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Queer rapper Chi Waller talks about her journey, music and Chicago connections

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by Andrew Davis

Many people have taken the past couple of years to take stock of themselves and take their lives in new directions (often called pivoting, of course).

Queer rapper Chi Waller has certainly done the same thing.

It was during her lowest moments in life that her creative juices began to flow like never before. However, this time she didn't recognize her voice as Aaliyah Nicole (her previous incarnation). Now, she's been "reborn" as Chi Waller, reflecting her deep Chicago ties even though she and her partner reside in Atlanta.

"I actually started this whole musical journey at 12 years old," said Waller, 30. "I grew up in the church so I've been around music all my life. I stood out to a particular member, Ricky Campbell, who was also an actor … so I went for it. Unfortunately, he passed away before seeing where I ended up. He set that foundation for me to start.

"From that point, I started producing my own shows and formed my first group. That's where I got that first taste [of performing]."

Waller's parents then saw how seriously she took music, propelling them to purchase software (Magix Music Maker) for her. "This particular thing changed the game for me," Waller said, adding that her mother eventually provided access to more sophisticated software and a studio. "They've always been big believers in me." From there, Waller posted music on MySpace.

Waller, at age 18, then produced her first anti-violence showcase on Chicago's West Side, where she grew up. "I was inspired to provide a platform for my peers who had nowhere to go," she said.

College (in Atlanta) was next—and it provided some intriguing opportunities. "I got the wonderful opportunity to open for R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn and to work two shows with [the late actor] Tommy Ford, who was on the show Martin. He gave me some amazing words."

Waller had been producing and making music as Aaliyah Nicole (not her birth name) since "I was 16 or 17. I was the only 'Aaliyah Nicole' you'd find, for a while—but that changed."

Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic hit many people very hard, including Waller. "That first year was rocky; things got really bad," she told Windy City Times. "I lost my job and we [Waller and her partner] ended up relocating to Atlanta by way of Texas. That year changed everything for me. We struggled with homelessness."

However, in the midst of this arduous trek, Waller never lost hope: "We kept [saying,] 'We got this." And despite this dark time [2020-21], Waller said it was the best thing for her, musically speaking: "That took me to a whole new level, creatively. However, this doesn't sound like Aaliyah Nicole; this sounds like someone else."

Although Waller initially thought there was an alter ego happening, another change beckoned. "One day earlier this year I looked in the mirror and said, 'You're not Aaliyah Nicole anymore. Who are you?'"

Then a journey toward self-discovery was launched. For this new person, "I knew I wanted a name that connected me with home," said Waller (whose birth name is actually Nicole Marie). "I wanted a name that reflects where I came from. Chicagoans are passionate about where they come from and I wanted something that connected to my West Side roots. For me, it all started on Waller Street—I grew up there and my church was just a few blocks down."

And Waller has released a single entitled, naturally, "It's Chi Waller." Not only does the song—which reflects inspiration from genres such as hip-hop, soul/R&B, reggae and gospel—honor the musician's West Side roots but it also shows the various layers of this multidisciplinary artist.

The new song "just lays the foundation for where we're headed," Waller said. "This is me reintroducing myself to the masses. When all is said is done, I want [the listener] to know that I'm proud of where I come from. I want people to see all aspects of what I have to offer. Just let me welcome you to my world for a moment and show you where we could possibly go.

"But, more than anything else, I want Chicago to feel this one. I want the West Side to know I'm a product of them as well as Oak Park, where I also grew up."

And the accompanying music video has been released—the day after National Coming Out Day. (Upon being told this, Waller smiled with glee and stated, "I didn't even make that connection!") As for her own coming-out story, Waller (a preacher's kid) had quite the path: "There was a certain expectation, having grown up in the church. It was an interesting journey. I still find men attractive but I tend to have more serious relationships with women. However, growing up, I'd use my attraction to men to hide my attraction to women.

"But as time progressed, I really started to learn about myself. I had my first girlfriend my senior year in high school but it was a [down-low] thing. But it was in college that I was exposed to different things and discovered who Aaliyah Nicole was. My friends knew but telling the pastor and first lady? Believe it or not, I didn't officially take my power back until I was 25 years old; I dropped a video and just owned [my sexuality] and it was well-received. I was in a relationship that helped me navigate this journey."

And with her family, Waller had the proverbial happy ending. "When all is said and done, I come from love and real support," added Waller, who counts Queen Latifah, Lena Waithe and Billy Porter among her LGBTQ+ role models. "Life is great, and the acceptance and love are all there."

The video for "It's Chi Waller" is below and at Website Link Here .

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