The Break Presents: Caliph
At the age when most kids were thinking about going to college, Caliph was contemplating how to get citizenship in the States. Born in Dakar, Senegal before immigrating to New Bedford, Mass., the 28-year-old rapper grew up as an illegal immigrant. He looked to music as an avenue to scoring a major label deal, which he hoped would help push through the process of becoming a citizen. That struggle—along with how society treated immigrants—became a focal point for his music.
"Being an immigrant, everything in life was telling me 'no,' but I always had this fire in me that said 'why,'" he tells XXL. "Of course, you grow up and you learn. I seen my parents work so hard and [fight] so hard to keep us OK here. And that’s not for nothing—I know they aren’t the only ones. Things in the world are just not the way they should be."
This year, Caliph began to get some buzz in his area. “The Mood,” his collab with Boston's Jefe Replay, caught attention online and his latest single "How Do You Know" touched on Trump's aim to end DACA. His upcoming album Trespassing will expand on his socially conscious perspective.
Get to know Caliph better in the latest edition of The Break.
Hometown: New Bedford, Mass. by way of Dakar, Senegal
I grew up listening to: "I grew up listening to a lot of West African hip-hop when I was young. At the age of 4 in Africa, it's like being 14 because of responsibility and things you have to be alert about. So I was in this group with two of my friends that were way older than me. They put me onto this group called Daara J and Positive Black Soul. I actually have a cousin who was in Positive Black Soul. I moved in December 1996. Moving into the United States, the first person to catch my ear was Ma$e. I actually partially learned English faster because of Ma$e.
"When you’re a kid you think of drawings; I thought of melodies. I would never do anything with them. But as far as me seriously creating music, I started in high school. I was a battle rapper freshman year. My sophomore year when we were filling out our FAFSA, I didn't have a social security number. So I realized at that moment, its kind of a wrap for all this school stuff. The rap thing was picking up, we were dropping singles—I was in a group—and we ended up performing at our prom. We dropped a tape senior year. I tried to go to UMass and they accepted me but I couldn't go so I just dove fully into the music after that. My goal was to get a record deal and get sponsored so I can get my papers through that. Your options aren't really there."
My style’s been compared to: "The core of the sound comes in activism. I used to say I wanted to get this message across to the Chief Keef’s, I don't the need the young Lupe's to listen to me because they get it. They are already mentally there. It's like contemporary hip-hop in a sense because it's always evolving. The one word honestly is 'bounce', because I try to keep that. African music has a lot of percussions and I've been told that my bounce and the way I flow [is] like a talking drum over beats. But yeah, I think my music is bright and positive but it's not preachy."
Most people don’t know: "If people don't know me being an Immigrant, I don't look like or talk like someone not born [in the United States]. A lot of time people don't know I'm not from here. Ironically, that's the main thing, my story. And I love to cook. If I didn't do music, I would be a chef. "
My standout moment to date: "When Obeatz and I made 'Green Faces.' I had finished an album in 2012 called Heart in Mind. I was actually being very lyrical because I was hiding the fact that I was talking about being illegal. I had a year hiatus and tried to get my situation straight. Then I met Obeatz because of Jefe Replay. The first day me and Replay hung out we recorded at Obeatz house. Two or three days later, I went back to Obeatz’s house and we made 'Green Faces.' It was a big moment for us."
My goal in hip-hop is: "Just to spread love self-love. A lot of society nowadays is geared towards the things that camouflage self-love. We want these little highs and because of that, it has built a generation of people who don’t know how to love themselves. Through the music, I’m trying to show the journey of learning to accept myself and love myself regardless of what the world is telling me."
I’m going to be the next: "Voice of the people, we say that ourselves. I want my music to feel like I’m right there. I want my music to feel like I’m speaking with you, not for you. I don’t want to be a leader thing, I want it to be, 'No I’m one of y’all, the voice of the voiceless.'"
Standouts: "Tropical Spalding"
"How Do You Know"
"Life of the Party"
Jefe Replay and Caliph's "The Mood"