The Risk Is Proof: The Message Of Che Lingo
Ahead of his debut album release, Clash spoke with Che Lingo - one of the UK’s most versatile young rappers - on Black love, vulnerability, anime and more. Whilst he has been in the music space for over half a decade, he was signed to Idris Elba’s label 7Wallace this year and has continued to make waves across the genre.
A spirited lyricist, he’s unafraid to discuss issues personal to him, as well as those plaguing the wider society. Following the release of singles Black Ones (feat. Ghetts) and Dark Days (feat. Kojey Radical), fans have been anticipating his full project.
With thoughtful wordplay and engaging storytelling, ‘The Worst Generation’ is well worth the wait.
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I’m interested in the title of your debut album. Why ‘The Worst Generation’?
It was for a combination of reasons, first being that I watch a lot of anime and I’m as plugged in as I can be with the world. I found a correlation with this anime called One Piece and what was happening around me, that’s not to compare them but I was seeing similarities.
In the series, it’s set in the pirate world where people are robbing, stealing and all that craziness; but there are a few individual pirate captains considered to be catalysts for change. They’re the most impactful in opposing the government and the most radical. In the media the captains are dubbed as “the worst generation”. They’re the misfits, a bridge generation of what they call “the golden age” and “the new world”.
I think this reflects where we are now with, you know, the boomers and us. We’re like the pirates and we’re being blamed for a lot of the bad things going on right now, but we could be the ones to make the greatest change.
So the name is not what you think about our generation or us in the new age?
No, no. The generation before always thinks the next one is the worst and the current one thinks the past generations were the worst. So the title is mostly me highlighting this and asking “Who is actually the worst?” And calling for accountability on both sides.
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Across the album, in tracks such as ‘Make Me Free’ and ‘Black Ones’, amongst others, mental health is a common theme. Why did you want to talk about this in your singles?
These are the conversations I’m having with my bredrins, you know what I mean? This album is in real time, things that have happened recently or things that I’m only unpacking now that happened in the past. I have friends from all walks of life and I believe they’re all good people but sometimes life just happens. There might be a skepticism to how they look or how they behave as Black men, which to them is cultural but to others might not be.
I never really intend for this to come out politically. I don’t think “yeah let me talk about mental health” or “let me talk about politics”, these things just exist in my environment. I’ve played some of these songs to my friends and they’ve cried, just because of how personal it is to them. It’s just me playing out my feelings in real time.
When you announced the album release you spoke of how it's about your environment growing up as a Black man in London, what was that like for you?
It was weird, I never really fit into a box or in any boxes I’m perceived to be in. I didn’t fit in that bad boy box but I have bredrins that did, so I wasn't really sure what to do or who I was. I wasn’t on the things these man were on and then I’d been a victim of these things too, so I had to navigate what my options were, whether to carry anything and all of that.
My whole growing up was just really weird because I made great connections but then some lived such different lives to the one my family tried to give me, so I didn’t really gel with anyone. I have siblings but I grew up an only child, so I spent a lot of time thinking about which group I belonged to. I didn’t really figure that out.
Do you still feel like you’re figuring that out now?
Yeah, the lesson I’ve learnt is that we’re always figuring out where we belong. It’s a continuous cycle of growing and learning but at the time I just wanted to fit in a box. But now it’s like... I kind of am the box and I only open the box up when it’s about love.
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You talk about love throughout the record, Black love specifically and in ‘A Bit Insecure’ you say it’s your “biggest faith”. What does that mean and how is Black love defined for you?
I’ve always had massive faith in what it means to love. I have this motto, and before signing to Idris’ 7Wallace, it was the name of my independent label - The Risk Is Proof. I feel like risk is perceived as jumping off a building or skydiving, anything physical or visibly present. I think risk is about choosing gratitude, balancing your wins and your losses, knowing that you took a risk and whatever happens there’s something to learn from it.
Love and relationships are massive risks, you can get your heart broken one time when you’re 15 and never want to go through it again. The same goes for friends, families or government, anything that breaks your heart. Everything real is about vulnerability and vulnerability is a risk.
When I talk about Black love I'm talking about everything that comes with it. For my mum’s generation there were a lot of things to consider; single parenthood, politics, all things I’m only understanding now being older. But there’s also nurturing, good energy, there are so many things I’ve internalised or projected as a result of that. Black love dictates so much and that’s why I think it’s my biggest faith, in that it’s meant loads of things to and for me.
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You’ve spoken a lot about risk, and whether intentional or not, some of your singles such as ‘My Block’ have been quite political and therefore risky. With over one million streams and appearances on FIFA 21 and NBA 2K21, it’s received so much love. You don’t have to be modest, did you expect the response you got for the single?
You know what? I’ll tell you the truth. I knew it was a good song, just like any song I write. I always believe my songs are good but I didn’t expect it to be what some are calling “an unofficial Black Lives Matter anthem”. I didn’t write it to be that, but I’m ecstatic that it is. I wrote it four or five months before George Floyd’s murder. It’s about Julian Cole [the Black semi-pro footballer paralysed by UK Police following the use of excessive force] and how his family felt they lacked appropriate after care. Officers were lying and the injustice there and everywhere inspired the single.
I’d been watching the news and MPs speak. To me, the Black women MPs seemed like they had to pacify themselves, whilst the others were getting angry, shouting, it’s like they couldn’t express themselves honestly. I’d seen how Stormzy had been misconstrued in saying that Britain is racist and people argued he should’ve just been grateful because he’s wealthy, but what they’re seeing as ribbons are still shackles, he still experiences awful things. That’s where the lyrics “pacify our women, justify the killings / still got shackles on me, in your mind they’re ribbons” came from. But yeah, that’s why I wrote the song, I couldn’t have predicted those reactions.
I also wanted to congratulate you on writing music for the Crunchyroll series Jujutsu Kaisen. How did that come about?
So we’d put out 'My Block' and Manon Dave, who executively produced my album and is responsible for a lot of collabs, was in Qatar working on a project for a studio. Next door was Youki Yamamoto who orchestrated the soundtrack for Final Fantasy, a game I’d grown up playing. They’d met and Youki had the soundtrack for Jujutsu Kaisen to create with a brief for a few scenes left, so Manon sent him some of my stuff. It was so funny because he wasn’t sure if I’d even be interested, not knowing I’ve grown up on anime.
The series is anticipated to be one of the biggest anime’s of the winter, so it wasn’t just something for my bucket list, but has also been massively endorsed. I think I'm the first and only Black artist, a Black rapper from the UK, who has written music for a Shounen Jump anime (he thought right - Clash). Not to mention it's on Crunchyroll, which is like the Netflix of anime. It was just insane, I’m deeping it - I can’t not see that as God. Yeah man, it was a brilliant experience.
Whilst we’re here - what’s your favourite anime series?
Hmmm. That’s a hard one, One Piece is definitely in the top three I’d say.. I’ll go with One Piece.
Are you saying that because it works well with the Worst Generation story? Hahaha, I’m not, I’m not. I have one of the captains - my favourite one - tattooed on me so I’m actually about it. I am a fan.
People sometimes say that the UK Rap scene is full of people with the same flow, and on Twitter you’ve said you’re different; how so?
My music almost feels alternative and there aren’t many rappers you could put me in a category with, so I differ in that way. That’s not intentional though and despite being different in some ways, I do feel like I still belong to the space and it belongs to me.
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I’m from South London too - big up the Southside - what made you put the single ‘South’ as the first track on the album?
It’s one of the first things people ask when they’re getting to know you and I want listeners to get to know me, my environment, the things I’m going through and what the people I love were going through. ‘South’ is about communicating the things that might make you vulnerable, I talk about getting robbed and how my family tried to shelter me sometimes. There’s a lot going on for people who come from where we come from. But like I said, I didn’t always fit in and this was my statement, you don’t have to be a bad boy to come from South. You can just exist and be cool, you’re still from here, be who you want to be.
When announcing the album, you spoke about how you had a lot to overcome whilst creating it - how are you relaxing now that it’s done?
It’s going to sound so dumb, but I’ve only just learnt about turning off notifications on my phone. I knew about it but now I’ve actually been doing it. Especially with the album coming out it’s been really hectic. I’ve also been reading the Jujutsu Kaisen comics. I'm purging my clothes because I’ve got too many. I’m just existing, thinking of new lyrics.
New lyrics? That's how you’re relaxing?!
Yeah! Relaxing for me is just doing my own thing, doing what I want. Hitting the zoot every now and then. Writing can be therapeutic for me too, a lot of music is for me. I’m just growing, learning and chilling.
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'The Worst Generation' is out now.
Words: Tochi Imo
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