There’s only one Chino Cappin’. The second oldest of six siblings, Chino’s childhood was derailed by distractions. He aspired to be a veterinarian before a harsh reality set in, robbing him of the ambition he once possessed. “There have been times when I ain’t eat just so that my lil’ brother and sister could,” he shares. “I done seen a lot of shit and I done did a lot of shit, too.” Admittedly, Chino was tied to the streets, doing anything he could (good and bad) in order to survive.
For Chino, music is a means of catharsis. The relief that comes with penning his thoughts in a song outweighs the burden of micromanaging his pain. Whenever Chino’s problems weighed heavily on his mind, rap was used as a means to cope with stress. At 16-years-old, he dropped out of high school. Soon after, Chino was challenged with finding a legitimate source of income. “A n***a dropped out at 16 but ain’t nobody hiring a 16-year-old dropout…,” he says. “… so it’s coming down to me having to go take from people that I know working hard for it.”
Through struggle, Chino has developed a sense of self. Pain empowers him to grow, revisiting the many shades of trauma that have contributed to his reticent, cold-hearted temperament. If you listen closely, you can hear the nuance in his voice, backed by pensive mentions and melodic riffs.
With his latest album, Ladders, the Fort Valley rapper chronicles the ups and downs of everyday life. Chino Cappin has been to hell and back. And yet, he’s making strides to right his wrongs in an effort to become a better example for his daughter. “If it’s anybody I’m doing this shit for, it’s my lil’ girl.”
Talk to me about life in Fort Valley, Georgia. What was it like growing up?
Me and my family weren’t the richest. My mama a single parent, got six kids. I’m the second oldest. It’s a lot of things that we went through, a lot of things we had to see at a young age. I had to do a lot of things at a young age, too. I can’t complain ‘cause someone was probably going through worse than what I was. A nigga had to get out there and do a bunch of other shit a nigga ain’t see himself doing forreal, forreal.
What did you aspire to be as a kid or was a career in rap always the end goal?
I wanted to be a veterinarian [laughs]. I just wanted to be around animals. I was fascinated with animals, not even on no other shit.
I read that you would log journal entries about what was happening in your everyday life. Looking back, do you feel more equipped as an artist now that you’ve transitioned into this creative space?
I mean really, I was just preparing myself. I probably was better back then but I’m still hard now. When I was doing that, I ain’t know how to cope. I’d go smoke some weed or pop a xan or whatever, or I’d sit down and just write. I ain’t write no “dear diary,” I’m really writing songs about what I’m going through, what I’m seeing. I’d say me doing that, during that time when I was younger, it fasho got me better.
What were you coping with exactly?
Like I was saying, my mama a single parent with six kids. She had to work two or three jobs to take care of us. There’ve been times when I ain’t eat just so that my lil’ brother and sister could. It’s been times where I’m waking up in the morning and my cousin down the street on the porch, dead. I done seen a lot of shit and I done did a lot of shit, too. Me being so young, I ain’t just going to talk to nobody forreal ‘cause mufuckas don’t really be caring about what a nigga have to say so I’ma sit down and go write it in a song. I know they listen then, they love when I sing so I know they gon’ listen to that. I did a lot of shit that I ain’t proud of, either. A nigga know it ain’t right but I had to survive. A nigga dropped out at 16 but ain’t nobody hiring a 16-year-old dropout, so it’s coming down to me having to go take from people that I know working hard for it. I know it ain’t the right thing to do, they got kids and allat, but I’m a kid myself. It came to a point where I told my mama, anything she thinking about buying me, don’t buy that shit: give it to my lil’ brother and nem ‘cause they still in school. Whatever you plan on doing for me, just do it for them.
Your music touches on life through an introspective lens, so much so that the subject matter is often deeply personal. How does Chino Cappin’ identify with pain?
It make me feel strong. I got “pain” tatted on my face. I done been through a lot. I grew up off of pain. Not even on no street shit. I done grew up not knowing who my father is. I done been hurt by mufuckas I really got love for, and I’m thinking they love me. I am pain.
Would you say that pain made you into the man you are today?
My struggle made me into the man I am today. Everything I been through, that’s what made me who I am. Pain fasho played a part in my struggle, everything that I’ve been through: the good and bad.
Stylistically, your verses intertwine Hip-hop and R&B in a way that allows the two genres to coexist. Do you feel more at ease when you’re rapping or singing?
It don’t matter what I’m doing, whether I’m rapping or singing, I’m going to express myself. It’s about the beat, forreal. I’m very expressive. I’m sentimental, too. If it’s some shit I’m going through or some shit I’m feeling, I’ma put it out there. It’s about whatever the beat makes me feel. If the beat make me feel broken down, then I’ma come broken down, rapping or singing. If the beat make me feel happy, I’ma come rapping or singing happy.
Do you feel drained with being so emotionally invested in your creative process?
Of course I get tired, but drained? Nah. Ion feel as if it’s draining me. This all I got.
Melodies and vocal runs are a big part of your style. How receptive are you to developing yourself as a traditional singer?
Yeah, fasho. I’ma singer regardless. I used to sing in the choir at church. I just do me. I don’t focus on if I’ma be a singer or rapper. I just make music, forreal.
With that being said, have you ever considered crossing over into Gospel Rap?
Man, it’s so crazy, my grandma is a Christian so she don’t like to listen to my music. I was telling her that I’ma make a Gospel tape just for her, it’s gon’ be like six songs. Just for her, though. I wasn’t thinking about letting the world hear it, forreal. It’d be just something for her to play.
With your new album, Ladders, are you attempting to climb your way out of a certain situation? What’s the narrative behind this project?
On a ladder, you can go up and down. Ladders really just represent the ups and downs. I’m pretty sure everyone tryna go up, but without the downs it ain’t no ups. It represents the ups and downs that we go through in life, feel me. When it’s bad, I can’t just be like fuck it, I’m done with music. ‘Cause when that pressure on you and your back against the wall, that’s when you know who really made for this shit. When it’s bad, I ain’t tweaking, I’ma still come in here and make music. Sometimes, you can go up, but it’s bullshit that come with the ups. You just gotta balance it and know what you’re doing.
What makes you want to explore that gray area of success, embracing the uncertainty of what lies ahead?
First, my team. My team believe in me. My team make so confident. And then, I got a lil’ girl, so we either doing this shit or we not. Even if we flop, I’ma do it again. At least we know how far we can get with this shit. You’ll never know if you don’t do the shit. There’s only one of me: I’m the only Chino Cappin’. I got my own sound, created my own wave. I’m really only worried about self. Ion worry about what nobody else doing, forreal. It’s a bigger picture.
How has fatherhood influenced you?
It means a lot [laughs]. Your perspective on life and how the world works changes. I can’t go out and just do some stupid ass shit ‘cause it’s gon’ reflect on my lil’ girl future. My lil’ girl the only person that I’ll go out the way for, step out of my comfort zone. Ion know, it’s crazy. Ion even like to speak on my lil’ girl just because of situations and shit that I go through. My lil’ girl mean the world to me. If it’s anybody I’m doing this shit for, it’s my lil’ girl. This shit don’t matter ‘bout me or none of that. This shit really for her. I love it, though.
Is music a means of catharsis for you? It seems like you find comfort in penning your thoughts in a song.
I’ll say yeah, but then again it ain’t. Some people only care about the music. Some people ain’t gon’ grab onto it and be like okay, I can tell he going through some shit, he been through something, or he really hurt. I’m in the studio right now. I’ll get up here and express how I feel but I just know this is what it is. This is what I gotta do, feel me. This what the people want but Ion feel like mufuckas be understanding a nigga really been hurt. I really ain’t tryna figure out how to love or Ion really care too much for that ‘cause all the shit I done been through, mufuckas can’t go back and solve shit. It’s over with, I already done been through it. I really be thinking folks overlook that shit. I express myself on them beats ‘cause I know other people scared to express themselves. Other people don’t know how to express themselves. A lot of my songs really mean something to me.
Is it fair to say that you’re a voice for the voiceless, for people who can’t express themselves?
I’m the voice for more than just that group. A lot of people don’t know how to express themselves ‘cause they ain’t never see they mama and daddy sit down and talk shit out, or they ain’t never see certain shit in life. I’m the voice for a lot of shit, it just takes time to reveal it.
What song do you consider to be the soundtrack to your life at this moment?
It would be “Love You Better,” or “Feelings.” “Feelings” is about somebody: it’s my real feelings. It’s too real. “Love You Better,” that’s some real shit. That’s the shit I’m feeling and going through right now. Ion know, it’s just different. But I feel like “Love You Better,” fasho.