiddy Bang?

XJ: Probably “Look What I Got” by Playaz Circle. We’ve been listening to that, like, 10 times a day. Another big one is probably, collectively, “Oh Boy” by Cam’ron featuring Juelz. That gets a lot of spins.

C: “You Ought to Know” by Cam’ron and Juelz.

XJ: A lot of Dipset.

C: A lot of Diplomat, yeah.

XJ: A lot of Two Chains. Sometimes we get email and listen to Bella Sebastian, but that’s just me.

AW: Sounds good. And lastly, do you guys have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists out there who are looking to try to break into the scene and get their music noticed?

XJ: Yes, we do. Number one, do not hit us up on Twitter. Please don’t do it. Because we never hit anyone up on Twitter, and being on Twitter just takes away from the time that you should be in the studio. That’s what I say to kids who like, will tweet me the link to their mixtape, and then if I don’t reply, they’ll tweet like, “Hey man you didn’t listen to my mixtape, you must be a ass-hole.” And then I’ll be like, still won’t reply. And then they’ll send a third tweet like, “Way to crush my dreams, now I’m gonna go kill myself.” Like really, like people go seriously — and I’m sure, and like we’re a very low level artist — like I’m sure Kid Cudi gets a million kids tweeting him. So, get off Twitter, get back in the studio.

C: Get back in the lab, man.

XJ: The second piece of information is, imagine yourself doing music but not being successful, and if you’re OK with that scenario, then you’ll be ok. Because I think me and Chiddy would be perfectly happy just making tunes for our friends and for our mom to listen to.

C: I mean when we started the project, I remember there was a time when I was like, not even like trying to really fuck with it. Like we had a band, we had like four other members and stuff. But really it was the music, it was like for the love of the music that kept me involved and kept me drawn in. You know, I really thought that what he was bringing to the table was very refreshing, and the music spoke to me, you know what I’m sayin’? And that’s the process, like when I come up with, you know, the songs and stuff like that, it’s like I like to, you know, write over shit that writes itself. Basically, if I listen to a beat that speaks to me, I already know what I got to say before I have to say it.

XJ: If you want to be a rapper, and you can imagine yourself working a really shitty job and just rapping everyday and sharing it with your friends and that’s good enough for you, you’ll be good, because you’ll never stop rapping. If you get carried away in what the end goal will be, you know, you’ll get off track if you don’t make it and you’ll just give up.