Friends Like These: Rising rapper Che Lingo talks life and music with his label boss Idris Elba
“My mum and my grandma raised me to be someone who can handle everything with some level of poise and get past outrageous behaviour,” says rising rapper Che Lingo. “That being said, sometimes I still need five minutes to have a word with myself. Like, ‘I’m about to have an interview with Idris Elba’, you know? I know we’re all human and no man is better than another, but it’s still amazing.”
The hotly-tipped South West London rapper has certainly had a lot of those ‘pinch-me’ moments – not least by kicking off 2020 by signing to 7Wallace, the label co-run by Hollywood giant, songwriter, producer and DJ Idris Elba. Since then, they’ve become close pals, and share more than a thing or two in common.
“You can always imagine yourself in those moments where you’re doing something that’s a pinnacle to you and you need those five minutes, I get that all the time,” says Elba. “You need that moment of meditation to measure where you could have been to where you are now.”
Surreal as it may seem, just before coronavirus took hold and the world went into lockdown, we went down to Elba’s 7Wallace studios in London so that he and his new signee could grill each other about life, music, inspiration, famous fans, karaoke and much more. Check it out here, along with the exclusive first look at the video for Lingo’s new single ‘Spaghetti’.
When was the first time you met each other?
Che: “For me, that was an element of being starstruck. I was starstruck because this person was in front of me that I’ve only ever seen on television screens throughout my whole life. But, the energy you gave me back was not ‘the star’. You were like, ‘Yo bro!’ From that, it was just easy and it settled all the anxiety. After I got over being starstruck, you gave me the energy and it just mellowed me out. I just wanted to play you the music.”
Idris: “When I met you, I had been listening to his music a lot up until that point. Rachel who co-runs my 7Wallace label was sending me all your Soundcloud stuff, so I had a little bit of a Che universe before I met you. I love lyrics, so when I met you I was like, ‘Woah, my guy sounds exactly how he speaks!’ There are some rappers that put on a voice and its a performance only on record, then in real life they’re quite subdued – but you’re just as articulate as you are on record.”
Do you have famous any fans?
Che: “Yes! I know we were talking to Jude Law about coming to a show at some point. He was a deeper fan of another band we know and we were playing the same show. I met him before the show, told him I was a big fan, and he was really cool, knew the stuff and said he was going to try and make another gig. More recently, Mo The Comedian, Wiley, plus me and Stormzy follow each other. I would like to assume he only follows people that he’s fans of when it comes to musicians.”
Idris: “That’s cool. Jude’s so random but he’s a good pal. Stormzy has a really good ear for stuff. I’ve met a bunch of people that I’ve been fans of but didn’t realise they were fans of me. I’m not gonna name-drop, because that would be too embarrassing, but I just know that feeling of going, ‘Wow, you know me!’”
What motivates you as a musician?
Idris: “I’m really coming to terms with being called a musician, if I’m honest. That aside, what motivates me is the pure and unadulterated love for music. I love my relationship with sonics because I really listen and feel music. I listen to every component of every song. It’s a gift that keeps giving. I’m an actor so I typically say other peoples’ words, live the imagination of someone else and turn them into a character. When I’m making music or I’m part of a project, that comes from me – it’s not someone else’s thing that’s applied to me. I love words and I love storytelling. That’s the bond of peace between everyone. That’s what I love about your music Che, because you paint pictures for me.”
Che: “Thank you! I started in creativity with drawing anime characters that I printed off the internet I was 10 or 11. My friends and I were into Dragonball-Z and whatever, so we just did that religiously every day, put them in folders and brought them to school. You’d always trace and never draw. It’s about trying to manifest what’s in front of you. That’s matured, grown and transmuted itself into music for me. If I can’t see it in my head, then I won’t release it. It’s a very edifying feeling to be in a place where you’ve made your song, you can see it in your head, and then you shoot a video. There’s nothing more gratifying than bringing that vision to life.”
What’s your favourite track by one another?
Che: “It’s hard because what you did on ‘New Breed’ [by James BKS and featuring Little Simz and Q-Tip] was lovely. Same for what you did on ‘Boasty’ [with Wiley, Sean Paul and Stefflon Don]. Between them, I don’t know which I prefer to listen to more. They’re my favourite verses that I’ve heard from you.”
Idris: “As much as I love making music, I don’t love talking about it. There are so many restrictions that I put on it myself. Unlike you, I don’t write to make social change. I write purely for the fun and gratification. I’m a bedroom DJ and producer. It’s interesting that you say ‘New Breed’ or ‘Boasty’, because they’re both songs that came out this year and are the most commercial of anything I’ve done. ‘Boasty’ is interesting because it emulates a forgotten time of reggae. To be part of that with Stefflon Don on the rise, The Godfather Wiley and Sean Paul to revitalise that moment and make it into an international hit was amazing. I’m sat there going, ‘How did this happen?’ I was in my bedroom putting that record together and saying, ‘I could imagine Wiley on this’.”
Idris: “As for your music, I’m going to say ‘Black Ones’ – not just because I got to help you work it out, but because I think it’s a powerful, powerful record. You and Ghetts rapping together is amazing. The line, ‘black ones on my feet’ makes me imagine you wearing Nike Air Force 1s. Is that what you’re talking about?”
Che: “Yeah, it’s that plus the struggles of someone who knows that they’re not necessarily in the greatest situation long-term or destructive short-term. It’s saying, ‘You don’t know what I’m going through’. It’s either for the media or people who don’t live it to tell you what you’re going through every day, but they don’t know. I’m so connected to my area and the majority of people in the ‘My Block’ video are from when I was young, but with ‘Black Ones it’s about putting on those black trainers to go outside and try to survive’.”
Who is your favourite artist of all time?
Che: “I’d have to say Kendrick Lamar. I first heard ‘Rigor Mortis’ and immediately thought ‘I could do that, I could give someone this feeling that I’m getting’. It was very exciting. I was already rapping and had started on grime, but as I grew older grime didn’t really validate who I was as a person. I didn’t want to go all the way into R&B because I’m not a singer, but hip-hop was a good middle point.”
Idris: “Like Bob Marley falls under the genre of reggae, he’s also just Bob – you know? It’s the same for Kendrick and hip-hop – he’s just Kendrick. That makes me think about some of the influences that have a duality. You sound like Che Lingo and don’t sound like anyone else. It’s not grime, it’s not rap – it’s just you.”
What is your karaoke song?
Che: “This has stressed me out. Oh my days. There’s got to be one song that blows everyone out of the water, but I don’t know what it is. I was going to say ‘Rigor Mortis’, but isn’t that. Mine would be Frank Ocean’s ‘Super Rich Kids’ or ‘Golden Girl’ with Tyler, The Creator. Frank’s inside my heart, man.
Idris: “I don’t do karaoke, but I have done before. I tend to like the crooners. The Franks and the Dean Martins. Probably Frank Sinatra ‘That’s Life’.
Watch the video at the top of the page as the pair also talk to us about fighting for justice, working in retail, and the dream new acts they’d love to sign to their label 7Wallace.
‘Spaghetti’ by Che Lingo is out now.