By Chinwe Onuoha
The Coffee Cave may seem like just an underground café, but over the years, this urban art gallery and part time nightclub has been a popular attraction for many local musicians and artists. Beyond the eclectic art pieces that are hung on the walls, the basement of this three-story joint holds a long history of musical talent, great memories, real friendships, and love. The evening of May 4, 2014 was no different.
Ikenna Chikezie, a student at Montclair State University, hosted an event there called “Call Me Ike” to premiere his latest mix tape “92 N’ Me.” He created this 11-track compilation two years ago in a closet sized studio in Irvington, N.J. with a friend after saving enough money as a sales representative at Macys. The Psychology major released “92 N’ Me” on Feb. 28, 2014 on his website and has been building his brand since then.
He walked onto the stage and tapped on the head of his microphone as people walked towards him during the evening of his premiere. Chikezie straightened out his blue polyester jacket with the acronym for “Love Over Everything,” boldly printed as an intertwined triangle mesh on the back of it. He introduced the first act, which was a group of high school students who electrified the audience with their dynamic stage presence and bold lyrical content. This was something that Chikezie worked on from the time he realized that he wanted to become a rapper.
The track field of Immaculate Heart of Mary’s elementary school was where it all began. In between practice and winning championship titles, Chikezie’s teammates would find him sitting on the sidelines writing songs in his note pad. After running track for nine years, the 22-year-old Orange, N.J. native, hung up his cleats for good and has devoted a lot of his time towards pursuing music.
“I’ve always wanted to get into music. It was just a matter of how I would get there and whom I would meet in the midst of it,” Chikezie said.
Little did he know that his older brother’s friend, Moruf “Moo” Adewunmi, would play such an imperative role in his music career. The Kean University graduate has served as Chikezie’s right hand man during the creation of “Love Over Everything,” a movement that runs deeper than the stitches of the L.O.E symbol that anyone might see them wear.
When they first met, Adewunmi was a high school student at Bishop Francis Essex Catholic and Chikezie was still in elementary school. They both shared the same track coach and that was what kept them in touch. After Adewunmi transferred to St. Patrick’s High school, he reunited with the aspiring rapper and “D-1 track prospect,” as Chikezie recalls.
“I was so heavily into track when I was in high school. Moruf and another good friend of mine used to come to a lot of my games,” Chikezie said.
“They showed me a lot of love and support,” Chikezie continued.
During his junior year of high school, the cheers that he received from the sidelines didn’t help keep the rubber soles of his cleats from burning out. Despite his coach’s opposition, Chikezie no longer waited for the gun to sound off the same way he used to when he ran cross-country. Now he marched to the beat of his own drum.
Chikezie continued to shadow Adewunmi, who was also into rap. Together they would run through each other’s songs in an effort to develop their own unique artistic voices. However, it was not until he met Jeremiah “Jerry” Green, a former basketball player at St. Patrick’s High school, that he learned the technical aspects of rap.
“At that time, I didn’t really care about bars or anything like that. I was just rapping,” Chikezie said.
“Jerry taught me the aesthetics of counting bars and hooks, and all that technical stuff,” Chikezie added.
Now it was time for Chikezie to put his knowledge to the test. By the time he was a senior in high school, he created a 17-track mix tape called, “Orientation,” which he recorded on his MacBook. A few shifts at Hollister and a pocket full of determination awarded him with the opportunity to buy “speakers, and a pre-amp,” according to Green and the motivation to put out a second mix tape “Love N’ 92.”
“From that time we met in summer school, I noticed that his musical aesthetic has evolved and going to his concert solidified that,” Green said.
“I am so proud of him,” Green added.