Wonderland.

CHE LINGO

On taking risks, facing adversity and self-belief.

Jacket FEAR OF GOD at MR PORTER, T-shirt LIFE’S A BEACH, top PARIS IN CUFFS, trousers ARKET, trainers PUMA, hat BLITZ, watch G-SHOCK, jewellery NORTHSKULL and PLAYDOT APPAREL

Jacket FEAR OF GOD at MR PORTER, T-shirt LIFE’S A BEACH, top PARIS IN CUFFS, trousers ARKET, trainers PUMA, hat BLITZ, watch G-SHOCK, jewellery NORTHSKULL and PLAYDOT APPAREL

If Che Lingo’s 2017 told us anything, it was that he was on the cusp of a larger scale breakthrough for 2018. While many received their formal introduction to the south London rapper with the release of his emboldening track “Black Girl Magic”, those in the know will be aware that Che has been paying his dues for close to six years; already he can boast of opening for Stormzy and Lady Leshurr and forming his own record label. Succeeding the release of previous projects “Trillingo”, “The Risk is Proof” and “Better Versions”, Che kicked off the year with the unleashing of new a EP in “Charisma”. Now, with an array of fresh eyes watching him, the time is rife for Che to reap the fruits of his hard graft and ascend from the underground.

I arrive at an apartment in Holland Park to see Lingo engrossed in two pressing issues: confirming his appearance at Lovebox festival later this year, and finalising details about his video for “Same Energy”. Appearing frantic, I fade into the background, speaking instead to a friend who has accompanied him today.

We aren’t formally introduced, at first, and then my pre-planned question line-up is diverted: he shares instead, how involved he is in all matters pertaining to his career; “Very present in all areas.” I’ve heard copious amount of artists share similar sentiments, to the point where it practically comes across as customary to say – not least in an era where perceived authenticity and integrity holds capital – yet Che is different.

Lingo eliminates the middle man. What is usually a conversation between management and PR is ultimately usurped. He explains, “People will often ask me ‘so what do your management do then, aren’t they supposed to that?’ I tell them ‘No, because they don’t know what’s in my head.’ If you don’t give them the full picture or story incrementally they can’t do their job.” In a relationship that’s as much DIY as it is traditional, Che is the captain that steers the ship, those around him second in command.

“It hasn’t really affected me because I’ve been doing it,” he notes of his profile and the time it takes to gain significant traction without a major backing you. “When I performed it on COLOURS, that song was nine months old,” he continues, reflecting on his performance of “Zuko” last year. “Sometimes it’s not always the music, it’s about the platform, and it’s about timing. There are factors other than the music being good”.

To a fault, Che Lingo is evaluative and a realist. His trajectory thus far has afforded him the acumen needed to navigate the industry with a seasoned finesse, something he alludes to in his single “Same Energy”, where he targets not only fake friends but industry gatekeepers and its neighbouring culture of pseudo support and disingenuous agendas. “The idea behind the song was not about being bitter, it’s more about if you rated me in the beginning and knew you liked it, but because it didn’t have numbers or acclaim you chose not to spotlight it,” he explains. “If you know it’s a good product then it shouldn’t matter, but a lot of the industry isn’t about integrity, it’s about what makes sense for your agenda. You’re focusing on other things which in essence, matter, but aren’t vital”.

Music executives and tastemakers have long had the authority to shift trends and set the precedent on who’s hot and who’s not. What puzzles the 26-year-old is the growing proliferation of said tastemakers pushing artists who simply tick boxes. “So much criteria you have to hit in London; it has to be good, you have to be popping, you have to have been on radio, your style has to be on point. And that’s without them even listening to you.” As if to further prove his point, an anecdote about Che’s contemporary, Loyle Carner being labelled a grime artist by outlets leads to utter bewilderment. “How? That doesn’t even make sense. It’s traction for them but you’re messing up the culture by doing that. You’re fucking with people’s crafts and it’s not respectful. The UK has a long way to go with the identity of certain genres”.

Top TIGER OF SWEDEN, trousers MENNACE, watch G-SHOCK, jewellery NORTHSKULL and PLAYDOT APPAREL, hat BLITZ

Top TIGER OF SWEDEN, trousers MENNACE, watch G-SHOCK, jewellery NORTHSKULL and PLAYDOT APPAREL, hat BLITZ

We mutually acknowledge that particular journalists have a penchant to brand artists like Carner and himself as grime artists, because to them grime is an umbrella term to be carelessly used for any black rapper in the UK. It’s this short-sightedness that has previously seen Che shunned. “Look at the culture of grime. Do I reflect that culture? Not to say it’s a bad culture, but it’s just not one I reflect. In the same way I don’t reflect the culture of pop.” Nevertheless, he is quick to recognise it is a culture he owes his vocal style and early beginnings to: “Without people like Ghetts, P Money, Dot Rotten, I wouldn’t be able to deliver the way I do. I wouldn’t be able to utilise the style of multi-syllabic rapping.”

Titling the EP “Charisma” represents a multitude of things to Che, such as how he governs himself, his career, but above all poise. “In terms of my charisma, there is no one who can speak for me better than me, no matter how much clout they have. That all comes from self-belief which comes from taking risks and facing adversity.” Such adversity, notably the absence of his father (he was raised solely by his mother and grandmother) while growing up in Wandsworth, ultimately led Che to music, later inspiring the tracks “Black Girl Magic” and “Metal and Rocks”.

Though his music is consumed by a range of demographics, he is firm in verifying that he’s speaking to particular pockets of society with his writing. Like many other artists operating in a post-Black Lives Matter world, Che Lingo uses his music to sound off on issues pertinent to black communities. While it has become almost commonplace for African-American artists to use their art to comment on socially conscious issues, it is only in the last few years that their British counterparts like Kojey Radical, Ray BLK, Stormzy and Mikel Ameen have weaved such themes into their songs.

T-shirt GUCCI at MATCHESFASHION.COM, trousers MENNACE, top PARIS IN CUFFS, watch G-SHOCK, jewellery NORTHSKULL and PLAYDOT APPAREL, hat BLITZ

T-shirt GUCCI at MATCHESFASHION.COM, trousers MENNACE, top PARIS IN CUFFS, watch G-SHOCK, jewellery NORTHSKULL and PLAYDOT APPAREL, hat BLITZ

“My responsibility is to communicate my truth and my truth is that I’m very aware of colourism and that black women are at the bottom of every list in terms of social preferences,” he says of his responsibility as a black artist, acknowledging the experiences of his mother and sister.

Elsewhere “Metal and Rocks” and “Letter to a Dealer” are songs that could be interpreted as a call to action, designed to trigger Black British boys entangled in self-destructive lifestyles. “I grew up on an estate where every other dude was selling drugs or doing other forms for crime. These were my friends and still are my friends. We have different mentalities but I made the song out of love for the mandem. I want better for you brother,” he tells me, attempting to suggest alternatives without projecting.

It’s this certitude that can only be endearing to his growing legion of fans. With the messages permeating through his material, he is aiming to synthesise an intimate relationship with his supporters. A lyricist unconcerned with materialism, being braggadocios or coming across as threatening, Che Lingo’s storytelling is intended to be introspective, thought-provoking and motivational. “If you don’t have charisma, there’s a lack of self-belief inside of you,” he says in conclusion. “Like Kendrick said, there’s a difference between accomplishment and astonishment. When you can go out on stage and flat out kill it, it doesn’t matter what your numbers are, it’s an undertone of knowing when something is going to resonate.”

Photography
Finn Constantine
Fashion
Umar Sawar
Words
Sope Soetan
Fashion Assitant
Bruno Dinora
CHE LINGO

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