Detroit native Chinedum (CK) Umachi hadn’t written a single song until April of this year. Due to COVID-19, he had extra time to shift gears to music production and create his EP “Quartet” after his friends encouraged him to take on a new creative challenge.
The 30-year-old attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an undergraduate student and spent three years in Louisiana and five years in the Bay Area. Growing up, he listened to a wide spectrum of music genres. Umachi’s mother listened to 1960s or 1970s music, while his dad vibed to smooth jazz. The artist also grew up learning hip hop and R&B.
Umachi said that his current music style is a “chill kind of rap, closely resembling lo-fi.” He has been experimenting with other musical genres and worked on a couple of songs with singers, a drummer, a producer and a pianist on campus.
Umachi’s songwriting process is mostly comprised of freestyling. He searches for a diverse set of instrumentals on YouTube for inspiration and has plenty of voice recordings saved on his phone.
After Umachi finished his 14-track album “Quarantine and Chill” on his 30th birthday, he immediately came up with the song “Wrong Way on a One Way” for his latest project “Quartet.” A week later, he came up with two choruses for “Ctrl C” and “Shaq.” Lastly, Melanie Okuneye, who worked at Goldman Sachs with Umachi’s younger brother, reached out to him for the fourth track “Possibilities.” Umachi never had a plan to do another project; he started working on it spontaneously.
The artist called his EP “Quartet” because each of the tracks stood on its own feet. The first track “Ctrl C” is about an imagined battle between him and an impostor.
“I am basically trying to claim that I am the original,” he said.
In Umachi’s second track “Shaq,” the artist puts himself in NBA legend’s shoes and compares his experience at Stanford to achieving goals with hard work and determination. Their parallel lives are illustrated on the album art in which Umachi wears a Lakers jersey with the label “GSB ’22.”
His third song “Wrong Way on a One Way” covers the concept of openly accepting uncertainty.
“We all end up in a path that is not ideal, but we persevere into grinding, re-navigating and recalibrating to the right path,” Umachi said.
The artist’s last track “Possibilities” features Okuneye.
“Melanie wanted to reach out, and by that time, I had three songs that I started writing already. She called and asked whether I had ever written for a female vocalist. I said ‘no, but I’d love to experiment.’ I sent the chorus instrumental and she recorded her vocals. We both loved it at the end and decided to put it on my EP,” Umachi said.
The artist said that the track was about being open to possibilities in life and not limiting oneself from grasping countless opportunities.
“A lot of people have many limitations, but in general, we impose those limitations [on ourselves] because that’s how society dictates us to live,” he said.
After hearing the final version of the EP, Umachi played it for a few people and said he received very heartfelt feedback.
“I’m not an outgoing person, so it felt really good. It would have been hard for me to freestyle to people last year compared to the present. It’s kind of me putting myself out there. The EP is very personal,” he said.
Umachi didn’t come up with a structure for “Quartet” ahead of time and trusted his intuition on what made sense instead. He said that “Wrong Way on a One Way” and “Possibilities” were more introspective, while “Ctrl C” and “Shaq” were more atmospheric and upbeat. There was no specific image that stood out in the creative process, but Umachi enjoyed each track individually and in a cohesive unit.
Umachi revealed that he is not chasing a professional career in music and preferred to work behind the scenes. His dream job would be to ghostwrite for rappers who desire to be in the limelight.
In addition, the artist recalled watching a live performance of FKJ standing on a platform surrounded by water in Bolivia on YouTube. He said that the group of musicians he is working with on campus are brainstorming about “crazy visuals on a cool venue with spectacular imagery.”
“I don’t see myself creating music videos or talking on radio stations. If we hang out, I’ll drop a verse to you, but I will probably be continuing to write songs and produce music in the future,” he mentioned.
Umachi said that it’s important for artists to put themselves out there.
“It’s tough because people do not want to be honest with you. Show music to people who you trust and get honest feedback,” he said.
“Continue trying to find your sound,” Umachi concluded. “For me, it just kind of came. The hardest part would be finding the willingness to try the whole experience.”
Contact Ron Rocky Coloma at rcoloma ‘at’ stanford.edu.