Chillinit is building a social media empire to become hip-hop's next force
Once a rising figure in the rap underground, the hip-hop heavyweight is blossoming into something bigger.
Rap music is primarily a social media game. It doesn't have to be, and a substantial number of hip-hop's most-established names cemented their legacy without today's social media networks even existing, but in a streaming-bent climate built upon popularity and virality, it's become clear that if you want to break out and become successful in music, you have to develop an online following. Take Allday for example, the somewhat-divisive Australian rapper whose social media is rich with authenticity and relatability, building a highly-engaged audience just under 250,000 people that he's able to reach whenever he wants to push new material or tour dates. Or, there's Lil Nas X, who as we profiled earlier this year, purposefully gamed virality and the Twitter-heavy stan culture to make his single Old Town Road the longest-standing Billboard #1 single of all time ("I was like, ‘I gotta make it short, I gotta make it catchy, I gotta have quotable lines that people want to use as captions'," he told Rolling Stone).
In another example, there's Lebanese-Australian Sydney rapper Chillinit, who despite being a whole different force to Lil Nas X and Allday, is building one of the most active grassroots following in hip-hop full-stop, and it's helping him blossom into one of Australian hip-hop's most dominative names. Raised in the south-west Sydney suburb Hurstville, Chillinit initially began his rise the way most underground rappers do. In high school, he would share demos and songs the same way as anyone else - "If you’ve got it, you’ve got a piece of history, ‘cause it was all under a different name," he told Acclaim in his first-ever print interview earlier this year - before taking up a trade as an air conditioning mechanic after a brief stint in rehab. During this time, he took a step back from music to focus on life as a bigger picture, encouraged to 'pull his head in' from family that kicked him out shortly after he was caught up in drugs.
"While I was working, I stopped putting [music] out, but I was still writing," he told Acclaim in the same interview. "Working gave me so much perspective; it made me realise how much I really need to make music." With this realisation and one of music's strongest work ethics behind him, Chillinit got to work building what is now one of Australian rap music's most dominative and vocal communities - the 420Family, he calls it - and now, he's one of the country's most prominent rappers, despite simultaneously being one of the country's most under-supported in the 'traditional' sense.
Backed by niche blogs and influential figures in the Sydney underground rap scene, Chillinit's path is arguably Australian hip-hop's most authentic. He has no label backing nor any support on either commercial or alternative radio outside of Sydney (his solo work only has a handful of late-night triple j plays), and while many artists rely on viral challenges and mass-marketing, Chillinit's approach has always just to be himself, whether that's through his music or through his social media presence. "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," he tells Acclaim. "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."
This authenticity is arguably Chillinit's biggest pull. His music is honest and upfront, yet also light-hearted and fuelled by this fun, ruckus-inducing energy that appeals to a broader audience. It's not anything particularly new - and we don't mean that in a bad way, he's musically building a tried-and-tested sound that's amongst Australia's most successful and cult-adored - but the way he packages it and shares it to the world sets him apart. Everything Chillinit does feels like him - not a label, not a management team, not a social media advisor - and that relatability and at-times, honesty, is something a lot of people are seeking in this world where musical success is often built upon cliche marketing strategies and challenges begging for manufactured virality.
On his Facebook page for example, which boasts an audience almost-70,000 strong and one of music's most engaged, he places honest updated on his music and his headspace next to photos of women and weed - both are distinctly a part of Chillinit's personally (we presume), and they're both met with this incomparable adoration and support, one just as much as the other. Then, unlike many other musicians in his space, there's his tendency to give back. On his latest merch run, five dollars of every hat purchase was given towards Children’s Cancer Research, and in March, he donated $5000 to the RSPCA. "Apart from women and weed, we do a lot of good, and for everyone asking me how I've been so successful lately, it’s because of you guys," he captioned the post announcing he'd donated $5000 to the RSPCA on behalf of his fans. "This donation is as much from all of you fans as much as it’s from me." Being a Chillinit fan isn't necessarily the same as being a fan of many other Australian rappers, for example, because he gives back to the people that made him - and not just in the form of new music releases and cash-grab merch; you get the sense that he actually cares - a difficult thing to come across.
In turn, Chillinit's 420Family is one of hip-hop's most loyal, and as this feature's title suggests, it's pushed him to become one of rap's most dominative rising names. Since retaking to music seriously and uploading a series of tracks to his once-active Soundcloud page, many of them now boast over 250,000 plays (the first track, Running Bars 2, is almost at two million), and every track on his 2018 mixtape Women Weed & Wordplay boast over a million Spotify plays except two, which are more-than recouped with many of them stretching to almost-five million plays. Women Weed & Wordplay also peaked at number nine on the ARIA Australian Artist Albums Chart, and now, 31 weeks post-debut, it's still within the top 20 - with no signs of budging. On the ARIA Urban Albums Chart, he's been within the top 20 for almost 40 weeks, only bumped down - to 21, no less - to the high-charting Beyoncé Lion King record this week.
On the live circuit, Chillinit's proving to be just as much of a force as he is sales and streaming-wise. His shows often sell-out weeks in advance (including a recent, 15-date national tour which completely sold out), and despite never playing a festival slot in the past, the announcements of his two upcoming debuts - the entire east-coast FOMO Festival run, and the Perth leg of Drip World - have attracted more comments showing support for Chillinit's booking than there are for BROCKHAMPTON and Migos, their two respective headliners, and two of the biggest hip-hop acts in the world. Despite being basically unknown to the commercial Australian music industry even just two years ago (aside from those niche pockets central to Australian hip-hop as earlier mentioned), he's now one of the most in-demand and asked-upon, but he's not sinking down to those unable to match his visions.
"I’ve had some meetings, some offers come my way," he told Acclaim, on whether any labels have enquired about signing him throughout the last few years. "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." Inspired by the late Nipsey Hussle, Chillinit is an artist that wants to give back to his community - his peers, his fans, his collaborators (he's often found one-upping some of his close friends and collaborators, such as Tasmanian and similarly-cult-adored rapper Wombat, on social media) - and that sets him apart.
Backed by one of music's strongest social media empires, a drive for authenticity, and a crazy work ethic, it's no longer a question of whether Chillinit will break the barriers held into place to stop this underground Sydney rap scene from breaking nationally, as it's already happening. Instead, it's a question of exactly how far he's going to take it and how much he's going to grow, and based off what we've seen, we're going to say that there's a lot to come.
Chillinit's new album, Freedom & Trust None, will be released soon. Catch him at FOMO Festival 2020, and the Perth leg of Drip World.
Follow Chillinit: FACEBOOK