“That’s when we released ‘One Breath One Take’,” says ChillinIt, pointing to a spike in a graph on his phone depicting the shifting volume of Google searches for the 24-year-old rapper over the last 12 months. Chill—that’s Blake to his parents—is sitting on the couch of a modest hotel in Melbourne with his younger brother Brock and his longtime friend Talakai, a few hours before a sold-out show at the tail end of The Ashes tour (Hobart rapper Wombat is upstairs, fast asleep). Brock points to another sharp uptick in web traffic: the week they announced the Get Bodied tour. There’s a general trend upwards over time, and together with Talakai, they match each spike in interest to a single, a video, or a freestyle.
ChillinIt has no label, and his biggest press backer, BodyBagMedia, operates out of a garage. Still, he pulls consistent grassroots numbers that often outstrip his major-label-backed peers, and industry veterans like the Hilltop Hoods. On YouTube, he rarely clocks less than one million views—‘One Breath One Take’, sits at 4 million, ‘Wish You Well Pt. 2 (It’s a Vibe)’ at 1.6 million, ‘Rap Zombie’ at 1.5 million, ‘420 Queen Street’ at 1.4 million, and it goes on. Women Weed and Wordplay, his debut album, peaked at number nine on the ARIA Australian Artist Albums Chart (it’s still in the top 20, nine months later) and number two on the Australian iTunes Chart. In short: ChillinIt has reached a lot of Australians, and he hasn’t had much help doing it.
A Lebanese-Australian raised in Hurstville, Chill says he’s been rapping since his early teens. He’s particularly adept with wordplay, and there’s an only-Australians-know-this inside joke in a lot of his best punchlines (from ‘One Breathe One Take’: “Only my Don Bradman would get that/the bender that goes five days: test match”). In conversation Chill is good humoured and quick to laugh; part high school smart-ass, part motivational speaker. Here, in his first magazine interview, we have a surprisingly frank and occasionally philosophical conversation about his firm belief in manifestation, his relationship with religion, and the moment he decided to give his all to music.
To a lot of casual listeners, it might seem like you blew up out of nowhere. I want to hear about the music you were making years ago, that people didn’t catch onto.
I was a kid when I first released music. Some of it might still be out there, on people’s phones and shit. If you’ve got it, you’ve got a piece of history, ‘cause it was all under a different name. The thing is, I started taking drugs at a very young age so by 17 I was in rehab. At 18 I got out—I didn’t finish, I got kicked out. When my mum came and got me she said, “If you want to come home, you’ve gotta pull your head in a bit.” I got a trade I worked for three or four years as an air conditioning mechanic. While I was working, I stopped putting [music] out, but I was still writing. Working gave me so much perspective, it made me realise how much I really need to make music. I gave myself one year to put 100% effort into music and see what happened. Not just trying it, but believing that I could do it. Once I had a go at it for a year, it was going well, so we’ve kept rolling.
And how many majors have tried to court you with a deal so far?
I’ve had some meetings, some offers come my way. But I’m pretty adamant the only deal I’d sign would be a label helping me launch my own 420 Family label. I’m big on that independent thing. I’m a big Nipsey Hussle fan. Ever since Nipsey passed away, I’ve been studying that guy. He did so much for his community. I want to do stuff like that too. I remember in Hurstville, where I live, there used to be this place called The Ave. It was just a youth hangout really, somewhere you could go after school. They don’t have it anymore so everyone just hangs out on the street and does whatever now. It would be mad if I could open something like that, with a studio in there and pool tables. I used to go there and get the free cheese sandwiches after school.
What sort of kid where you like at school? Did your teachers love to hate you?
It was mad love-hate, hey. I was a real cheeky cunt. But some of them loved me for that! Teachers would have a chuckle at my jokes, but it would get out of hand because I wouldn’t have a filter. I went to three high schools. I got to Year 10 and then had to do Year 11 twice, then just canned it after that. I think it was the drugs. Being so young, thinking you’re king of the world. I’d recommend finishing school, if anyone is reading this.
How were you exposed to heavier drugs as a kid? Could you identify what made your drug use escalate?
I come from a really hard-working family. When I was young I just got swept up in the crowd I guess, man. My old man started as a cleaner at this company and then upgraded himself to the operations manager and CEO. He turned it into a million dollar business. My mum came to Australia with her family from Lebanon, they opened up a fruit shop and they all did well. So I don’t know what it was, it might have been my area at the time. Hurstville wasn’t as good then as it is now. I hung out with all the graffiti crews. I was never good at graffiti—I could take the drugs, though.
I hung out with a lot of guys like that. It’s crazy though, with my friendship group growing up, there’s so many ways it’s split now. There’s some people who are running full time businesses, own a couple properties, got a kid on the way. There’s other people I know who are stuck in the system, in and out of jail and don’t know any better. Other people just haven’t changed at all. They haven’t had that moment where they realise, “Alright, I gotta do this. I gotta chase what I want.” It’s crazy how that lifestyle can go so many different ways. To be taking some of the stuff I was taking and doing some of the stuff I was doing, and still be here and quite switched on, that’s a blessing. I’m lucky.
Who would you attribute that to?
I would say my brother. Growing up, I was so loud and wild and disruptive that he had to keep the peace in the background. Having a little brother that wasn’t into the same shit that I was into kinda made me feel like an idiot for it. Nearly overdosing just before rehab was also life-changing for me. I was living in a house where drugs were being sold out of. My mum had to come get me from the hospital. I still remember sitting in the waiting room with a little tin foil blanket around me, this little 17 year old kid. If I saw a 17 year old kid like that now, I’d be like “Yo, what the fuck are you doing with your life?” That was the moment for me. Some people, they just don’t have that moment.
Now days it sounds like you aren’t afraid of hard work either.
I have a crazy work ethic. I think a lot of the boys can vouch for it too. I work my fucking arse off, every single second. From the moment I roll over in bed my eyes open and I’m thinking about music. It just consumes me. I believe in the law of attraction, that’s my mentality. Success takes talent, certain skills, and luck comes into it too, but a massive part of succeeding is your mentality. I never take a day off, I never take a backwards step, I never doubt anything, I just do. I’m not scared to fail. I’m not scared to fuck things up. I don’t just think: “I’m going to try my best.” It’s about understanding that everything you do is a manifestation.
Ten years ago, me saying “I’m going to start rapping”, that was a manifestation of where I am now. Before we announced the tour, I said, “This is going to sell out, this is going to kill it.” Not saying “I hope”, but saying “I know”. If you give off a really good vibe, really good people will want to be around you. It’s the same with your goals. If you’re doubting your goal, you’re going to fall a tiny bit short. But if you’re 110% in it, even in a worst case scenario where you fall short, you haven’t left a stone unturned. You’ve given it your all, you went for it. You just have to be willing to die for it. I’m a big believer in that. I’m an introverted thinker. I think a lot about this stuff.
Socially though, at least from talking to you today, you’re very extroverted.
I’m an introverted extrovert, I say it in a song. I think a lot about everything. I guess it’s the law of attraction thing: the natural me is introverted, but if I want what I want, I have to be confident. No matter what situation I’m in, even if I’m in front of thousands of people, I just give it everything. Then I can worry about it later when no-one’s around.
What are you like at home? Can you cook?
I can’t cook! Like, I can cook as in pasta and noodles and shit. I can do a steak. But I can’t really cook.
Do you ever eat really clean and put in time at the gym?
Yeah, for five years of my life I was really into it. I loved going to the gym, eating protein shakes and chicken and rice meals. Now I eat like two meals a day, burgers and chips and a fucking V. I need to get my health back. I’ve lost a bit of weight, so I do need to get back to the gym. That’s right, I’ll be the rapper with gains! That guy.
What did you like to do at the gym?
I liked doing legs. I liked training my big quads. Nah, just joking. I skipped leg day. I liked doing chest and arms.
I don’t know why men hate doing legs so much. You all seem to hate it and then complain that your calves are tiny.
They are though! I can’t help my little Lebanese calves, okay! That’s my excuse.
There are machines for your calves, you know that right?
I’m a machine naturally.
How did you meet Wombat?
I first met Wombat ‘cause he was a fan of my music growing up, before I was ChillinIt. I think we’re about the same age. When I came back, the scene was different, and he dropped two songs. I can’t remember who messaged who, but someone reached out saying “Yo, mad song.” Whatever. We just started talking.
What do you guys connect over? Apart from a passionate interest in marajuana culture…
We both love music. And—a lot of people don’t really see this with me because I’m so business-minded and hungry—but we both have a lot of empathy. We both really understand other people’s sides of shit, we both really want to be happy. And we both went through really depressing periods in our lives, Wombat recently and me many years ago. When we first met I was like, this guy’s the best rapper I think I’ve ever met, I want to see him do as good as I’m doing. He’s the best.
You guys both do big numbers with virtually no press.
It’s the movement, it’s the family. We’re never like, “We’re sick cunts, we’re so good.” It’s like, “We like rap, we came up in the same way as you guys who are our fans.” We were once them. I think a lot of people are just excited by that. I’m excited too, and the fact it’s been very organic is something I’m very proud of. I haven’t gone on some clout shit and asked anybody for anything. I’m proud of the numbers I’m doing because all that I’ve done is smoke pot on Instagram and make music. So anyone who’s tuning in either smokes pot or likes the music.
Tell me about the album. What was the most difficult song you recorded?
It’s not on the album, the most emotional song I wrote. It’s called ‘Dust To Dust’ and it’s with Huskii. It’s really personal to me, I kind of don’t talk about it. I almost get goosebumps talking about it. When me and Huskii recorded it we got really emotional, we really had a bonding moment—with situations that he’s been through, and what I went through with my child, our situations could have ended up the exact same way. In all honesty, in my situation, I was taking the coward’s way out. I was convincing my girlfriend at the time like, “I don’t want to have a baby, I’m not ready.” By the time I came around and was like, “Alright, I’m ready to do this” she [terminated the pregnancy] anyway. It was a mind fuck of a thing. In the studio with Huskii, I’d already recorded my verse—we were already a bit emotional—then hearing him talk about having the kid, it was making me feel a type of way about myself.
There’s some introspective moments that did make it onto the album. And some celebratory anthems too.
Yeah! You know I get parents who message me and they’re like, “My kid played your music on a family road trip, it’s actually pretty good. I don’t mind that ‘Inner Thoughts’ song.” I’m a big fan of the older Eminem albums, they were so diverse. I wanted to so some skits.
Who’s the guy in one of the skits that doesn’t pick up the phone for three days?
Bagzy! Bagzy is the guy who owns Bodybag Media—shout out to Brendon. He was actually recording [the album] at the time. He had a habit of going to sleep at six in the morning and waking up at four in the afternoon. Some days I’d be at his place at 11 o’clock like “Bro! I’m here! Get to the front door!” And then the skit with the lighter… I’m a lighter thief to the core. To the core.
So this guy, Bagzy, he’s a sound engineer? A producer?
He just has a microphone and a laptop?
Yeah! He’s just one of the boys! He lives at home with his mum and dad and they gave him the garage space to set up a studio. That’s where I kind of met Huskii properly as well—free Huskii as well fuck it. Bagzy films and does the clips, so to keep everything all in house he set up the recording equipment. Big ups to Brendon. He’s not officially trained, he’s just a dude who’s passionate. He’s got a good heart too, he’s a good dude.
So you recorded it in a guy’s garage. All of it? Most of it?
All of it. Whole thing is in a garage. People don’t hear it. They’re like “Oh! This is real production.”
Who engineered the album?
Nerve. Nerve is the man. Nerve is like the rap nerd. He can mix, master, engineer, rap.
What’s the story with Lil Sknow, he’s also on the album?
Fuck, this is a throwback. Big up to Lil Sknow wherever he is.
Really MIA, or just not answering your calls?
Nah, I think he’s a Real Estate Agent now. I’m pretty sure he left rap to do Real Estate. Personally, I’ve been left out of that situation. I don’t know what was bubbling up but something was. I think that he just had a life change. I don’t know though, this is all speculation. But from what I’ve seen he’s just living a normal life now. I think he just went “You know what? This rap thing isn’t for me.” He’s a very intellectual person. He’s a lot smarter than he gives off in his music, than what he gives out to the public. So I think he’s just a businessman now and he’s making good money which is nothing wrong with that. He’s healthy and making good money. Big ups to Sknow! Bro, if you read this, message me man! It’s all good!
And what about you? You would’ve made some good money by now. What’s something you really want to buy?
I got a few goals. I’d like to buy my mum’s house as a first goal, pay it off for her. I recently bought my dream car, which I’ve always wanted. A Chrysler, the SRT Chrysler. I’d always wanted one so I bought one outright. I had a bar about it a year ago—“I got dreams of a jet black Chrysler.” That’s the first thing I really bought for myself. I bought a Versace ring, a couple of things like that. I don’t think you’d ever catch me with a diamond Rolex on or anything like that. Could I get it? Yeah. Do I want to get it? Nah.
Is your family religious?
One side of the family is Lebanese Orthodox, and at my Tata’s house they’re religious. You know what, I do believe that there’s a god. Do I get so caught up in it that I judge other people for it? Nah, I don’t really. I feel like one day when I have a family I’d like to practice my religion more. At the moment I don’t really have a leg to stand on. I’m doing a lot of things that I know aren’t in my religion. I find it really hypocritical how many religious people will just openly break the rules of their religion, that’s why I try not to get too deep into saying “I’m religious.” Look at the life I live.
Do you read much?
I do. I don’t really read the news. When I say I read, I can read. But do I read regularly? No. But I’ll read something if I think it has a purpose to it. A book that I read recently was ‘Stabbed Ego’ by someone that I know in my area, who grew up involved in some dumb shit like me. His name’s Luke Kennedy. He now owns a gym, he’s a public speaker, entrepreneur. I read his book and it was a big thing for me. It’s about how deep down he didn’t want to do any of the things he did. As a person, who the fuck wakes up in the morning and goes, “I want to go and bash this person’s fucking skull in today.” The majority of people don’t wake up like that. It’s a good read overcoming your ego and understanding yourself. I read books like that. I used to read Zoo magazines as a kid but I don’t know if that counts.
What can you tell me about album number two?
The Octagon is on its way. I’m really taking my time to make it something that’s special. I want it to be a classic in five years time. I’m still going to have the bangers on there, they’re quite easy for me to write. I’m really trying to tap into the soul. Live your life, smoke good weed, fuck good. Can I say that? Can I say “Fuck good” in Acclaim? And just don’t let anyone hold you back. Life’s too short man.
For more ChillinIt, and updates on his upcoming project follow him here.