These are extraordinary times for Che Lingo. The South London rapper has been snapped up by 7Wallace Records – Idris Elba’s label – and his music is reaching an unprecedented audience.
More than that, though, is its broader meaning. His song ‘My Block’ - which explicitly details the case of Julian Cole, a victim of police violence right here in the UK – has become an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement, blasted out of speakers at rallies across London and throughout the country. It’s an agonising contradiction. Che Lingo is able to reach an audience that passionately relate to his music, yet under appalling circumstances.
“It was serendipitous in... not the best of ways,” he tells Clash. “It’s very bittersweet. You’re watching life catch up to the topics you care about so much, and obviously you’re happy that people are talking more about those topics, but it also means there’s more going on than you could ever imagine. It’s been a bit bittersweet, but I’m just trying to take everyday as it comes and be honest about things.”
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Lockdown has been a platform for creativity, he believes. “I spend a lot of time at home, anyway, making music, watching anime, designing, sending emails… all sorts of different things,” he says. “I do a lot from home. I spend a lot of time indoors. I’ve definitely had some conversations with myself – I’ve had to – but nothing that’s ended in anything too bad.”
“I guess a lot of artists can relate,” he jokes. “I think it’s important to know what your own company feels like. Even if you don’t necessarily enjoy it at this time! You might want to be outside, and not stuck in your own house. But everyday is a creative day for me, I think.”
Working constantly on new material, he’s currently focussing on his album. It’s personal, but – as ever – there’s a wider consciousness there. Right from the start, Che has wanted to express societal and political concerns in the studio, refusing to lock himself away from the outside world. He confronts issues in an eloquent way, his anger and raw emotion used to express viewpoints rarely, if ever, heard in mainstream culture.
“For people in the UK to argue the idea of racism existing is absurd to me,” he says. “To argue the idea of their being wrong-doings with the police, or police having wrong intentions in ways that affect the Black community more than any other community is difficult. Humans are so sensitive that things don’t have to necessarily have to happen to you for you to feel trauma from the thing. The worst possible thing that can happen is people being killed and nothing happening afterwards… you can’t expect to feel safe in situations like that. You just can’t.”
“The internet is such a powerful tool to spread information, so if you see enough of something you’ll come to believe that it’s a part of your narrative as a person, and that’s what we’re trying to combat. We’re calling it out simply because of the fact that it’s wrong.”
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Che Lingo’s music is rooted in his own experiences as a dark-skinned Black man in South London – being stopped by the police, judged by those around him, and being denied opportunities that his talents should secure.
“There are many injustices across all communities, but right now we are 40 times more like to be stopped by police… but we don’t commit 40 times the crime! That’s just a fact. Black on Black crime is not a thing – that’s just crime. No Black person commits crime on another Black person because they’re Black, they do it because they’re poor.”
“There was a point less than 50 years ago when people would beat you up or kill you just for being Black,” he states, the emotion in his voice scarcely being held back. “And that was OK. That could happen. Those people are potentially still alive now – they’re people’s grandparents. So for us to know that it happened only 50 years ago… it’s insane to me. The fact that people think it doesn’t exist because someone happened to say ‘racism is wrong’ is insane. There was hundreds of years of it. That is engrained into the culture of both the UK and America.”
Racism is a poison in our society, one that presents complex structural problems that can be confronted by some very simple questions. As Che Lingo puts it: “All we’re looking for is a level of respect and consideration that should come to any human being. Why don’t we have that? Why do we have to do this?”
Talking further, Che assesses the media’s role, and reflects on the length of time it’s taken for this fight to reach the broader consciousness. After all, Civil Rights as a movement in this country is hardly a new thing – the Bristol bus boycotts, for example, took place 50 years ago. The pace of change is agonisingly slow.
“People have been fighting these battles for a long, long time,” he says. “We all know about these instances where people have been shot or killed or brutalised just because they look a different way to somebody else, and a lot of that is pointed at the Black community. We are specifically saying we need to focus on our community, just simply because we don’t get the love we deserve. And it’s not a love more than anyone else, it’s just an equal level of understanding and consideration.”
“People from what you would call a different political side want to derail that. Ribbons to some are shackles to others, and they don’t realise that. Undermining somebody’s individual lived experience – when that person has not way of truly understanding it – is a very, very confusing feeling. For somebody who can never live your experience to tell you how you’re supposed to deal with your feelings of that experience when they’re not qualified to do so… it’s a weird thing.”
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Speaking his truth, Che Lingo has gathered like-minds around him. Showing Idris Elba in praise - “he’s got a pure love of music” - the rapper recently sparred with Ghetts on a single release, affording a unique chance to catch two barrier-challenging MCs on the same track. Out now, it’s a real statement, one that resonated with the crowds who gathered for those massive, history-making protests earlier this month.
“I have a partner who is diabetic, so for me to go out in amongst people during the pandemic… it was a choice that we had to make together,” he says. “I also lost my grandma to COVID in April, so it was a very, very difficult decision to make, to go out and be amongst that many people, and then come back to my household. We had those conversations, and I protested for all three of us. And I said it with my chest.”
“I was born here, my mother was born here, and my grandmother was born here, so I have just as much reason to be comfortable here as the next person,” he says. “Black British culture is something this country is very proud of, but how are you treating these people when they cry?”
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Che Lingo's album 'The Worst Generation' is incoming. Listen back to this interview on our Rinse FM show HERE.
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