The Chip G.O.A.T Debate

The Complex UK crew—Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, James Keith, Yemi Abiade, Aaron Bishop and Minou Itseli—discuss Chip’s current position in the British rap scene.

Photo by Jahnay Tennai

Already this year, the UK has been spoilt rotten with exceptional rappers releasing exceptional projects and perhaps the most wildly eclectic of them all came from Chip. Technically a mixtape, the fascinating Snakes & Ladders is not a perfect project, but then mixtapes aren’t supposed to be—and it still stands as his best full-length yet.

What you need to consider is that 2021 Chip is on a journey. Piece by piece, the rapper’s putting his forbidden pop past behind him and getting back on track to where he’s always wanted to be. Snakes & Ladders is a response to his critics, both real and imagined. It’s also a resolute showcase of everything he can do: rap, grime, garage, and dancehall. There aren’t really any major missteps but there isn’t that indefinable something to tie it all together. The flashes of brilliance are greater in number and more frequent than any of his other projects, but he has yet to make the defining album of his career. Mind you, there are artists with more years and more albums under their belt who haven’t realised their full potential yet. Chip is, after all, only just 30 years old. We wouldn’t want him to peak this early. Would you?

To make sense of it all, we put our heads together and asked ourselves three simple questions on where Chip sits in the UK music landscape. Is he one of British rap’s GOATs? Join us as we debate below.


Has Chip’s ‘pop’ past affected his present and future?

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JP: For some, Chip’s late 2000s pop era is long forgotten, but for others, it’s something they just can’t look beyond. I’ll be the first to admit I was one of the grime purists that had to be won over after this “Oopsy Daisy” period (of course, it was the track “School Of Grime” with Jammer and D Double E that sealed the deal), but even with that, I understood grime MCs trying to get to those bags that reloads at raves wasn’t going to give them. Luckily for Chip, he became a millionaire at the age of 20 off the back of said era. Many are quick to forget when Skepta did the “Rolex Sweep” and rocked “Sunglasses At Night”, so it’s about time we did the same for Chippy and allow him to move without fear of judgement for a past that—if we’re being totally honest—many would still dream of having.

James: Only in the sense that it’s shaped who is today, and by that I mean, the adverse reactions it inspired in everyone, the backlash and the prejudices it brought out of people have all spurred him on. Also, enough time has passed since those pop hits that the young kids who were dancing to them at the school disco are now adults who look back fondly at an endearing moment in their childhood that he soundtracked. Ruminating on what he might sound like in a parallel universe where he didn’t make “Oopsy Daisy” is really a waste of everyone’s time, but it’s pretty clear that everyone piling on him for “abandoning grime” lit a fire in his belly and forced him, for the sake of his own survival, to counter with some of the finest grime (and later rap) that the UK has seen. Besides, the music-loving public is a lot more forgiving now than it was back then. If Dizzee can recover from that World Cup song with James Corden, then why can’t Chip recover from his pop era? If anything, we’ve all grown up a bit and can respect the fact that Chip banked some major money. Not everyone gets that opportunity, so why not buy a nice house and pay off mum’s mortgage? And let’s be real, Chip’s post-pop output has been just a bit more consistent than Dizzee and the rest who went down that route.

Yemi: It probably has. Although, as it’s been so long, it’s hard for me to really think why that might be. Yes, Chip went ‘pop’, but in coming back, he has paid his dues and he’s in a position to do what he wants musically. The ‘pop’ Chip and today’s Chip are not the same—he’s redeemed himself, in that respect. It’s not like he’s got Chris Brown on the phone plotting “Champion Part 2”. He’s giving shine to new UK talent regularly, from MoStack to RV to D-Block Europe, so he’s doing his bit for the scene. But then, obviously there will be some bitter fans out there that still don’t like him for it and use it against him, which I get to a degree, only because those tunes have not aged well. If you ask Chip if his past affects his present and future, you’ll get a good idea of where he’s at mentally, whether or not he’s made peace with his past. If it’s the Chip I think I know, he’ll probably say no. Regardless of his past, he’s still a legend. In terms of the music, maybe his past of making hits is what forms his artistry now, and always trying to strike that balance between more accessible stuff and the rap-rap. That might be a hangover from the super commercial days and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s not everyday rap just for the sake of it. Being ‘pop’ never affected his rapping ability, it just condensed his naturally lyrical nature. Once he left that world, he could really be him—the wordsmith that we know he is. That seems to have done his present the world of good, so let’s see if his future carries that on. 

Aaron: If you asked this question five or six years ago when he was coming back from U.S., then the answer would be yes, but now, I think everyone recognises that time of his career for what it was. He helped open doors and took the bullets to make it easier for artists now to come through. He’s evolved since those days and is still one of the fiercest MCs on a riddim (just ask Stormzy). If it has affected him in any way, it would possibly be in how much of himself he puts in his music. Maybe what Chip went through and how he had to navigate being in the spotlight at a young age, and the hate he received when people accused him of shunning grime and selling out, made him more guarded as a person. As a result, the music suffers at times as we don’t get as much insight into his life. But he’s still young so that could change on his upcoming projects.

Minou: What I wanna know is: why isn’t Wiley, Dizzee and Skepta given the same energy? They all did exactly the same thing, leaving their grime roots for pop for a considerable amount of time. Chip’s pop past hasn’t affected his present—hence why he’s still relevant—but many would argue this move may have cost him his street credibility. Obviously, coming from the grime scene, it was a risky move going into this territory (and so young as well), but Chip has come out the other side swinging. 2015’s Rap vs Grime, 2017’s League Of My Own II and 2018’s Ten10 proved Chip hadn’t missed a step when it comes to the bars, and the same goes for his latest drop Snakes & Ladders. Even if you didn’t like the sound, you still can’t name one bad Chip verse. 

Should he lock in with one producer to create the classic album that’s missing from his discography?

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JP: I think we should normalise artists locking in with one producer for whole projects, to be honest. The sonic cohesion would be flawless—allowing the producer to paint a more detailed picture with the artist—and I think this could do Chip a world of good. While Snakes & Ladders was a solid effort, it was all over the place in terms of sonic cohesion—which I guess is expected with mixtapes, but sometimes you just want things to flow a little smoother. Personally, I’d like to see Lil Silva and Sampha co-produce the next album. How they made Chip sound on 2018’s “Darth Vader” is what someone on his level deserves—very much experimental, with its pounding keys and glitchy synths, the overall musicality in that song was almost spiritual and allowed his bars to hit the hardest I’d heard them do in a while. What I’ve come to know of Chip over the years is that he puts a great deal of respect and value on the producers he works with, which comes across in his output. Despite the order he places songs on projects, when you’re listening to that track, in that moment, it’s Chip and producer in unison.

James: Probably, but the same could be said of a lot of artists. We’ve seen it work incredibly well in recent years. J Hus & JAE5, Fredo & Dave, Stormzy & Fraser T. Smith… they all go to show what a close creative relationship can yield. It doesn’t even need to be one person—a small, tight-knit team all working towards the same vision would be just as effective. Chip absolutely has that classic album in him, he just needs to find that creative partnership. While Snakes & Ladders lacked a continuous thread running through it all, it offered a lot of clues about what such an album could sound like. FaNaTiX, Cardo, Dready and Parker Ighile all provided standout moments on the tape, but in with the dark street rap was Auto-Tuned trap, dancehall and pop. Had he stuck with just one or two of those collaborators, we’d be looking at a very different project. However, that’s what this is: a mixtape. By their very nature, mixtapes are always intended to be a little rougher, like snapshots of a moment in time for the artist. So, if Chip does want to sit down and create that career-defining classic, he isn’t short of options. Still, like we said, Chip is still young and Snakes & Ladders is still a proud moment in his career. If he wants to keep experimenting, toying with sounds on looser projects like this, then I am happy to see what comes out of it.

Yemi: It’s not essential but it wouldn’t hurt. Having one producer could give Chip a new kind of structure when building an album, and could unlock a new level from him artistically. There are some producers out there he could work with that would make for some amazing music—I can think of Sir Spyro, The FaNaTiX, maybe even M1OnTheBeat if he’s feeling drilly. The thought of a Chip album produced solely by Sir Spyro, that would shake the scene. From a fan’s point of view, it would be refreshing to see something new from Chip in that respect. But to be honest, he needs to want it a little bit more if he’s going to deliver that classic LP. You can have the one producer but the artist themselves needs to put in the work. With his lyrical prowess, Chip is capable of delivering this, but as Snakes & Ladders has shown, he’s still happy experimenting with different genres and appeasing all kinds of listeners. I guess he’s not trying to leave any of his fans behind and I rate that in a way, trying to seek balance at all times. But it’s not always conducive to a truly amazing body of work. This isn’t to say he should try to force making a classic, because that won’t work, but he does need to tap into something special in his arsenal to pull it off. If working with one producer will do that, then I welcome it.

Aaron: Should he? Probably. Will he? I doubt it. Over the years, Chip has seemingly developed a ‘them vs us’ mentality. Judging by his musical output, I don’t know if he has anyone in his team that pushes him outside of his comfort zone, otherwise we would have had that classic album already. I Am Chipmunk is considered a classic in some people’s eyes, but it is by no means a magnum opus or showcases who Chip is as a complete artist or the man he has grown up to be. Chipmunk walks the line between the old and new gens of the UK rhyme circuit. As one of the last of the old school, he is old enough to have experienced and earned his stripes in the original DIY days of grime through clashing and pirate radio sets, but is still young enough to have been able to naturally embrace the evolving landscape of UK music at the time of his come-up. In the words of J. Cole (who he once freestyled with), he is a “middle child” of the scene and that gives him a unique perspective which he could still tap into a bit further. We should have had a layered, introspective project from him a long time ago that still harnesses his versatility. Instead, we get those moments of reflection and vulnerability in fits and bursts. Chip could probably take some notes from Fredo’s latest work.

Minou: At the end of the day, no matter what, Chip always proves himself. He comes from grime, a scene which turns the best of the best into tempo specialists, and Chip can take on pretty much any beat. But I do think he’s lacking a fully cohesive body of work in terms of sonics. He’s worked with the best of them, from Maniac to Sampha, and while he thrives on versatility, what he needs to do now is hone in on one concept, and pull back another layer of himself that we saw glimpses of on his recent Snakes & Ladders project. We all know he can give any UK rapper a run for their money when it comes to straight bars, but the fans want that classic and I think this would be a great way to go about it.

Does Chip get the respect he deserves for what he’s done in UK music?

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JP: In my circles, in and outside of the industry, everyone holds Chip up as one of this country’s GOATs (which is what he is). From the day he entered the game at 16 with “Who Are You?”, we knew we had a future great on our hands, and he has lived up to that. Are the streets pumping Chip heavy on the block, in their whips, like they would, say, a J Hus? I doubt it. Chip regularly reminds us that he’s never done “road”, and while it’s not something one should promote, this style of rap is where it’s at currently and perhaps the reason why some of the kids don’t consider him to be a GOAT like us older lot who have seen his journey and understand his position. Chip’s recent war season with Stormzy definitely opened him up to a younger audience—now on their radars where he probably wasn’t so much before. But everyone over the age of 25, or those of us who grew up on grime and remember him barring alongside Ghetts and Griminal on F*ck Radio, certainly view Chip as one of the best to ever do it.

James: All things considered, I’d say so. His Bugzy and Yungen sends five years back went a long way to winning the grime scene over again and by the time he’d finished with Bugzy, he was being hailed as a hero. He’ll always have his detractors (who doesn’t?), but even his most ardent critics would stop short of calling him untalented by any stretch. However, for whatever reason, I doubt he’d ever see it that way. Chip seems adamant that no one respects him and that belief has given us some thrilling moments of defiance, but the fact is the vast majority of people would back him in most clashes—although it is worth remembering that all of his beefs in the past few years have been fought from the studio and not on stage in the heat of the moment armed with nothing but wits and off-the-cuff barbs. Right now, even if we weren’t in lockdown, the appetite for on-stage clashes isn’t what it was a few years ago. But if it were, and Chip did take on a top-tier MC at LOTM or what have you, that would put an end to this debate.

Yemi: Depends on what exactly the respect is for. For his rhyming abilities, he definitely does. Chip, lyrically, is one of the best the UK has ever seen and that will never change. I think the ‘pop’ thing might eliminate him from some people’s GOAT conversations and, in the grand scheme of things, it’s something I’m sure people are still thinking, ‘Why did he have to do that?’ Then there’s the ‘classic album’ debate; if he had one, he would definitely be upper echelon artistically when we’re talking about UK greats. With that status comes respect. Also, maybe this is just my opinion creeping in, but Chip doesn’t strike me as the humblest guy. He knows how good he is and isn’t afraid to tell us. And not even in a braggy way that pretty much all rappers do. Maybe this rubs people up the wrong way? It might sound like a reach, but these are the little things and the fine margins we’re dealing with when we’re talking about respect. But where I think he commands a lot of respect is in the battlefield, when he’s clashing other MCs. Take this thing with Stormzy (we’re still waiting for him to respond): I can only speak for myself when I say I was wary of him immediately replying to Chip, because Chip is a warlord. He penned the rules of modern warfare and for that, he can’t be taken lightly. It also says a lot that no matter who he clashes, the scene is watching. Ultimately, we’re all going to remember Chip for what he’s given the scene and all the moments he’s created. That’s the kind of respect he deserves.

Aaron: He’s only recently turned 30 but, to me, Chip has long-since reached legendary status as one of the most prolific spitters this country has ever produced. I repeat: he just turned 30. Over the course of 15 years, he’s given us five albums, eleven mixtapes and five EPs, sold millions of records, rubbed shoulders with superstars and rap royalty on both sides of the Atlantic, created historic moments, memorable features and inspired a whole generation of artists who admit it publicly (including the King Of Drill). Whether you love him or hate him, UK music as a whole is all the better for having him. You’d also be hard-pressed to find an artist that has the versatility that Chip does and is still respected as one of the best lyrically, bar for bar. Chip is a once in a generation artist whose legacy as one of the best to ever grace a microphone in this country is solidified. An undisputed classic album would be a cherry on top of the cake, and for that to be the case says a lot about him and the achievements in his career. The best part is, he’s still got time.  

Minou: Jahmaal “Chip” Fyffe has achieved a lot in his career, but the praise we give him can come across like a backhanded compliment because it’s usually followed by “ahh, it’s a shame he doesn’t have a classic album” or “he would’ve been one of the best if he never went pop”, which is unfair as his impact shouldn’t be overshadowed by a few poor musical decisions. The rapper continues to redeem himself by reminding the masses of his greatness via his pen game and I, for one, am excited to see him grow even further as one of the UK’s finest.

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