I remember the first time I heard Chillinit. I was sat at my desk, deep in a rap rabbit hole on Youtube, before stumbling across ‘One Breath One Take’, Situated in what looks like a home studio, the Sydney rapper filled the booth with barrages, weaving witty wordplay over a menacing trap beat, and punctuating every line with the hype-inducing grunt of his cadence. To say that it was impressive is an understatement. It contained the rigour of gutter rap’s peak, hearkening back to when my brother would play Kerser’s ‘Deadset’ series on desktop speakers, as well as the energy of my Chief Keef-soundtracked high school days, where you’re ready to incite a moshpit at any time. But the best part was that it was neither of those things exclusively, instead foreshadowing the rise of a true original in Australian rap’s rapidly rising scene.
Flash-forward to now, Chillinit is celebrating the release of his fourth full-length project Family Ties. He’s a veteran now, with the preceding highlights of Women, Weed & Wordplay, The Octagon, and Full Circle making him an ARIA chart mainstay. The success has not dwindled, as he continues to sell-out shows across the country, and create historic moments such as being the first Australian rapper to appear on Charlie Sloth’s ‘Fire in the Booth’ series. But as I talk to him over 20 minutes on Zoom, he assures me that this new album feels like he’s debuting all over again. And it feels like it, as the ember-filled frenzies that make up the project present a wiser man thriving on a journey of growth.
Family Ties isn’t about once again proving his lyrical ability or basking in the clouds of a blunt. It’s a homage to the loved ones around him, and the fans that always show up to support him. The video for ‘Susan’s Son’ saw the rapper gift his mother $100,000. ‘Inner Thoughts Pt.2’ finds him at his most vulnerable, penning confessionals about the adversity he’s faced. Past collaborators like Lisi, Wombat, and Huskii all make appearances, revelling in talent, and reuniting as both friends, and undeniable forces in Australian hip-hop. The bars can still slay a giant, but the man behind them is swinging with gratitude, all for the goal of solidifying a legacy for his current and future family. Over our 20 minutes together, Chillinit talked me through the trials and tribulations that lead him to this moment, his motivation to continue the grind, and how he works with both the angel and devil on his shoulders.
Chillinit, how are you feeling today my man?
How do you think I’m feeling when my album clocks 15 million streams in the first week? I’m doing pretty damn good brother!
That’s some big numbers.
For sure. I’ve seen some people say that I bought the streams. I’m telling you right now if I knew how to buy streams, I’d buy them [Laughs]. But it’s getting streamed by real people, so there’s no need to worry about that.
Does releasing an album feel different now, to when it did with your first project?
Definitely. This one specifically, felt like my debut all over again, because I don’t know if you follow my socials, but I scrapped all the photos of the girls and me messing around. Instead, I made it all about family. I didn’t want to reinvent myself, but I’ve already proven to the world that I have bars and that I can party. I don’t need to make another song about women and partying again, because it’s time to give $100,000 to my mum, get a mortgage, and be a father. I’ve grown up in front of the cameras, and I’m only just 27 now bro. If I were 18 still, I wouldn’t want to listen to myself right now. But as artists, we have to grow, and you’ve all seen me do that in the spotlight.
Family Ties feels more about solidifying your legacy, opposed to showing us you’re good with the raps again. Is that an accurate statement?
100%. I’ve got a quarter of a billion streams across all DSPs, and all my records have gone top 5. It’s no question that this project is cementing my legacy. Whether you love or hate me, you have to acknowledge that the name Chillinit is a part of the Australian rap story.
The legendary boxer Marvin Hagler once said “It’s hard to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 AM when you’re sleeping in silk pyjamas.” Have you ever felt that way with the success you’ve accumulated over the years?
For sure. When I put out my mixtape Full Circle, it charted number 3, and it was a good mixtape, I’m not knocking it. But to be candid with you, I was doing a lot of cocaine and drugs then, and doing around $10,000 a week on hotels. I was just spending thousands like “Take it, I’m a rapper, I’m Chillinit!’ So yeah, for a while I lost the love for writing lyrics and was having more fun wearing Givenchy and silk pyjamas. But when I came back home to my mum I started to become grounded, and began asking myself “What’s important? Now that the cocaine is gone, where are the friends?” The only people that were left was my mum and my dad. That’s why I gave $100,000 to my mum, and that’s why the album is called Family Ties. Once the party is over, all that you have left is your family and your grave.
With the rap game moving so fast these days and new acts popping up on playlists every week, was there a moment where it clicked that you’re a veteran now?
Yes and no. I definitely recognise that, and I’ve been around for a long time. When I go out shopping, whether people love me or hate me, they recognise me. But what I like to think, and I’ve seen Beyonce say this, is that the moment you start reflecting is when you stop moving forward. So yeah, one day I’m going to look back on this journey, but right now I’m looking towards the next 10 years. Get used to this face, because I’m not going anywhere.
There’s a line in the ‘The Full Story (Intro)’ where you rap “Cause I got devils on my left, got fuckin’ angels on my right.” In which way do both try to pull you?
The music industry comes with sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Some people think that there’s some Illuminati shit going on in the states, but that is not the case here. But when you’re someone trying to get away from addiction in the music industry, it’s like trying to heal in the place that makes you sick. And with those devils on my left and angels on my right, you can see that I’m trying to be a better human, yet then not long ago, I’m kneed in the heads by cops at Westfield. Yet recently, I’m giving $10,000 to families because the government wasn’t helping during lockdowns. So am I a devil, or am I an angel?
It’s wild because while you’re looking towards the future, people will sometimes treat you in a way that’s based on your past.
Exactly. ‘The Full Story’ is basically a song about not being able to escape your past. If you’ve got demons, you have to get rid of them, and even if you have some angels, those demons are still there on your shoulder. You have to pick a side, and this is me trying to get to the better side of my life, where I can start a family. I’ve already put $100,000 in my mother’s mortgage, and my brother has a property in Parramatta. Now, it’s time to look after me.
Do you think there are cons to leaning too heavily on the angels? Because those angels could cause complacency, and the demons can sometimes provide motivation.
Yeah, that’s why in the song I say “I don’t know which way to go no more,” because I tend to have conversations with both, and all three of us work as one team. It’s just part of the music industry bro, you know what I mean? In Australia, we are famed for having tall poppy syndrome. We love watching someone rise and fall. So as an artist, you have to be thick-skinned, and make sure that you don’t get affected by these things. So I’m always making sure that I don’t pay attention to things like that. I just put the blinkers on and focus on making the best music for my fans daily.
There was The Octagon, and then Full Circle. What shape does your life take on Family Ties?
The Octagon and Full Circle is when I was going through the cocaine and the stuff that Marvin Hagler was talking about. Those were the moments where I was feeling like a celebrity and had a bit of an ego. It’s because I had gone from an apprentice to touring the country, and blowing up. I won’t lie, it got to my head. The shape of this album just comes down to rebalance, and maturity. I can see the audience turning around as well, where I’ve got the 14-year-old kid who likes ‘Cashed Out Stoner’, the 45-year-old mum loving ‘Inner Thoughts’, and the 60-year-old grandma going “I don’t know any of your music but my granddaughter loves it.” I’ve reached every market with this album, and that was the goal.
You get very vulnerable on this album. Is looking to those past struggles something you find difficult, or is it a therapeutic process?
It’s very therapeutic, but to be honest, when I was recording ‘Inner Thoughts pt. 2’, I had to stop twice, because I was crying at that moment. I had a fan reach out to me recently who told me that before my album came out, they wanted to commit suicide. But when it came out, and they played it, they decided to stick around. As you can see in my face right, now that means a lot to me. I made this album for that reason so that the fans can get an insight into my life and get something out of it. I didn’t want to make a TikTok album that lasted 15 seconds, I wanted to create something that could save someone’s life. I couldn’t care where I charted or what I streamed, that one girl that messaged me made my day. So shout out to that girl, if you’re reading this interview one day, you’re a massive part of my life and fanbase. As you can see, the emotions start flowing when I talk about it. It really is a 420 family.
That’s the beautiful thing about Family Ties, it doesn’t just represent your immediate family around you, but the fanbase as well.
It’s 790,000 monthly listeners, 301,000 Instagram followers, and 250 million streamers that are a part of this family. But this is the thing, I only hear one story like that, imagine all the other people who have stories like that. As much as I love charting, success, and money, I’d give that all up to have that sort of impact on someone’s life every day. I think Family Ties is me finally admitting to you that the money was cool, Women, Weed & Wordplay was cool, but nothing is is cooler than saving someone’s life from music. Seeing your mum cry because she has $100,000 in the bank is way better than a flashy hotel.
You share this vulnerability and maturity with frequent collaborators on this project, including Wombat, Lisi, and Huskii, all of who are exemplary of evolution. Do you remember any of the conversations you had with them, leading to the growth of this album?
Wombat not so much because he’s in Tassie. So as you can imagine, it’s a lot of talking on Zoom. But for example, Huskii and I just the other night talked for two hours about a collab we’re going to work on and how we’re going to approach it. So there are conversations, but if you notice the Huskii and Wombat interludes on the project, I don’t make an appearance. That’s me wanting to gift them, and ensure that everyone in my family has a slice of the pie. My mum has got some, my brother’s on production, my two best friends have interludes, everyone that’s a part of my life gets a part of this.
Generation wealth seems to be a huge part of the Family Ties journey. On ‘High to Chase The Low’, you speak on reading about crypto and NFTS. Is building your foundation outside of the music something important to you?
I’ve already started. I would say some of my investment income, is on par with my music income. But I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the whole hype around NFTs or cryptocurrency, because to me it seems kind of crazy. Like what happens if the whole world is on Bitcoin, and then they turn Bitcoin off? It’s scary, however, I’m knowledgeable enough to know where things are going. Remember when Facebook started and everyone was like “Who’s going to use Facebook?” The whole NFT, crypto thing is the new version of that and I’m just trying to stay in the loop. My goal in life isn’t to be known as the best rapper ever, it’s to ensure that my kids don’t have to work.
Lastly my friend, how do you want to round out 2021? Any breaks planned?
Blake wants to go to bed, but Chillinit is going to go to his next Zoom interview and continue to work. When you’re a musician, there’s no holiday brother. It’s work mode 24/7, and I plan on working to the grave.