Chipmunk - A level headed player

Rapper Chipmunk boasts three Top 10 hits, two Mobos and a headlining tour – and he's only just taken his exams. By Emma Love

Over the past few years, Chipmunk has been living the life that most teenagers can only dream of. At 19, the young MC has already had a No 1 single, with "Oopsy Daisy"; several Top 10 hits; a platinum-selling debut album, I Am Chipmunk; won two Mobo awards, for best newcomer and for best hip-hop act; and in February, finished headlining his first sell-out UK tour. "On the first day of the tour, I had to drink a little. It was mad thinking the building was full because of me. I never thought it would all happen so quick," he says, chewing pink gum and sipping water, when we meet in a Caribbean restaurant in Camden, north London. "The London date of the tour was my high point so far. It's my home town so you never know how it's going to go down; these people can just see me in the chicken shop. They say London's a tough crowd, but London was a blast."

Now, Chipmunk (whose real name is Jahmaal Noel Fyffe) is releasing a new single, "Until You Were Gone", which features the Dutch singer Esmée Denters, and a repackaged album, with a further three songs on it. As we've come to expect from Chipmunk, these new songs continue to tell "the story of a north London kid with ambition, whether it's him rhyming about wanting to be the best of the best in "Superstar", carving his name in the history books in "History", or putting two middle fingers up to his haters in "Uh Ay". A huge Twitter and internet presence, his collaboration with Denters happened after he tweeted about her and she saw it. "I used to watch her videos in school; I've always been a fan. We tweeted, she came to London and I went to an N-Dubz show she was at with my laptop. I played her the song, she loved it and the next week we recorded it."

Chipmunk looks even younger in real life than he does in his videos, sporting a hint of a 'fro along with plenty of designer labels. In past interviews, he has said that he's named Chipmunk after the Alvin and the Chipmunks cartoon, but today he assures me that it was really just a bad nickname that stuck. "I change what I say but the truth is that I used to be short and a bit fat. Braces helped me out a lot," he says, smiling cheekily, so that I'm not totally sure whether to believe him even now.

He started rapping when he was 13 – "about ignorant, foolish stuff that wasn't relevant to my life. I was a normal school kid rapping like I was 50 Cent" – writing rhymes during lessons at Gladesmore Community School in Tottenham and putting out his own mix tapes. "I would catch the train to Uptown Records and Rhythm Division, putting my own CD in the stores. It was sale or return. I kept coming back and they were gone," he recalls.

His second mix tape, League of My Own, caught the attention of Wiley, who called him up during a maths class. "I didn't believe it at first and hung up. He took me on [Tim] Westwood's show on Radio 1 for the first time and that was the turning point for me. It was just me and Ice Kid rhyming away. That day, I was nervous and we were even arguing about who was going to go first. A couple of months later, I had over a million views on YouTube and things started getting heated," he recalls, laughing at the thought.

This is a rare admission from Chipmunk that he ever gets nervous; the rest of the time, he has absolute confidence in himself and his talent, saying, "I actually think I'm really good. When it goes back to beats and bars, I'm good for years. I've got flows for years. I can rhyme for years." At first, record labels questioned whether he was marketable, but "Chip Diddy Chip", his first single release which he put out independently, charted at number 21. "The labels were like, 'This kid's got street heat but can he sell music?' 'Chip Diddy Chip' was my blackjack. I knew what it was and what it was going to do. Then I had every label begging."

Often cited as a role model because he still finished his A-levels while making music, he says it was his childhood on a council estate that motivated him. "Growing up in a negative environment, you see the best come and go, you see people make millions illegally, you see people die, and it gives you that vision of what you want to do with yourself. If you come from where I come from, you've got to be something, man," he explains, rolling up his sleeves to show me his tattoos and pointing out one, "sacrifice" with a music double clef, which symbolises that he's giving up everything else for his music. "The other students remember when we were 14 and we used to have a Friday night hub, just MCing our lives away. They're happy one of us came through."

Talking to Chipmunk, it's clear that music really is his life. If he's not in the studio, he's recording for MTV or on the radio, popping up in a cameo to sing on Hollyoaks, or putting out new mix tapes "to exercise my vocab" (his most recent, For the Fun of It, included his version of Rihanna's "Rude Boy"). His own music taste is eclectic – the last albums he bought were Florence + the Machine, Jason Derülo, Sugababes and Cheryl Cole – and he names Kanye West as an inspiration and someone he'd love to collaborate with. "He changed hip-hop culture itself; I don't wear skinny jeans, but he does and gets away with it. I respect that," he says seriously.

As for the future, there's another tour in June, a second, very different album in the pipeline for next year, and even plans for a clothing line ("just some fly shit") at some point. He likes to play football – he used to play for QPR's youth team – and is on a bit of a health kick, going to the gym and trying to eat well, although he's struggling to stay away from those chicken shops. He'd like to act, too, making use of his drama A-level, and perhaps go to university one day.

And as for those haters, people who still doubt him even after all his success so far, understandably, he's not bothered at all. "Some people think, he's making pop songs now because he's signed, they changed him," he says, putting on a gravelly, scary-man voice to make his point. "No, bruv. I wanted to make some pop songs, so I made them. If you want to hate me, hate me; for every 10 that hate me, 10,000 love me. It's like a packet of salt on a portion of chips."

"Until You Were Gone" by Chipmunk featuring Esmée Denters is out on 19 April. The repackaged 'I Am Chipmunk' album is out on 3 May

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week