In the early 2000s, hip-hop experienced an explosion of new rappers that arrived from an unexpected city in the Midwest -- St. Louis. J-Kwon had college kids getting “Tipsy,” Jibbs asked if your “Chain Hang Low” and Huey made sure the ladies knew how to "Pop, Lock & Drop It". But the biggest stars to rise from The Lou were undoubtedly Nelly (with his St. Lunatics in tow) and Chingy.
Nelly may have been the first one to burst onto the scene, with his Top 10 smash "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” at the dawn of the millennium, but rising artist Chingy managed to escape the golden-grilled shadows of his fellow St. Louis native with the release of his double-Platinum-certified debut album, 2003’s Jackpot. The LP embodied the fresh energy of Chingy’s hometown, thanks to its unique slang like “thurr” and “herre,” as well as the dizzying synth-based melodies courtesy of production duo The Trak Starz (comprised of Alonzo "Zo" Lee Jr. and Shamar “Sham” Daugherty).
At the tender age of 23, the rapper quickly managed to build a solid fanbase due to his accented, catchy hooks. Men copied his style by rocking oversized colorful bandanas beneath their baseball caps and took notes from him on how to flirt in the club, while women swooned over his handsome features and tried to perfect the popular chicken head dance seen in the "Right Thurr" video. Chingy's talent was undeniable, as he balanced romantic rap/R&B collaborations with a rugged lyrical flow that highlighted his experience as a former battle rapper. Jackpot was a commercial blockbuster, birthing three singles -- “Right Thurr” (which later scored a fiery remix with Trina and Jermaine Dupri), “Holidae In” and “One Call Away” -- that all peaked in the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In honor of the 15th anniversary of Jackpot, Billboard asked Chingy -- fittingly on his way to perform at the Arkansas stop on the Turnt Up Tour, with fellow '00s hitmakers Petey Pablo and the Ying Yang Twins -- about the album’s backstory, as well as the impact of achieving such rapid mainstream success in his career, and those pesky Nelly comparisons. Check out the interview below.
How did you meet Ludacris and initially get signed to Disturbing Tha Peace?
I met Ludacris through Chaka Zulu, but [the record deal] had nothing to do with Ludacris. Chaka Zulu is the one who signed me, and I met Ludacris a while after that -- this is like the end of 2002. I was officially signed to Disturbing Tha Peace and Capitol Records on December 14, 2002. I think I may have came across Ludacris at the “Right Thurr” video shoot, which was in March of 2003. People get it misconstrued that he actually signed me, but he didn’t.
To me, my career started before signing the contract, because I’ve been doing music since the late ‘80s. I was already putting out local music, traveling, doing shows and just trying to build up the momentum to make it. But when I got signed to Disturbing Tha Peace, I knew my career was blossoming. Yet I still had more work to do. My first single was a No. 1 record [on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs chart], so I guess that was for all the time I spent trying to get in the business. It was finally paying off, and I was thankful for that.
Can you tell me the story of recording the album?
I’ve known Sham from The Trak Starz for years. He was in a group called Out of Order, and I was in a group called Without Warning, just local groups from St. Louis hustling and trying to make it. We used to come across them at shows and events. So I met Zo [also of The Trak Starz] when I was going to talk to Sham about working on some tracks. I would go to Zo’s apartment to chop it up with them and listen to music. The first track I heard from them was the “Right Thurr” beat. As soon as I came on, I said “I have something for that.”
The entire Jackpot theme is seen in a lot of the album’s skits and tracks. Where did you get that inspiration from?
My name’s Chingy, and that was something me and my close friends said about how certain people were ballin’ or people who were wealthy. We said people were “chingy.” And as you know, [the sound] “cha-ching” is all about money. It was a casino type of feel and I thought it had a nice ring to it, so I made it my name in like 1999 or 2000. So it was all about money, and the album’s theme was about hitting the jackpot. I felt that I was entering the music business in a different way and my goal was to hit big. The theme carried on to my next album, which was called Powerballin’.
I remember a lot of critics compared you to Nelly when you first came out because you both were from the same city.
First off, I was rapping in St. Louis before Nelly and the St. Lunatics were, period. Even members in the group would tell you that. [Laughs.] I was doing shows and everything before they jumped on the scene. But they were fortunate enough to get into the position first.
I feel the only thing in comparison to me and Nelly is just being from St. Louis. We don’t sound alike at all. The only thing that may sound similar is the way we talk, saying “thurr” and “herre” and all of that. I wouldn’t necessarily say that as far as our artistry and music... we never sounded alike. I think that’s something people said to please their ego, because we’re both from St. Louis. They wanted to stir up some type of competition, so they would compare the two.
I want to get into some of the tracks on the album. Let’s start with the opener, “He’s Herre.”
“He’s Herre” was the perfect introduction to the album because it was me stepping into the game. Chingy has arrived, so we’re going to make our statement,, and stamp the game like we always planned on stamping it. We just thought “He’s Herre” was a good track to set off the album. And when you listen to the track, it has lyrical abilities. It wasn’t just a song. I think people like to judge my record making [skills] with “Right Thurr” and “One Call Away” and “Holidae Inn.” But I’m not just a rapper, and I like to play with song formats. And “He’s Herre” showed my lyrical skills as well.
Speaking of lyricism, one of my favorite tracks is “Represent,” because that one proved that you could really spit.
Yeah, “Represent” definitely showed my lyrical side. But sometimes when artists come out and have these big commercial successes that’s not really showing no MC-ing quality, you get put in a box. But I’m not made at having a commercial success.
There’s many huge, iconic rappers who aren’t emcees or their lyrical quality wasn’t top notch. They just had charisma and knew how to make great songs. I started as a battle rapper, rapping in bathrooms and street corners against people. And if you think about it, a lot of people who start as battle rappers don’t really make it as far as [being] a celebrity in the industry. I wanted to get my songs played on the radio, so it was time to learn how to structure records. So I stopped going down the battle rapping route -- and that’s when I started getting more radio play and venturing out of my town.
How did you link up with 2 Chainz, who went by Tity Boi back then, on the track?
I actually wanted 2 Chainz and I-20 on that record. When I first got signed to Disturbing Tha Peace... you know, when you’re a newcomer in a situation, people don’t know you, so they don’t really make it their thing to mess with you. So as I got around, people started to realize like “Oh, Chingy’s cool!” So I wanted to work with everybody. I’m not the type of person to come into a situation and just try to do everything myself. I wanted everyone to be involved, so that’s what I did. And I-20 ended up getting his record deal with Capitol Records because of my success with the album, which is pretty cool.
When I first got on Disturbing Tha Peace, Ludacris didn’t really talk to me. Like I said before, everyone thinks he signed me. But when I came around, he didn’t speak. It was always awkward to me, because [you'd hope] the main attraction of the label would embrace you more.
“Right Thurr” was your first big smash, and I think it helped change the pace of where hip-hop was going at that time.
Keep in mind, that song came out in early 2003. But I wrote the first verse and the hook when I was 16, so that was in 1996. I finished it in 2002. I think it was such a phenomenon because it was a great dance record. The beat had this nice swing to it and there were some melodic instruments on the track that made people want to dance. The hook was catchy [starts singing “I like the way you do it right thurr"] and was pinpointing women. Women love to be pinpointed.
And just saying “thurr” the way I said it. This is how I talk, so personally I didn’t think I said it in any type of way. When Nelly and the St. Lunatics came out, they said it too. But they popularized it. I noticed when I came out, I made it famous. Somehow it just really, really took off. I think that was a brilliant record, along with the English -- matter of fact, I’m gonna say Chinglish -- and the terminology of the lyrics and addressing how I appreciate women made it what it is. And it’s still a hit record to this day. I was in Miami recently at a club on the strip, and they were playing techno and R&B music. But nobody was dancing until they played “Right Thurr.” They didn’t know I was in there, but I thought it was so interesting, because they played all types of music and nobody was dancing.
What was your reaction when it peaked at No. 2 on the charts?
I’m a super-humble dude. I know things can be here and be gone the next day. So when I heard it was moving up the charts, so I was just like “That’s great, we gotta keep it on there!” I was doing everything I could to promote that record and that’s what kept it where it was at. I was working very, very hard. It was great and all and I appreciated it, but I was never one to overreact, because I knew as quickly as we get happy and start forgetting that we still got work to do that a No. 1 [song] can turn into a No. 50.
I like that mindset because when a lot of new artists score their first hit, they get caught up in the hype and don’t really focus on the next singles.
Trust me, I’ve seen them in the industry. I’ve seen so many people have a record and they become egotistical and arrogant. And I’m just like, “Damn, you didn’t really do nothing!” You have a record that’s doing good, but you’re gonna act like your Michael Jackson or something. But then, they come down because that first record does well and they don’t got nothing else. They’re back to acting normal. Like, you were all Hollywood the last time I seen you, and everything’s cool now. It’s just funny how people will change.
One of my favorite parts of “Right Thurr” is the way you popularized the chicken head dance in the video.
It really was a good memory. Like to this day, people will make posts and stuff about doing the chicken head, and how they remember it. For a lot of people, it was part of their middle school and childhood. They always tell me how much [the song] means to them. Of course for me, it was huge. That’s why I do music, because I want people to appreciate it in that way and take something from it. I want them to put it in a memory book in their high school or middle school moments, you know what I’m saying? It means a lot.
Which version did you like better, the original or the remix?
To be honest, I love the original version. But I can’t say which one is better. They both are great, but the switch up in the remix had Trina and Jermaine Dupri add their flavor to it. You got the “Right Thurr” from a girl’s perspective, so it’s just what you prefer. When I do them both on stage, they’ll get huge reactions.
I always gravitated towards “Wurrs My Cash” on the album, because it has that reggae-inspired beat.
When I was in the process of making music, me and Sham were at the apartment most of the time because Zo had another job. He would come up with the drums and I’d come up with the lyrics. However the drums were at the time, that’s how I rode with it mentally. With “Wurrs My Cash,” I grew up around hustlers, pimps, gangsters -- that type of lifestyle. It was in my family on both sides. And I thought I was one! [Laughs.] You know, growing up you think you’re pimping all the girls and money and silliness like that. Now Zo put the keys over [the song] and made it a little reggae-ish. And when I put my vocals on the track, everything just became whole.
And of course all of us women loved “One Call Away.” Was it inspired by a relationship at the time?
It wasn’t inspired by a particular girl, but you know, you try to talk to a lot of girls and get their numbers. It was overall inspired by dealing with personal relationships with women and letting them know, “You can hit me up at any time and I’ll be there for you.” But “Pullin' Me Back” [from 2006's Hoodstar album] was the one inspired by a relationship.
Were you the one to get Jason Weaver on the track?
What happened was that we actually demoed a couple of people. Marques Houston was one, and so was Jason Weaver. But out of everybody, Jason fit best for the track so that’s who we chose to go with. When I heard the finished project, I thought it was great.
Keep in mind, I already had a lot of these songs before I even got with Disturbing Tha Peace. “One Call Away” actually wasn’t gonna make the album. [The label] asked us if we had a slower tempo type of song for the ladies. We said we had one song but we weren’t here for it as much. So when the album was being put together, we didn’t even bring the song out. When everybody heard the song, they were like, “How did anyone not listen to this?!”
It was a dope record, but we were constantly making dope records. I remember an electrical storm happened and we lost whole hard drives of finished music -- and I’m talking about some great records. Man, we cried. I already had like three albums done; we were working super hard.
“One Call Away” was yet another major hit for you. Did you feel like you had it in the bag at that point?
You know, all of those records did great, as well as the album. I never got to a certain point and felt like I’m comfortable. I remember they used to come to me on my tour bus and be like, “Man, do you realize you’re selling 90,000 records a week?” And I was just like, “Ah, that’s what’s up. That’s cool.” Of course we’d celebrate in our own way, but I was never overly excited, because I knew that excitement could change.
So here’s a fun fact about me: I can rap “Holidae In” word for word. [Laughs.] How did you get Snoop Dogg on the track?
That’s cool, I appreciate that! I wanted both Snoop and Ludacris on that track. When I had the hook, I just thought of Snoop singing it. We were either in Atlanta or California, and I was at the studio when 'Cris was doing his verse. It was a fun record and I felt that it was in their element, talking about women and partying.
And it worked out! It was a great record with a great video. Man, I had a lot of fun on that video shoot. My family was down there, Snoop had his people there and Warren G was there. It was a good memory. I remember when we finished, Snoop threw a big bash that night at his house. I didn’t end up going because I was tired. But my daddy and my brother went -- it was just a great time.
How do you think Jackpot has held up after 15 years?
Of course it’s a great, solid record. A lot of people don’t give me credit for this, but in my eyes, I made history. If you can change the way people view the city where you’re from, and the things y’all say, and how y’all express certain words... I go all around the world and people want me to say “thurr.” They like how I talk. Just being known for songs like “Right Thurr,” “Holidae In,” “One Call Away” and “Pullin’ Me Back” -- these are memorable records that people bring up to me. I have people say that “Pullin’ Me Back” helped them in a relationship, both the guy and the girl. That’s big. A lot of songs that comes out now, you’re probably not gonna hear it in five or 10 years.
Can we expect new music from you soon?
I’m working on a new album called Frequency that I’m producing and writing on, so it’s really special to me. It'll be released in a few months. I feel like it’s gonna be one of my best albums, as far as the production and my ability to put songs together. It’s gonna be a great project that can compete with anything out there.