INTERVIEW: YOVNGCHIMI Talks New Album ‘WLGS’ & Authenticity in Malianteo

Photo by Robert Fajardo.

Sometimes, when YOVNGCHIMI listens to artists he knows don’t have real street bona fides dabbling in trap or malianteo, he can’t help but laugh. “I’m not gonna lie, I’ll laugh, and we’ll roast ‘em between ourselves. But I won’t call them out publicly or anything,” he chuckles. The truth is, he doesn’t fault them for it. “Listen, when God gives, Saint Peter blesses, baby,” he exclaims with a shrug of amused resignation. What can’t be cured must be endured.

For the entirety of his young career, YOVNGCHIMI has worked almost exclusively inside the gangsta trap and drill genres and has quickly gained millions of fans who have taken to him because of the gritty authenticity of his raps. His tall frame and signature braids have helped him stand out from the pack, giving him a unique silhouette that has become part of his brand.

CHIMI, whose real name is Ángel Javier and who grew up between the Las Casas and Luis Llorén Torres public housing complexes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, took a more winding road to the recording booth. He never uploaded demos to Soundcloud as a teenager, nor pitched himself on Freestyle Mania like so many of his peers. After high school, he moved to California for college but dropped out after two semesters of general studies. He stuck around for four more years until eventually returning to Puerto Rico, which is when he took up the mic.

A dozen singles and increasingly high-profile collaborations later — including a guest appearance on Bad Bunny’s latest album — YOVNGCHIMI drops his highly-demanded debut album today. WLGS (Whole Lotta Gvng Shit) contains many tracks that fans will recognize as popular releases from the past year and change, such as “Suge Knight” and “Baby Glock,” but also brand new songs. Unsurprisingly, considering his affinity for American hip-hop, a handful of guest stars are from across the Atlantic pond, with French Montana and SleazyWorld Go popping up on two tracks and producers like Southside and Foreign Teck lending their talents. 

“Believe it or not, they’re very in tune with what’s happening in our movimiento over here,” he shares. It was one of his priorities when developing WLGS, more so because he’s been flirting with the idea of releasing an album in English, too.

However, the project is not lacking local hitmakers either. New tracks with Bryant Myers, Dei V, Lunay, Ozuna, and Ñengo Flow fill out the rest of the LP. In an ironic twist, the two songs where Ñengo makes an appearance are found back-to-back on the tracklist and were also recorded on consecutive days — the first and second day they ever met, in fact.

For YOVNGCHIMI, authenticity is the key to success and what he attributes his fast rise to. He says listeners are intuitive enough to discern wannabes from those who have lived what they rap about. “Puerto Rico is small, so it’s harder to get away with faking it. If you’re not real about where you’re from and your crew, how you were raised, the public will notice,” he notes. 

In a past interview, he doubled down on the idea that malianteo music should be respected more because it involves a level of genuineness and trust between the artist and listener that other genres aren’t saddled with as much. When prompted to elaborate, he says: “If you’re not associated even a little bit with the streets, your music isn’t going to have the same impact [on people].”

Lately, that authenticity has come under scrutiny in surprising ways by law enforcement. Among the controversies plaguing the ongoing RICO trial against Atlanta rapper Young Thug and his YSL label mates is the prosecution’s strategy of using their song lyrics as evidence against them. It’s a strategy used in other cases to hit-and-miss results, but the larger profile of the artist has brought the tactic back into the conversation. Free speech experts say it shouldn’t be allowed, as rap lyrics tend to be riddled with metaphors, embellishments, and “complex narrative perspective.” 

YOVNGCHIMI agrees that it’s a slippery slope that should be done away with. “I don’t think that’s fair because there’s lots of people exaggerating [in their raps], and you can’t be sure if they’re really street like that,” he says. “If you don’t have evidence that what’s being said in the song is real, it shouldn’t be used against the artists.” 

I’m just too good to ignore right now.

In his view, the role of an unreliable narrator is, to a certain degree, part of the appeal of the music. “There’s always gonna be that doubt, and you can use that to play with your bars. You can say something that’ll make you say, ‘Nah, that can’t be real.’ But at the same time, it might be, y’know?”

More than just a soundtrack to the streets, malianteo and trap are also, like hip-hop before them, an oral tradition that shares with outsiders the precarious realities of these communities. For YOVNGCHIMI, he doesn’t care if you decide to look away or turn down the volume on his words — he’ll still be there, spitting the truth for those who recognize and respect it, warts and all.

While WLGS is replete with songs that have been boomin’ out of car speakers since last summer, their heat hasn’t gone down, which makes them still stand sturdy next to the newer tracks (opener “Glizzy Walk 3” is CHIMI’s personal favorite). And while this album has only just come out, he’s eager to tease what he has in store for 2024, including a full-length collab with go-to producer Hydro. He approaches what’s next with the same confidence he carried when the biggest artist in the world invited him to shoot on a song together. 

“I never feel pressure. I never get nervous. I figured [Bad Bunny] was gonna call me [for his trap album]. I’m just too good to ignore right now,” he smirks.

Listen to WLGS below.