I came across Chubby Chubbsta, citizen name Jodie, a few months ago whilst doing a detour on my supermarket shopping. It’s just as well I put my bags and bling before my five a day fruit and veg, because it meant my detour took me to the top of Briggate where Jodie was rapping.
Walking in the opposite direction, I was literally stopped in my tracks by the music, the rapping and the 90’s vibe. Something was activated within me. Something very familiar, lost and found. It caused me to turn and slightly quiver, but my shopping mission was a stronghold and whoever it is, is uphill and I ain’t feeling the climb today. I headed off, then it was if my DNA took over; turned me back and took me up the hill.
I just caught the last couple few verses of her rap and after clapping like a seal just who had been given a fish, she said she has one I’d really like about rubbish managers. Oh well, that was it. An anthem practically! Jodie’s lyrics are so on point in this rap with facts, humour, wit and even wisdom.
I spent the rest of the day (and days and weeks after) telling everybody all about this amazing female rapper busking in town who looks so chilled and regular but when she raps, her lyrics just blow you away! After watching some of Jodie’s videos online, I knew she was something significant and that I have to share this.
So here we are. An interview/liming session with Chubby Chubbsta and DJ Blendz.
Fe: Where are you guys from?
Jodie: Well, I’m from Leeds, Joe…?
Joe: I’m from Sheffield, originally.
Jodie: Joe now lives in Leeds.
Fe: How did you meet and was it music that brought you together?
Jodie: We just met online and we just started talking and met up. Joe didn’t even know that I rapped. Well, it wasn’t even rapping, I just wrote a few songs a year before and I showed him these really whack raps and I was cringing and he went out and bought me a rhyming dictionary and said there is something in this. The instrumentals suck and you need to rap in your own accent, because I was rapping in cockney and American and all sorts. From there, he introduced me to some UK Hip Hop so I could hear people rapping in their own accents and it just went from there and we started making music. We got Joe’s dad onboard with the harmonica…
Fe: Yeah, I want to talk about Joe’s dad later on. Where does your love of Hip Hop come from?
Joe: I don’t know really. I’ve always been into music. My dad is into blues and jazz and stuff like that. I think it was just a natural evolution from that maybe; I don’t know.
Jodie: When did you get your first decks? How old were you?
Jodie: Yeah, so a young teenager then. I started out in punk, so I used to go to punk gigs and stuff like that. I met a guy who was an old skool punk, he was twice my age but he got me into punk and I kind of got into a band where I was the drummer, a really bad drummer but I could drum. I couldn’t do any longevity but I could do it. (We all laugh) So, I met Joe who introduced me to this whole world of Hip Hop and I didn’t even have a clue what Hip Hop was. Four years later…. At first Joe was quite shocked and was saying to his dad, where did she get this from? Is this legitimate? Because we’d just got together as well. Is she just trying to impress me? Because I just started writing off the bat, you know verse-hook-verse-hook and all of that and it just came from there. I’ve always had that kind of brain. I’ve always loved words, I’ve always love literature. When I went to college I was studying Greek mythology and English literature and all that. Words are beautiful. Words have got a lot of power behind them.
Fe: You guys have a very 90’s vibe, which I absolutely love. Where does that 90’s Hip Hop passion come from?
Joe: It’s just my age. It’s just the music that was around when I was a teenager and stuff. So that’s kind of what I’m into.
Jodie: …and it was the best!
Fe: Absolutely totally right!
Jodie: I don’t even know what Hip Hop is nowadays; what they class as Hip Hop. What do you call it, Joe? Hi hats Hip Hop?
Joe: Yeah hi hats init.
Jodie: Yeah, because there’s no beat, it’s just (makes a tinny, cymbal sound). That’s all you hear!
Fe: I don’t even want to talk about the fall of Hip-Hop. Depressing and will take a whole other article!
Jodie: I couldn’t even tell you any modern day Hip-Hop artists. I really couldn’t. What gets me is you’ve got all of this repetition. It’s just a couple of lines and repetition throughout. To me that’s not what Hip-Hop is. You got to have a whole essay pretty much, just to do one song. You’ve got to really fill it and tell a story. You can’t do that with the same lines.
Joe: The individuality has gone as well. Everybody is just trying to be the same. Back in the day, the original they were all different and every single guy had their own different style and I think that’s important. You should be yourself.
Jodie: …and it’s kind of the same rhythm as well. (Makes a dead drill rhythmic noise).
Fe: It’s like a mind control rhythm.
Jodie: Yeah, and I think everyone is expected to conform, because when I’m out there on the street and if I pass the mic to someone, some youth; they’ll just do the exact same pattern and it’s very simplified. No sort of pitch control, nothing that tells a story or anything and to me this doesn’t really work. It’s not just your word, it’s how you’re saying it. You know, doing a bit of word play and stuff like that, but not following the same generic thing, song after song. Some of the artists out there now, it sounds like the same song 20 minutes later.
Fe: So true!
Jodie: …and it’s the same music as well. All the instrumentals are just the same.
Fe: Exactly! It’s a joke. So, who are your favourite 90’s Hip Hop artists?
Joe: Erm…? I’ve got loads! Public Enemy…Wu Tang Clan… Kool Keith…
Jodie: See, I’d say Xzibit and Scarface, because the Xzibit album the Paparazzi beat was one of the first songs that I did and that album… you see, the thing is with me – the way I’ve been introduced to Hip-Hop is probably quite different from other people, because I’ve got a DJ. So, Joe doesn’t just play an album, he’ll play a set of the best songs in the set. I’ve learned Hip-Hop through the best songs in the set and I sometimes couldn’t tell you the names of the artists, who this artist is, who that artist is because I’m just hearing it. I’m vibing off it and I can’t just catch up over 20 years of Hip-Hop overnight. It’s just not going to happen, but I don’t need to because I’ve got my partner in crime here. He’s got the knowledge, so we work really well together.
I’m really getting into IAM at the moment. It’s French Hip-Hop. They’ve been going since the 90’s haven’t they Joe? Joe blew my mind when he introduced me to French Hip-Hop. I didn’t even know French Hip-Hop existed. One song by Naughty By Nature changed the game for me. That was the song ‘The Joker’. The rapper Treach and his wordplay on that just blew my mind.
Have you ever watched the documentary called The Art of Rap?
Fe: I don’t think so. Tell me more.
Joe: Ice T directed it. Basically, what he does is he just goes through his ‘phone and rings all his mates up and goes round their house and has a chat, but I think he got the better interviews because they’re his mates and it was all quite in-depth chats. It’s about the art as well. There’s no bits where they’re talking about having to justify their lyrics…blah, blah. It’s just about the art. What they are doing and how they put the words together.
Jodie: … but they break it down. So for me, starting out watching this, it taught me what all of these artists were doing and there was one guy who put 16 dots on a page on a sheet of paper and that would be his verse and that would fill it. So, he’d have his dots there ready. Then there was another guy who has to have his special desk and his special pencil and all that sort of stuff, but they just explained how they wrote their songs. So for me, it was massive, because I hadn’t learned that from anywhere else. There’s isn’t an A to Z guide of how to write lyrics; you’ve got to find your own ground, but when you listen to all these artists on how they did it, it was a massive inspiration for me. I went away after that and I started writing some complicated rhyming. It was really educational and I definitely recommend The Art of Rap.
Fe: What type of other musical influences do you have, as I know samples come from all the decades and genres of music? Non Hip-Hop influences are important to be able to find interesting and fresh beats, right?
Joe: My Dad’s musical influences have influenced mine. He’s got all sorts of stuff.
Jodie: What was that vinyl, bluesy album of your dad’s we took some samples off? It had horns on it. The something band….?
Joe: Oh, The Grahame Bond Organisation!
Jodie: Then there was The Bongos…
Joe: The incredible Bongo Band!
Jodie: When I was learning fruity loops, he’s got nursery rhymes and all sorts from when he was a kid, but we were taking all of the noises and samples off of that. Then I started getting some punk stuff. I got a Black Sabbath vinyl from a charity shop the other day, just to see if there were little noises I can take off it. We’re trying to do sample based beats and that’s sort of the next phase that we are into now. I’ve got about 30 to 40 songs, but they are all to other people’s instrumentals. That’s the cross over. We bought Tina Turner. I saw her live in Wembley when I was eleven, in London and that was a massive influence; but that’s from my mum. She loves Tracey Chapman, even Simon and Garfunkel and all of those old noises and stuff. They just wrote real songs . Michael Jackson was probably my first massive influence for most people our age. Most people our age were MJ fanatics!
Joe: Yeah, Michael Jackson! I was big on Michael Jackson as a kid as well.
Fe: Me, too! May he rest in peace.
Jodie: Joe’s like the ‘Off The Wall’ and ‘Bad’ years…
Joe: Off The Wall, Bad AND Thriller years!
Jodie: Yeah and I’m like ‘Dangerous’ and ‘History’ years because he’s three and half years older than me. So he’s earlier Jackson and I’m later Jackson and Michael Jackson was a massive Hip-Hop guy. Some of the beat boxing he did on some of his albums are amazing.
Fe: I think a lot of people wouldn’t know Michael Jackson for beat boxing!
Jodie: There’s clips on You Tube where he’s beat boxing and it’s like, jeez! He knew everything. You couldn’t pick just one individual thing about his talent. He was good at everything. Everything he put his mind to he was just amazing at it. He was probably the biggest influence for me, Michael Jackson.
I used to go to the local punk gigs, with all the local punk artists and I’ve seen The Buzzcocks, Wreckless Eric, he was an acoustic punk guy; some really cool groups; but it’s all the same. I was speaking to Joe and it’s all the same, his Hip-Hop youth and my punk youth, it’s all the same kind of anti-establishment. It doesn’t quite fit sometimes. Like with punk… can you play a base? No. We’ll learn. Can you do this? No. We’ll learn. With Hip-Hop, we don’t have all of these instruments, but we’ll take this record player and we’ll make this out of it. It all just grows from nothing. Also, it’s the underdog. Nobody expects these guys to succeed. They’re in the ghettoes. Punks, they look like tramps with safety pins holding their trousers together, stuff like that – but they’re really intelligent, real genuine people who just created something and they were hated. They were hated by the formal people and the pop industry.
Joe: I think that was intentional though, wasn’t it?
Jodie: Yeah, exactly but that was because they were already hated anyway I think. They’d already been put down. The Sex Pistols had a number one with ‘God Save The Queen’ and it’s a blank in The Guinness Book of Records. Well, that just makes you infamous, doesn’t it? It had the opposite effect.
Fe: Poetic justice is what we call that. Joe, your dad is in the video of ‘Never Gonna Get Me Down’, which makes him incredibly cool in my opinion. How did you manage to wangle him into doing your video? Was he up for it?
Joe: Me and my dad have worked together on some things previously, just to see what it would sound like just to mess about and have a laugh. Then I met Jodie and played him some of her stuff. Me and my dad were struggling with the music, because he plays harmonica and I scratch, which is kind of limited. You can only take it so far so when we met Jodie, he was like – well, that works.
Jodie: Yeah, I remember the first time I ever met him. I was really nervous and we just had a jam. Music relaxes you. He’s vibing on his harmonica. I’m spitting some lyrics, Joe is on the decks. Then his Mrs came down and she’s bouncing on the chair. This is the first time I’ve ever met this dude. What a great introduction! And it worked! It was so incredible, like we’ve been doing it for years. You know when you just get together and start making some noise and then you get really good really quick. Sue, John’s Mrs, says she can’t believe you’ve all just met and done this. It sounds like you’ve been working together for a long time. It was just natural. Joe said to me, when I first started – you naturally know when to come in. You know where the beat drops. You can feel it, can’t you? It’s either in you or it’s not. If you’ve got rhythm and you can find a bit of music from any sound, you can create something.
Fe: That’s beautiful. Is John going to be appearing in any more videos?
Joe: We’re trying to get him down, yeah.
Jodie: Yep, but with COVID and his age, he’s had to pretty much stay in the house. We’re all desperate to get together. We’re hoping in the next month or two to get John down and get back up the attic. We sent him a rough version of a mix tape. I’ve got a mic tape out called ‘The Chronicles of Chubby Chubbsta Volume 1′ and we’ve done the rough version of volume 2 now, but without his harmonica. So we sent the rough copy for him to listen to for him to choose which tracks he can add his harmonica to. You can’t put harmonica in every track; it has to work. The first chronicles, we all just rocked up. He hadn’t heard any of the songs before and did it and it just worked. This time he gets a chance to practice.
I mean, I don’t know what a good harmonica player and a bad harmonica player sounds like…
Joe: Neither do I to be honest!
Joe: …he just sounds so good and because he’s so good at it, he could play a little noise and it sounds so good.
Fe: You can feel the music is coming out of his soul and that’s why he sounds so good.
Jodie: Yeah. He’s been playing for a long time as well.
Fe: Who had the idea to go busking?
Jodie: Joe thinks it was his idea and and I think it was my idea!
Joe: I think I came out with it, but not serious. I was joking, but you like actually, let’s do that and the next thing we knew…
Jodie: I’m really impulsive, so if I get an idea in my head, we have to go for it straight away. So we travelled around all of these Cash Converters. I’m saying to Joe, we can get a second hand sound system, that’s what we can afford. You’ve got some birthday money…. We ended up buying a brand new big massive karaoke speaker that had all of these disco colours on it, but it made such a BIG sound! It was nearly £200 which was a massive investment to try something we’ve never done before. I’m like, we’re gonna make this work, we’re gonna make this work! Within two weeks, we had recouped the money. I gave Joe his half. It was our first investment together. The speaker was our relationship investment. That’s it. We’re in it now. We’ve got our joint item.
It came at a time when I lost my job. Luckily, I got another job straight away. It was with the council and they don’t do anything quick, so I had two months before I was going to be starting. I used those two months to do busking and it was when we had that really bad winter in 2017. It was snowing for months. There were just layers of snow and ice on the ground for months and I was out there busking, in the ice; in the snow; in the rain trying to find whatever I could. That speaker got a hammering!
Joe: You put your daughter through nursery with the money you made through busking though. I couldn’t believe it!
Jodie: Yeah, that was the determination. It was like, right, I’ve got a way to go out and get a bit of money, while I get my job again. I’d never not had a job and it’s a horrible situation not to have a job. I found it was a way of getting good really quick, because I was out there doing it. I went from being really sh…t, to being a whole lot better. Have you heard of somebody called Dialect?
Fe: Yeah, Leeds rapper.
Jodie: Right, the first ever time I went out, I did a practice and we did an hour in Sheffield and then, the next night we did Sunday night in Leeds and I now know Sunday nights are rubbish; there’s hardly any people around. So I was stood outside the Mackie Dees on Briggate and I forgot my lines! So, I was just repeating the hook! We realised despite doing my words, it was just too long. Plus, I forgot a verse as well and Dialect just happened to catch that moment on film and I had all of these bad comments and I answered every single one of them and I turned it around, because they can’t battle with a real person; people online. I think one of them called me the Susan Boil of Grime, which I then used in a lyric, I wrote…
You calling me the Susan Boil of Grime
coz you listened to a 25 second clip
talking about my mind
in-spite of my size
I won’t rise to your lies
coz insults only empower me to write!
So we just flipped it up, but Dialect backed me up. I think he was just happy to see someone else doing something related to that genre, because he’s more Grime. This was the first day I happened to go out, which made me even more determined to get better quick! I was like, right. You’re not going to see that again. I’m not going to screw up like that again; watch me now! I spent about three or four months focusing on improving. The thing is, when you write a song you’re just concentrating on remembering your lines. You can’t get your flow right, you can’t get your pitch right. It’s just a case of I’ve got to remember my lines. Then once you’ve remembered your lines, you can just ride the beat then and make it a bit more interesting. That was the process I went through in about three or four months. It was really, really good.
Fe: People of all kinds respond to your music. Young and old, kids even and from all cultural backgrounds. You can see your street audiences are not necessarily into Hip-Hop, but they’re are still feeling your vibe. When you see so many varied people responding to your music, how does that make you feel?
Jodie: I think my appeal is, because I just look like a normal everyday person. I’m not like grrrr. I am going to get that Hip-Hop look down as the next step but I think I’m really approachable and really open and I want people to come and interact with me. Also, because what I’m saying. I rap about everyday real life things. There’s a lot of people who can relate to what I’m rapping about. I think it’s a lot of working class people… actually I wouldn’t even just say working class, because I have middle class people, rich people coming up to me and from all walks of life. I don’t know what it is about me that appeals to everybody because I don’t want to be niche, I don’t want to be just appealing to a certain amount of people, because that’s not life is it? That’s not the streets. I think it’s just because I’m a little bit different. I want to flood Leeds with Hip-Hop! Every artist on the corner rapping! I pass the mic to little kids and I pass the mic to young people. You’ve got teenagers who are looked down on by everybody, because they’re not quite grown. They’ve got that little attitude, or chip on the shoulder, but if you show them a little respect and you talk to them and treat them just like an everyday human being, you’ve got the whole youth brigade of Leeds on your side that walk around town regularly. Then I’ve got all of the homeless people. You can have a normal conversation with them. They’re not trying to hustle me, you’re not trying to hustle them. You get the real lives of people. They are the people that I see every day.
On a daytime, I can’t be swearing and I can’t be talking about anything dirty or disgusting and it’s a much tamer audience, but they listen. Then the nighttime audience, they’re crazier. They’ve had a few beers, they want to dance. They want to be listening to anything really serious that brings them down, so I get the dance tunes on and I get the vibe going in the streets, so I adapt myself to my audience.
If I get a kid coming up to me, I’m lowering my voice because I don’t want to blast their ears out, because I’m a mum as well so I can relate to the kids. I used to be scared of children before I had children. I was like, why are they staring at me? Are the parents seeing them staring at me? Do I look weird or something? When you become a parent, you just have this affinity with them and then that brings the parents onboard and they’re lovin’ it.
Quick story. This old lady came shuffling up to me with her zimmer frame. I thought she was coming to tell me off. It took her about five minutes to get to me and I could slowly see her coming to me out of the corner of my eye. I was thinking, oh no what is she going to say to me now? I had had one of the shops kind of complain about me. I won’t say their name. They were a bit up their own butts, thinking I’d be steering customers away from them with my “horrible” music. They just weren’t understanding my music. So, this old lady says to me I like what you’re doing, but I’m better! I used to sing in the Grand Varieties Theatre when I was younger. So I passed the mic over to her and she was shaking, obviously she’s quite old now; but she belted out a song and these two women from the shop came out and saying wow and look at this old lady. Yes, I did that love! Look at that. I put a smile on that lady’s face. Afterwards, all the adrenaline was pumping, because she’d not done that in years and she had an audience and we just had this beautiful interaction. Then I looked over and I saw these two women from the shop and I thought, there you go, look this is art! A musical person, we’ll just connect on any level. No matter what their age, no matter what their style. If they have that in them we’ll connect. She came up to me again a few weeks later. She didn’t really feel that confident about getting on the mic that time, yet when she walked away that day, she had a big grin on her face. That was her moment of the day, that was her highlight and that was my highlight as well. Little moments like that happen a lot.
Fe: That’s what it’s all about. Those random beautiful, interactive moments. What’s the story behind ‘Never Gonna Get You Down’? I feel it’s self explanatory, but…
Jodie: For me. I’d don’t like conflict. I don’t like drama. It happens, in your job; in your home life, but I usually walk away. Through work, through parents and stuff; you’re just trained to don’t get into trouble, just walk away. Be the bigger person. Don’t bite back. That’s kind of what it’s about, you’re never going to get me down; whatever you throw at me I’ll walk away from the conflict. That’s it really; it’s just an empowering song.
I was bullied in high school, it was verbal and because I’m a big gal, nobody’s going to come at me and fight me. Verbal is so much worse because you can’t lash out when somebody calls you a name. If you’re built and you know you can hurt them, you have to find a way to put up with that, toughen up. Not let it affect your life. It was just silly little words, but it still strikes a cord with you. I became smaller, I became quieter at school. I left school and I was my normal hyperactive, chatty, bubbly self. I’d learned not to be that person. So, when I got back out on the streets and I’m doing this, I’m like saying look at me, look at me! It’s given so much more, because I’ve got myself back. I always knew I had talent but didn’t know I could write. Yeah, that’s what it’s all about. Don’t let anybody get you down. Words are just words. You’re never going to see these people again, probably. Try and take something positive out of every single day. You could be having a bad day but if something goes right, you need to focus on that and that how it is; I’ll always take my chances.
Like this year, this interview with you, everything that people are approaching me with I want to do it. I want to just get out there and do this as a career.
Fe: We like a chancer! Joe, how do you construct a track? Do you start off with Jodie’s lyrics or do you find the beats first?
Joe: I just give her a load of instrumentals basically and she uses what she likes. I’ll find a scratch that will fit with what she’s picked.
Fe: Is scratching one of your favourite things to do, because you seem very natural at it?
Joe: Yeah, I like scratching. I like buying records more. Scratching is limited, especially if your skills are limited. It’s percussive. If you get right deep into it, like turntablist level; that has a real short appeal. Scratching is good to let off steam as well and good to warm yourself up before you have a mix. It’s just fun, isn’t it?
Jodie: The portable deck you see on the street is just a bit of fun, because Joe is doing Fresh Leeds and we’re doing the songs and it’s something to get Joe involved, because once he’s provided his instrumentals, it’s kind of his job done and I go out there and I perform; but nobody really knows what is part of the instrumental and what’s been added in with the scratching and the harmonica. If he’s there, messing around a bit you can get an idea how the music is constructed. Gets him out of his comfort zone, too, using a tiny deck.
Fe: I wanted to ask you about Fresh Leeds. It’s a real quality Hip-Hop show and shows your genuine knowledge of real Hip-Hop. How did you get your spot on there?
Joe: It was through Jodie’s friend, Carol. We’d emailed a few places and Fresh Leeds asked for a demo, unlike the other community radio stations. We were looking at different stations, but Fresh Leeds were the only ones who wanted to see what we could do.
Jodie: Joe has been on all the community stations wherever he’s been living, but I’d say Fresh Leeds has been the most professional one.
Joe: Plus they seem the most promising.
Jodie: After hearing the demo, they were like do you want to be on the radio? Saturday night 10pm to 12am? Yep, okay, send a wetransfer to this… That was it.
Joe: Hearing the 20 minutes demo and actually hearing what we could do. This is what convinced them.
Fe: So what’s in the pipeline for Chubby Chubbsta and DJ Blendz? Where do you want to go with your music?
Jodie: Well, we’ve got Volume 2 of The Chubby Chubbsta Chronicles which we are working on. The main thing now, the next big step, is making our own beats. I’ve got my word stuff down, I’ve got my songs down. Joe has his scratching down. We’re just out in charity shops digging for old vinyl. Looking for a sound that nobody’s heard of. The other step is gigs. I’ve done a few already, but we want to build this up.
Fe: Where can people keep up with what you are doing?
Jodie: Facebook is where I’m most comfortable because that’s my era. This is where I post most of my stuff. I am branching out on Instagram. We’ve got a few videos on YouTube and some free downloads on Bandcamp and some stuff on SoundCloud. I’m not very good at social media and constantly updating. I dip in and I dip out, because I don’t want to get too absorbed in the digital. I like real life.
Doing this interview was like eating soul food! Jodie and Joe are just, how the American saying goes, ‘good people’. Genuine and down to earth. Real Hip-Hoppers. It was a real pleasure spending time learning more about them and their music and just kicking back and chewing the fat.
Explore them for yourselves by checking out their online content:
Fresh Leeds http://freshleeds.com/
Photography by Paul Abraham.
Director of Photography: Fe