Story by Amir Shaw
Photos by Kahlill Van Zant for Steed Media Service
I got kicked out of my father’s home because of my feelings towards hip-hop,” says the young rapper in a tone that is tinged with regret and resentment. Hakeem Siriki waited for an answer. After hours of cleaning his father’s home, the slim adolescent got dressed to attend a party where he would be able to network with several notable Houston rappers. But as a friend arrived to take him to that party, Siriki’s father ordered him to stay home. Faced with the choice of being obedient or taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he paused before opening the front door. As he continued, his father warned him of the consequences of walking out. Unwilling to part with his aspirations of making a name for himself in rap, Siriki walked out of his father’s home and was not allowed to return.
Over 10 years have passed since that scene played out. Siriki has since patched things up with his father and is now known to the world as Chamillionaire. His choice to leave his father’s home was probably one of the most important decisions that he has made, thus far. That same unwavering commitment to his vision has allowed him to achieve hip-hop stardom by not being afraid to buck the genre’s conventions. With his sophomore release, Ultimate Victory, Chamillionaire created an atypical hip-hop album that is free of profanity and the N-word.
Several reputable hip-hop activists have commended Chamillionaire for his courage to be different. “I already liked the honesty in Chamillionaire’s music,” says BET/CNN contributor Jeff Johnson. “I feel that his decision not to curse is a reflection that he is not afraid to evolve as an artist, and more importantly, a man.”
Along with its absence of profanity, Ultimate Victory has a political overtone that rivals Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Goodie Mob’s Soul Food and Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. On the album’s first single, “The Evening News,” Chamillionaire cleverly addresses social issues with the lyrics, “Gas prices raises, the money keeps burning/ dropout rates rising, so what are they learning?”
“I felt like I had to put social commentary into what I do,” he emotes. “It’s too much stuff going on in the world for us [rappers] not to say anything. When I’m in the studio with other rappers, we talk about social issues. We talk about George Bush, how the economy sucks and shady record deals. But when it’s time for us to get on our forum called hip-hop, no one wants to say anything that goes against the grain.”
Ultimate Victory comes at a time when the language in hip-hop has been ridiculed by black leaders and the national media. In the wake of the Don Imus fiasco, the Rev. Al Sharpton led several rallies across the nation that called for profanity to be banned from music albums. During the NAACP’s national convention in Detroit, a mock funeral was held to bury the N-word. However, Chamillionaire says that he wasn’t swayed by either event.
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“Those situations really didn’t affect me because I don’t curse a lot in regular conversation,” he concedes. “I didn’t curse a lot on the last album, but I did use the N-word. I stopped using it because most of the shows that I performed in had a lot of Caucasian kids in the crowd. My DJ would stop the record when I had a verse with the N-word in it. And what I found out was that the white kids would still be saying it. I realized that I was teaching them to say it by making it cool. So with this album, I decided not to say it. The younger generation doesn’t understand the history behind that word. A lot of the older blacks went through racial strife, so that word is the worst thing in the world to them. And it’s all across the world. People who don’t even speak English rap our lyrics.”
Despite his willingness to be different, Chamillionaire still must create a flare that will attract consumers to his new album. Releasing an album without curse words could be a marketing mishap considering the fact that his debut, The Sound of Revenge, sold 1.5 million records thanks to the hit single, “Ridin’ Dirty.” The song, which set a record with over four million ring tones sold, earned him a MTV VMA and a Grammy Award. But the album’s success was bittersweet for Chamillionaire.
“I named my first album The Sound of Revenge because I wanted to get revenge on everyone who doubted me,” he says. “But when I finally got revenge, I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t want to go to the Grammys because I didn’t want to wear a suit. I went to Hawaii, but I never really got a chance to see it because I was working. There are people who have millions of dollars [who] are miserable. Someone recently asked me how my mom was doing and it blew me [away] because I don’t hear that often. That’s because when you get to a certain level, a lot of people are around you, but they don’t really care. My new album is about dealing with success and reaching a higher platform.”
Regardless of the album’s success or failure, Chamillionaire is preparing to conquer the business world with the same intensity that allowed him to be a standout in hip-hop. Along with his record label, Chamillitary Entertainment, he owns a car customizing business called Fly Rides in Houston and is looking to invest in real estate. His humble beginnings as an independent recording artist helped him to understand the fundamentals of business.
“I had to sell all of my records by myself, but that helped me to understand this game,” he explains. “I made a lot of money independently. But when you’re independent, you have to chase the check every day. When people put money in front of you, you have to make sure that the deal makes sense. I’ve always been a long-term thinker. Now I’m focusing on empowering myself through entrepreneurship. The more you learn about something, the better you are at surviving it. With anything you do to make money, you have to learn the game, live the game and love the game.”
Chamillionaire’s affection for the rap game will not allow him to treat H.E.R. like any other emcee that has held the mic before him. So whether he’s thanked by civil rights leaders or ridiculed by fellow rappers for his choirboy approach to street music, he believes in himself enough to play by his own rules.
“I plugged Chamillionaire for two years and people underestimated him,” says DJ Smallz, who has featured Chamillionaire on several of his Southern Smoke mixtapes. “Since I’ve known him, he has stayed in his own lane. He just doesn’t do what everybody else does. I commend him for being one of the few artists in hip-hop who talks about politics.”
So as the hip-hop machine searches for the next “movement” to attach itself to, Chamillionaire fearlessly walks to a Southern rhythm that will gain him more fans or cause him to travel alone in a jungle of uniformity.
“I’m willing to role the dice with my career to be different,” he confesses. “I’m not trying to change the industry, I’m just doing me. Right now, everybody is sounding the same. It’s safe to get Akon or T-Pain on a record to have a hit. But what we’re doing is creating the same stuff. You have the same song; it’s just made by a different artist. Each individual should wake up every morning and strive to be better. I want people to see that there is a purpose to what I do. There is medicine inside the candy. A lot of rappers just make words rhyme that don’t have a meaning. I’m teaching people how to be leaders and to have their own minds.”