A Talk with Onwuka
Onwuka is an underground rapper whose influences span from Rick James, to Nas, to Tame Impala. He has released two EPs, The Grand Chieftain and ChronWuka Classicks, and has more projects set to release this year and next.
Onwuka said: "I would describe my sound as trippy, funky, experimental, playa rap, if I were to put it into a category. The main thing I strive for in a track is writing something unique and specific that you wouldn’t normally hear – in a smooth, groovy way."
While Onwuka has been inspired by a range of artists across all genres, he’s focussed on pursuing a career in hip hop. He said: "I’ve always been into writing poetry, so hip hop is just something that immediately connected with me. I would bump all these Chamillionaire freestyles where he would jack beats and make the songs into his own. Listening to how he flipped his rhyme schemes made me look at hip hop in a lot more depth, and since then it has always been my goal to rap."
Onwuka has a new EP, Portals, releasing in the next few months. It’s a collaborative project with producer INSMNC, and the EP will be released under the name InsomniWuka. Onwuka said:
"Through the creative process of Portals, we really emphasised the idea of taking you to different worlds in our songs. For example, one track is called ‘Space Western’. The production reminded me of a space western, so I created a whole story about INSMNC and I arriving on a planet through a portal. This was a new experience for me in the way that I’m writing completely made-up stories like they’re from a cartoon."
Onwuka went on to describe the sound of the record. "For the most part, the tracks are upbeat, but still hard-hitting. In terms of rap, it’s filled with punchlines and a ton of references. The track ‘Linguistic Kick’ is about me having a rap move called the linguistic kick – Onwuka’s Kamehameha, if you will. All these songs are really fun and are just meant for you to bump back to back. It’s an honour to work with INSMNC. He’s essentially a hip hop historian with all his knowledge."
As well as Portals, Onwuka has a collaborative EP with producer Xavier releasing soon. He said: "Xavier’s production for this project is a throwback to that old school, smooth sound. Some tracks lean more into that hard East Coast sound, and some sound spacey and dreamy. I was able to use my funk influences on tracks like ‘One Time’, which are akin to love songs. While Xavier is normally only a producer, he’s dropping verses here and there on this project which has been really cool to hear."
Work on their EP began as early as March 2021. "We’re treating this process slowly. I’ll listen to the production to think of what theme I want to go with, then Xavier will add his lyrics and whatever elements he wants to the mix. The main difference between working with Xavier and INSMNC is that INSMNC and I hit each other up more often to relay ideas, which then leads to more songs. It’s been amazing to work with both of them; I’ve learned so much from these projects."
As well as EPs, Onwuka is in the process of making his next album, Digital Surfin’. He said: "It’s all based on people I’ve met online whose music I’ve dug and wanted to work with since. One track called ‘Flabbergasted’ with Neuro Shokrz will be dropping this month. I’ve already got a single out, ‘Set Fire to the Hills’ with Limnetic Villains, which is on Bandcamp but will hit everywhere next month. There’s this true G-Funk track called ‘Funk Vigilante’ by DDX.EXE, and she was nice enough to let me on the track because I really dug her sound. A big shoutout to everyone else involved too – INSMNC, LV, KwanLi Beats, Zaphod Black, Boötes and Bizarre Therapy."
Speaking on his influences, Onwuka said: "I connect rap to basketball a lot. In basketball, you can watch a player perform a move and, by yourself, do the same steps and legitimately teach yourself that same move. It’s the same with rap. I would hear Big Boi do this specific technique and I could figure out how to do it in my own way. That’s what I’m trying to do: show respect to all the cats before me and do it in my own Onwuka form."
As for bigger artists Onwuka wants to work with, he said: "I’d love to work with Big K.R.I.T. on a really hype, loud track. I feel that Tyler, the Creator and myself would pair well. I have this song ‘Secret Garden’, and Reva DeVito happened to like the cover art on Instagram, which made me discover her music. I instantly fell in love with her style, so a track with her would be spectacular."
When it comes to the future, Onwuka has lots of ideas about where to take his sound. "I want to work with a powerful songstress, with the strength of both our voices aligning together. The main draw people have with my music is my voice, yet I’d still like to write some hooks that only an experienced singer could hit perfectly. In terms of sound, I’ve recently experimented with G-Funk, so I might do a whole funk EP."
Regarding his goals for music, Onwuka said: "My overall end goal is to be known as one of the most creative rappers. Not necessarily the most accolades or icon status. I just want to be known as someone who made such specific raps that are memorable, and made people laugh or think while they were bumping it."
He said: "I would like to give my thanks to anyone who bumps my music in any setting or form of any kind. I’m doing my part to inspire people just as those before me did for me. Hip hop has helped me in so many different ways, so I’m trying to honour it accordingly."