Korean-American rapper Jackie Chain is a surprising find in this nether zone. Chain’s cohorts rhyme about the tear of honest work, of playing farm-league ball year in and year out, but you’d never know that Chain has been kicked around a day in his life. His rascally, carousel-like flow hits pleasure centers you may have forgotten were there; with more production gloss, new mixtape The Bruce Lean Chronicles would sound like a springy sequel to Luda’s Word of Mouf.
Now signed to Universal/Republic, Chain is about to unveil his buzzed-about debut, I Ain’t Slept in Weeks. Knowing him, it’ll be the year’s biggest bash. Chain recently stepped out of the confetti downpour to talk to CL for a few minutes.
A lot of rappers clam up once they get to the majors. How will you try to avoid those growing pains on I Ain’t Slept in Weeks?
A lot of my stuff is geared towards the more commercial aspect anyway, but it won’t be as hard a transition. I’ve got shit for the clubs; I’ve got that shiny, puffy-sounding rap, if you want to call it that. I’ve got songs for the radio. So in that sense, I feel like I’m ready.
You tapped Freddie Gibbs for the clubby dance number “Night is Young.” The song was pretty out of character for him. How much convincing did it take to get him on there?
What was crazy was that I didn’t even ask Freddie. He heard the beat and liked it, so his camp reached out. We’d kind of worked together before — he’d toured with me for however many dates — and it came together real easy. He just jumped on that beat and crushed it.
There’s been a turnaround in the last four years or so, but Huntsville was shunned by both coasts for decades prior. Do you ever run into a holdout who still doesn’t take you or your city seriously?
Occasionally, you’ll get it at the club or wherever. Like, “Oh, you’re one of them ’Bama boys, you smoke that ’Bama weed.” I’ve had to check a few dudes over that. The other night, I had to check this dude in the club. But for the most part it’s love, you know?
Can you feel Huntsville’s influence spreading in any tangible way? Because I hear it in, like, every third track posted on FADER or 2DopeBoyz.
Huntsville is still kind of off the beaten path. The reason I moved to Atlanta was because no one would check for me in Huntsville. The labels were all out here. But musically, you can absolutely feel the influence spreading: Even our slang and things like that, you can hear it being co-opted by other places.
Even A$AP Rocky from Harlem is indebted to the Southern sound.
You listen to Kanye’s “Mercy,” that’s a screwed hook: “Lamborghini Mercy, your chick she so thirsty... ” That’s a Southern hook.
What do you think it says about current hip-hop that so many of its newer stars are from small towns like Meridien, Mississippi or wherever? It’s a weird sea change.
It’s great. It shows that the movement is spreading. You have Freddie Gibbs from Gary, Indiana; Wiz Khalifa from Pittsburgh; K.R.I.T. from Meridien. It’s not just the two coasts now, it’s everywhere in between. Before you couldn’t get on in a Meridien or a Huntsville or a Pittsburgh or even a Chicago.
How often do you record? Are you a studio rat?
I laid down a bunch of cuts for Bruce Lean — you had the club cuts, the rawer cuts, the more introspective cuts — but nah, I’m not one of these dudes who’s always messing in the studio. I don’t even really write that often. Even when I was in prison, I didn’t write that much, just when it came to me. Now I just write in the studio.
You’ve worked with the Block Beataz closer than most. What is it that makes them such great, singular producers?
Them dudes is just so meticulous, like born musicians. It’s the same with Burn One and his team, who’ve done three or four of my tapes now. There’s this, like, meticulous musicianship. They’re fuckin’ studio rats. You’ve got Ricky Fontaine on guitar, Walt on the keys, the Professor on bass. I’ve seen the Professor maybe five times in the club (laughs). He’s damn near a recluse.
The keyboard player back in those days was a friend named "Paul Provost," whom I…
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Oi! Thanks for the fact-check, Skinhead! It's fixed now.
"Never Surrender" is a Blitz song