The evolution of the DMV’s music scene over the last two decades is something to behold. The scene is no longer dominated by punk kids or go-go, though stalwarts from both are holding court. Soul, hip-hop, classical and crossover musicians are on the rise, ushering in the future and putting D.C. on the map. Read on for five behind-the-scenes spotlights of our top local picks, and 18 DMV musicians you’ve got to know.
The Maryland-born Chini [Editor’s Note: pronounced Cheney], self-proclaimed as the “Pam Grier of Hip-Hop” after America’s first no-nonsense female action star, is a ball of badass energy. She’s also a musical artist displaced in time.
A modern-day child of the ‘70s, Chini credits the entire decade — with a hint of the ‘60s — for the foundation of her persona.
“I feel like I should have been born in that era,” Chini proclaims. “That’s my image.”
Chini is also adept at flipping a stylistic switch at a moment’s notice. The stage lights and music awaken another side of her, an alter ego manifested before my eyes during our interview. A more appropriate descriptor of Chini is “Jekyll and Hyde performer,” in the most extreme and captivating sense.
“Soundwise, I’m a hip-hop savage,” Chini decrees, with an explosive shift in tone. “When I go on stage, I’m like a butterfly. And then the beat comes on and I break out in this shit. It catches you off guard.”
Marvin Gaye inspires her background vocals, which she overlays with notes of Biggie, Lil’ Kim and New York ‘90s hip-hop. She stirs nostalgia for the legendary musical influences who set the stage for current day African-American artists across a wave of genres.
It’s clear Chini is an old soul and a rebel. The first song she ever memorized was Dorothy Dandridge’s “I’ve Got Rhythm” — and she makes it clear she wants nothing to do with the hits proliferated on today’s airwaves.
“I don’t like today’s music,” Chini says hesitantly before going off the proverbial rails. “I was trying to refrain from saying that, but f–k it.”
She then put her best British accent to use, saying, “It does not sound appeasing to the ear. It’s the same shit, every song.”
Although, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts-educated artist offers some deep wisdom in response to my prodding on how D.C.’s music scene can shed the “what’s on trend” vibe that she denounces.
“I think people can: one, commit to their own sound,” she says, “and two, [D.C. can] offer more supportive spaces to make people comfortable with being original.”
None of this honesty is surprising once you spend more than five minutes with Chini. She’s nothing, if not authentic, fearless and true to herself as an artist and individual.
“When you get Chini, you gon’ get 100%.”
For the full lineup of other local artists that should be on your radar, go here.
Follow Chini on Instagram @chinigettinsaucy.
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