It’s hard to miss James King when he enters a room. When I first met him he was wearing green fatigue pants tightly tucked into black combat boots and topped off by a patchwork bomber jacket. King, better known as The GTW (Greater Than Wealth), explains that his dress reflects his art, taking from many different scenes and cultures around Chicago and abroad to create a sound and attitude that is wholly his own. The sound he dubs “Chigerian” is a nod to the Nigerian heritage his immigrant parents bestowed on him since he was an infant.
The rapper/singer/producer embodies the collage of influences in everything he does, calling it a “random” mix of everything from art to music and life. His music is a sort of new-age 90′s R&B with tribal twinges and a mix of down-tempo house with carefully crafted electronic undertones. His most recent project, 4814 with producer Beng Feng showed a flexibility to adapt and assimilate his tone and sound to a different production, something the 22-year old artist prides himself on. The GTW is a big Manchester United fan and has a keen eye on the european electronic scene and 4814 garnered him a write-up in the UK newspaperThe Guardian before he had much of any press here at home. With a video for his song “Cravings” on the way and upcoming projects with Beng Feng and others in the works, expect to see plenty more headlines on The GTW in 2013. I was able to catch up with the multi-talented artist just before his show January 25 at The Temple Head Gallery in Humboldt Park.
RubyHornet: Tell me about the various influences you employ in your music and what is Chigerian?
GTW: It’s good to build up other people. First you have to start off making the music that you like, but it’s cool to build other people up. Being into other cultures, not just the music but what actually makes the pain, what makes them sing the way they do, what makes them make the types of beats they make and that’s why I’m into so many different cultures. I really like Brazillian jazz music, I’m into house music, I’m into trap and soul and to understand all of these different influences you have to understand the cultures. Just reading a lot or watching documentaries, and I know I have a little bit of every culture with me but more specifically with Chigerian, just being born in Chicago and having parents that are actually from Nigeria and having gone there it actually shaped my mindset. So the whole Chigerian thing is not only Chicago, it’s pretty much anyone who lives in the city with a world influence.
RubyHornet: How many times have you been to Nigeria?
GTW: I’ve been to Nigeria once. It was cool, kind of a culture shock because as soon as I got there I’m hot and sweating and the airport wasn’t really up to par so as soon as I walk in when I’m 10 years old I see a rat running around and I was used to everything being super clean. I was really prissy, really spoiled as a kid so when people were running for our bags to help us I was like ‘whoa, what’s going on?’ Just the culture too, the culture there is really go out and get it as opposed to having something handed to you. It’s really like go out and get it and very forceful and that’s kind of what I really learned. I lived there for six months and I came out a man, being 10 years old. It was a good experience and I’d really like to go back.
RubyHornet: What affect did that have on your life or your music?
GTW: It really did change my life at that time because I learned to appreciate everything a little bit more. Years later, ten years later, I can’t say it affected me as much so because I was only there for six months, but I still remember what I learned. Maybe if I stayed there a little longer now it would have a bigger impact and I would make better decision (laughs).
RubyHornet: Do you feel as though your experiences or interests in other cultures sets you apart?
GTW: I feel everybody has their own culture, everyone. I’m not any more cultured than anyone else is. It’s cool just to live in Chicago and have parents from Nigeria. It helps me look at things differently and allows me a different outlook on life. There was that whole Nigerian culture that was going on not only in Nigeria but around the world. I’m not only wrapped up in Nigerian politics, I like to look around and see what’s going on in like the Middle East and other places. I like hearing good news, I like hearing bad news around the world. It helps me find inspiration elsewhere.I can be from a country in the middle of the diaspora and be inspired by a country on the southern tip of South America. Here I’m inspired by Texas, Houston and whatever little scenes they have going on down there. Musically I can get inspired by really anything, including local culture.
RubyHornet: Tell me about your style, it is very eclectic both musically and day to day.
GTW: I’m just like, really random. I believe that with music I’m inspired aesthetically first so that when I look at a picture I’ll tend to write off of that image and I feel if you make a certain type of music you don’t need to ask me what kind of music I make. You can tell, it’s easy to say ‘I make this.’ Everyone’s left lane, everyone’s doing their own thing. If I look at you, can I really tell that you’re making the kind of art you believe in? It doesn’t have to be wild or crazy.
I’m not really into fashion at all, I’m just really random with it. I feel like aesthetically I like to connect with my audio, my music. When I go out I just grab random stuff like pants I like. My whole sound I’m working on now, like tribal bass, is really inspired by a lot of tropical bass music, shit like that, mixing it in with Hip Hop, sinking soul music. That’s kind of like my style, it’s really traditional and still I’m wrapped up in the internet. You’ll see a lot of visual influence with anything I do, not just style but aesthetic or design work, anything I do.
RubyHornet: As someone who does everything from producing to singing and rapping, how important is it to you to be well-versed in many different aspects?
GTW: It’s important, but it’s fun doing anything because I don’t have all the money in the world to pay people to do this and that and don’t really have anything to offer anyone, so all I have is time and I can learn to do what other people do and create my own vision and have my hand in everything, it’s fun. It’s hard but like, what’re you doing it for? Experimenting is fun with me. I’m not the best at everything. Like, I may not out sing some people but I may know how to say a couple catchy notes. Or maybe I can’t out-rap anyone but I can say some simple, everyday things that may connect to someone.
RubyHornet: How grateful are you to be a part of this rising music scene in Chicago?
GTW: It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. I’m really grateful because I’ve gotten to work with cats in the soul scene, artists in the Hip Hop scene and artists from all different scenes and every scene is progressing in their own lane. I may not know it but there will be soul artists you’ve never heard of touring or an experimental artist touring or a Hip Hop artist on the street; all kinds of people you wouldn’t really know what they’re doing unless you’re connected to it. As far as music, it’s really beneficial and inspires me to make the best music I can make. I can make the kind of music I want to make here in Chicago and succeed with it internationally. It’s really given me hope that this is a great city to be from and you don’t really have to worry about rent.
RubyHornet: What is your motivation with music, what gets you out of bed and working everyday?
GTW: The fact that I just want to live better of course. I just really want have fun right now making music and I just want people to hear it because there will be down times I’ll have in my life, I wouldn’t say suicidal, but I’ll be down and listen to certain songs and I just want to be that artist that people are like “Oh, I love this artist because I was down and listened to his music.” I want to connect to people. I feel like now that’s how you solidify yourself. There’s a lot of artists so if you don’t connect people are looking for the next thing. I want to come with what I have to offer and have fun but at the same time I want to connect with people.